Do you have any fears in karate? Are you afraid to fight certain people in class? Are you afraid to break a board? Are you afraid to present your kata in front of the entire class? Fear can hold many people back from succeeding and is an important concept to understand. There have been many books written on the topic and psychologists make a lot of money helping people cope with various fears. But, how can we work on dealing with fear with respect to karate?
Let’s break down the 3 fears I mentioned at the start and discuss them one by one and see if we can understand them better and reduce their impact in our martial arts practice.
The first fear was being afraid to spar with certain people in class. In my experience, this can be due to various reasons including failure to do well against that person in the past; that person not having great control and sometimes hurting the people they fight; and being intimidated by someone because you think they are a superior fighter due to rank or skill.
Now, it could be that they are a superior fighter based on their abilities. But, that doesn’t mean you cannot spar effectively against them. I’ve seen a lot of lower ranked belts with far less time under their belt spar quite effectively against people they theoretically should have had issues with. As you move up in rank, you are expected to maintain good control. If the person you are sparring with is an upper belt with poor control, you can certainly discuss this with your instructor. A good tact to take if your sparring partner is hitting too hard is to take a step back and raise your hand and ask them if they can ease up a little. Most people will understand this cue and, in my experience, they don’t want to intentionally hurt their partner and will lighten up. Remember, the best way to become a better fighter is to spar with people who have better skills and more experience so if you look on it as one of the best ways for you to improve, you can adjust your attitude to hopefully work to overcome the fear.
The second fear was to break boards. Although it can often be very exciting to see someone break a board, if you are not confident in your technique, it can be quite intimidating as the board is obviously hard and a failed attempt can be quite painful. But, with proper technique and confidence in your ability to apply that technique, board breaking can be fun and very empowering. One way to work on this is to get plastic practice boards sold at most martial arts supply stores. They are sold in different thicknesses which simulate various degrees of difficulty. Start by practicing on the easiest level and perfecting your form. As you get more confident, you can increase the difficulty and before you know it, you will be breaking boards like a master.
The third fear mentioned was performing your kata in front of class. Many students are very intimidated by having everyone watch them as they perform. Having to do anything in front of a large group of people can be intimidating, and especially doing something physical like performing a kata in front of an audience can be even more difficult. But, if you think about it like you are not doing it in front of a bunch of strangers who are looking to pick apart everything you do, and instead look at it like you are doing something in front of family, you will likely have more success. After all, the other students in your class are your martial arts’ brothers and sisters, and they all share a similar desire to do well in the martial arts. Finally, developing a singular focus when performing can be very helpful. If you can get into an almost meditative state, you can just focus on executing your moves as best as you can and forget about the fact that anyone is watching you. This state can be developed through practice, and over time you will enjoy the feeling it provides.
Fear can be very debilitating. It often stops people from attempting new activities and can be a big factor in obtaining your goals, and in the case of the martial arts, obtaining a black belt. But, I believe that most fears can be overcome and effectively managed if you work on dealing with them and don’t hide from them. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He was suggesting that we are the ones that make our fears worse than they truly are by worrying about them and giving them unjustified importance. Instead, deal with them and reduce their importance, and you will be on the road to greater happiness.