Did I ever tell you guys about the story of how I “won” my first and only medal at the national championships in kumite (fighting) back in the days?
It’s so embarrassing…
To make a long story short; with a hefty dose of youthful enthusiasm, a soon-to-be black eye and five hundred bruises, I somehow managed to bulldozer my way through four opponents and – listen to this – without scoring a single real point, win each and every fight to finally get a shiny medal at the end of the day.
Sounds unreal, right?
So how the heck did I do it?
Well, let’s just say I had a habit of walking into punches and kicks…
A habit that quickly got my opponents enough fouls to have them disqualified, making me the dubious “winner” of all fights up until the semi-finals (where the medical doctor made me surrender), leaving me with a coveted bronze medal at the end of the day.
But I was happy.
And I still laugh hard every time I think about that day!
So, what I’m trying to illustrate with this story is that a) if winning is the only thing you care about, you can always ‘game the system’ in some way, but more importantly that b) if you have bad habits, they can sometimes work to your advantage even if you don’t have the willpower or know-how to actually change them.
But don’t follow my lead.
A black eye is cool in high-school – not the office.
So let’s talk about habits for a second.
Because, if you ask me, that’s what it all boils down to when you want to be truly successful at stuff – whether it’s Karate (like kumite) or just life in general. The #1 thing that sets apart high-achievers and Type A personalities from the rest of us is not some “magical” willpower gene, but simply the fact that they have habitualized and automatized more important skills/tasks than the rest of us.
So that’s today’s topic.
More correctly, the universally awesome habits that great Karate fighters seem to have in common, but rarely teach (because it’s such a natural and easy thing for them).
Now, based on my intro story, you’ve probably figured out that I’m not the greatest fighter on earth. All right. I’ll give you that, Sherlock Einstein. But I am a pretty good observer. And when it comes to habits of highly successful Karate fighters, there are three particular ones I’ve observed over the years, both in my own students and top world-class performers, that I think you should take a second look at…
And sure, of course there are more than just three habits of awesome fighters.
In fact, I suspect there’s a sh*tload of ‘em.
But since science tells us it supposedly takes three weeks to change/add/break a habit, I thought we could simply focus on the three following habits for now, to not overwhelm you on your quest for becoming a better, happier and more confident fighter in the dojo, ring or the street.
Habit #1: Mobile
One thing that all great fighters figure out early is that you’ve got to constantly be able to move effortlessly in any direction, at any given time, during a fight.
In other words, you’ve got to be mobile.
- Oh, your arms are tired? So let your guard down then.
- And hey, sure, your mind might get tired too. So stop thinking then.
- But NEVER EVER let your legs get tired – because they are your ONLY ticket out of a slaughter.
Highly successful Karate fighters know that footwork and body movement (ashi-sabaki and tai-sabaki) are the foundation of not getting your butt kicked, which is why they spend a lot of time learning, repeating and perfecting legwork.
Your lower body is literally a powerhouse, and should be used as such – both for attacking and evading.
Perhaps the importance of staying mobile is best summed up by this famous quote by the grandmaster of Shotokan Karate:
“Do not think of winning; rather, think of not losing”
- Funakoshi Gichin (1868-1975)
Mobility in kumite is so effortless that it’s almost second nature to some great fighters, and you should try to make it a habit yourself. Keep moving, keep the distance and keep safe.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see…
Habit #2: Playful
The day you stop exploring new opportunities for setting up strikes, kicks, punches or takedowns is the day you stop growing as a fighter.
A stale mind produces stale results.
In Karate and life.
You see, what every great fighter has understood is that in order to truly evolve you need to constantly keep a playful attitude towards fighting.
But don’t get me wrong here; a fight should never turn into a circus.
You should definitely keep in mind that your opponent isn’t there to sell you Girl Scout cookies or give you jumping mid-air high-fives.
But that doesn’t mean you should freeze your mindset.
“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”
- Albert Einstein (1878-1955)
Keeping an open and playful attitude, both technically (“let’s try this technique!”), strategically (“what happens if he does like that?”) and physically (“crap, that hurt!”) is not only one of the most effective ways of achieving higher success in kumite, but also one of the most enjoyable ways.
The hard part is to make playful and unpredictable fighting a habit – and not just something you do when you’re bored… or drunk.
Habit #3: Committed
This term, “to commit”, has become something of a buzzword in MMA circles lately, for a very good reason.
You see, for every technique you throw in a fight, there should only be one purpose.
1. To hit.
2. To set up a hit.
Yet people keep doing pointless stuff like sloppy jabs or spinning hook kicks (!) in the air in front of their (unimpressed) opponent.
I guess old habits die hard!
What every great Karate fighter knows is that energy is a precious thing – and that the person who can achieve maximum effect with minimum effort quite often ends up on the winning side of a fight.
Thus, a technique without purpose is a technique wasted.
And it all boils down to physical and mental committment.
The purpose of a technique should always be to either hit your opponent, or to set up (feint, lure etc.) the next technique; which, in turn, should either hit the opponent or set up the next technique. And so forth.
In other words, committment to whatever you are doing (attacking, moving, defending) is the concept you need to habitualize in order to stop wasting time, start feeling safe and finish the fight.
Reach for those last extra inches in each attack.
Either you try to do something to the very best of your ability, or you save that energy for later.
And that’s it.
What do you think?
Again, I’m not the new Anderson Silva, Rafael Aghayev or even Chuck Norris – but I’ve seen some really great fighters in my days – and these three habits (1. Mobile, 2. Playful, 3. Committed) are just a few of the numerous habits I’ve noticed to be universal in the most successful Karate fighters out there.
Because, again, the thing with successful people isn’t that they’re necessarily better than you and me – they’ve just figured out (either on purpose or accident) that some stuff works better when it’s automatized – saving precious brain space and willpower for more important stuff.
In closing, my advice for you with this article is to simply keep these three habits (MPC) in mind and try to apply them whenever, however and wherever you see fit.
Preferably in the dojo.
And in three weeks time you might just have gotten some new and awesome habits for the rest of your life!
If not, you could probably win some nice trophies anyway – just make sure to walk into people’s punches enough.
Let me know how it goes!