I’ve been to lots of different dojos, some that were the same art (Jiu-jitsu) but a different styles, and some that were different martial arts altogether. One concept that I have come to appreciate in my own style is that of training strikes with light contact.
One of our training rules that we apply every time we’re on the mats, is that when we train with our ukes all strikes should be practices with light contact, about 2-5% power (to start with) depending on the person’s strength. There are several reasons why, which I would like to elaborate on in this post.
1) Targeting. A number of the targets we use are nerve motor points (i.e. brachial plexus origin, solar plexus, lateral femoral, anterior femoral, etc). These targets all have very specific locations and are by far more effective when accurately targeted. Anyone who has trained these targets knows that, in some cases, the difference between being on and off target can be as small as millimetres. The only way to develop an intuitive feel for the locations is to get feedback from your ukes all the time. Eventually, your muscle memory takes over and you don’t have to intellectualize it. And that’s when the use of those targets becomes really useful. This also applies to some targets that are not nerve motor points, like the groin. Of course, we wear cups so that we more safely practice our targeting, but even with the groin protection, it’s important not to use much more than 2-5% power for obvious reasons.
2) Time-On-Target (TOT). This concept makes strikes to nerve motor points even more effective. When we strike these types of targets, we emphasize leaving the striking surface (whether it’s your elbow, knee, fist, forearm, shin bone etc.) on the target location for 3/4 of a second. This allows the fluid shock waves to transfer from your striking surface into the target, increasing the effects. Think of it like hammering a nail. If you hammer a nail and pull the hammer back as it strikes, the nail doesn’t go in as far. Conversely, if you hammer the nail and leave on the nail head, the nail drives in much further.
3) Understanding the effects. If a student doesn’t understand the effects of their strikes from the uke’s perspective, they won’t be able to help other students with their targeting. Also, when a student knows what it feels like to receive blows to the various nerve motor points, it gives them respect for the power that comes from their use. Nerve motor points like the lateral femoral, anterior femoral, radial nerve, etc. can cause great pain. While points like the brachial plexus origin can knock a person out, and the solar plexus can leave a person winded and breathless. By training with contact, students will understand and respect how effective striking to nerve motor points can be and will not be as likely to “goof around” with them amongst their non-practicing friends and family.
I can understand many dojos’ reluctance to train with contact. They fear that it might get out of hand and that students will get hurt. And even if students don’t get hurt, they may find the process altogether intimidating and not want to train. But contact need not be injurious or intimidating. Students should start by doing very light contact at slow speeds, gradually increasing the speed and power levels as they come to understand the effects. I’ve used this method with even the meekest, mildest individuals with positive results.
Without any contact training… well, I’ve seen high level martial art practitioners doing strikes with little to no understanding of the targets that they, in theory, are trying to affect. And from watching these people strike targets, it’s easy to question whether they would be able to affect an attacker in a real situation in the way they intend.