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Training intent in martial arts


Intent is something that is by no means easy to have for most of us. Believe it or not most people join martial arts clubs to learn self defence and the most common conception is that you will learn to fight. One of my old instructors used to say “anyone can throw a punch, in the dojo we teach you how to avoid throwing that punch”. When I first heard this I thought huh? How does that make any sense at all. As I progressed and developed over the years I realised that he was right. As martial artists we are taught how to control our emotions under stress through various forms of training.

Back to intent, this is controlled partially by our reptilian or primal brain. This part of the brain is responsible for our survival. Back when humans were evolving and we were cave people this part of the brain was predominantly in control due to the fact that circumstances were eat or be eaten basically. As we evolved as a human race slowly our brains developed and we started thinking with the logical part of the brain the neo cortex. This gives us rational thought and stops us from giving in to the animal and primal nature of the reptilian brain.

So as discussed so far the power of intent is controlled by two areas of the brain.

When you throw a technique you need to have a clear picture of what you wish to achieve from it. So when you throw a punch you need to decide whether it is being thrown as a distraction to create an opening or with the idea of causing damage.

With regards to distraction we can easily train this with a partner during kumite and also drills. There is little damage that you can cause through a distracting jab without power. It also allows you to exercise control over your technique and also prevents injury for your partner.

With regard to training intent and power, unfortunately we cannot punch our partners with full intent and power in the face or body without causing physical harm. So to train this we can use focus pads if you have a partner to train with. This allows us to add power to techniques reducing the risk of injury providing the partner holds the pad in correct fashion. Another method is practicing breaking or tameshi. This is the traditional art of breaking, either wooden boards or even tiles etc. Once hands are conditioned and you have the correct technique it is a great way to practice intent of punching through something.

Without a partner we can train this intent and power through practicing kata. By visualising your technique and adding intent and power to it you can safely practice potentially dangerous techniques such as neck cranks and arm lock/extensions without running the risk of injuring your training partner. How many times can you practice an arm break with a partner full force? Then how long will it be before you can repeat that?

We need to train with intent at times, as it is scientifically proven that under the influence of adrenaline we fall back to our lowest point. So if we train at 50% intent all the time then under adrenaline you will drop to say 5-10% intent. Therefore we need to train this intent at different levels to allow for variation and drop in performance.

In conclusion to quote the great Mr Miyagi from the original karate kid movies “walk left side safe, walk right side safe, walk in middle of road then sooner or later, squish.” Lets apply this to a punch, if you punch with some intent you may be safe, punch with too much intent still safe, punch with no intent then you will be in trouble sooner or later.

If you would like to read more about methods of training intent and impact training in martial arts then click below.