It’s Okay to be Mean (in the Dojang)

Cobra Kai Karate Kid

But don’t sweep the leg. (Columbia Pictures)

Preface: Yes, I know it’s Tuesday. No, I don’t care. This weekend has largely been devoted to training for my black belt in tang soo do (and recovering from said training). I should also let you know that in the coming weeks, there may be an uptick in martial arts-related posts as I approach testing day in June.

Oh, and this post is one such example.

Generally speaking, I’m a nice, polite person. At least, I try to be. 

“Please” and “thank you” are words I say often, along with “sorry,” which I know I should curb big time. I habitually say “bless you” when someone sneezes. I’ll hold doors open for people and wait patiently in queues (most of the time).

But when I train? I can get mean.

I have nothing but utmost respect for my teammates. Several of them are even very good friends of mine. But when I train, especially in self-defense situations, I have to effectively role-play. I can’t be nice to someone who wants to hurt me.

If someone is attacking me, they’re no longer my “friend” or “teammate” in that situation — they’re someone who is trying to endanger my life. And that scenario can be flipped around, too; I can also act the part of someone who is trying to harm another human being.

In the dojang, it can be easy to lose sight of that when training. I’ll admit that sometimes I fall victim to treating “attackers” as “friends.” This is especially true when I’m still coming to grips with the technique in question and need to slow it down before it clicks. (I suppose it can be forgiven in that instance? But I know it shouldn’t become a habit.)

At the end of the day, though, if (God forbid) I am approached by someone who wants to harm me, throwing a punch at the side of their head or kicking next to them isn’t going to help my cause.

That’s why I always aim for the attacker. I’ll throw that punch square at their nose (or throat, if I somehow botch it). I’ll kick them right in the gut. I’ll yell, show intensity. If they’re holding a knife, I’ll twist that hand and shout DROP THE KNIFE! so loud, the entire strip mall can hear. (Or maybe not that loud. Then we could have a predicament.) Every drill is punctuated with a strike and a powerful kihap.

I ask those who train with me to do the same. Be mean*. I can take a hit. I can even fall! (I am now 87% better at breakfalling thanks to an intense hapkido seminar I attended last Friday.) I really prefer it when a partner puts their all into their training. Then it feels like we’re both getting something useful out of it.

*Yes, the asterisk. Be mean. But for training’s sake, show some control. It’s role-playing. I’m not actively seeking to hurt anybody, nor am I suggesting anyone should.

First and foremost, I’m trying to polish technique (although in the real world, it doesn’t matter how flashy it looks, as long as it gets the job done. but alas). Beyond that, I’m really working on my intensity — if I am going to throw a strike or a block, I need to (heh) mean it, or it’ll be for nothing. That goes for practice (as attacker/defender) and especially for a real-life situation (as a defender).

In the moment we’re training, we’re not “friends” or “teammates,” but “attackers” and “defenders.” At the end of the drill, we’re still “friends” or “teammates.” We bow, shake hands, slap high-fives, and thank our partner for helping us improve. That’s how it is, and that’s how it should be.

I’m grateful for the wealth of self defense techniques I’ve learned, and I’m hoping that I never ever have to use them outside of the dojang. If I ever find myself in such a situation, I’ll feel confident in my abilities to defend myself because of the in-depth instruction I’ve received and spirited training I’ve undergone.

So yes, I’m a nice, polite person. Until it’s time to train. Then I’ll be mean. And that’s perfectly fine.

Til next Monday (I promise, I’ll work on having a post on Monday…lest I change the name of this blog).

2 thoughts on “It’s Okay to be Mean (in the Dojang)

  1. True! It’s a balance between living in that moment (where your partner is your enemy) and using restraint. But you can’t got soft in the Dojo… Not if you want those techniques to work in a dangerous situation. Well said!

    Liked by 1 person

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