Improving physical skills in To-Shin Do often requires someone to play the role of ‘attacker’. We all take turns doing it, but it is easy to forget what exactly that role entails, and why it is so important for our own training, not just that of our partner.
Here are a few tips:
Slow, Safe, Successful
Your attacks should be as slow as needed for your partner to be both safe and successful. Padded gear and you and your partner’s skill levels can change how slow (or not slow) that actually is. I could have said ‘only as fast as’, but people tend to get hung up on speed and go, well, too fast. Don’t let the word ‘slow’ bother you. As slow as needed can still be lightning fast, depending on the exercise and who you are working with. Read the first sentence of this paragraph again. And again. (Some drills are exceptions to the ‘successful’ portion. Tests, decision making, or stress drills, for example, might aim to find if and where techniques and mental preparedness start to break down. The ‘safe’ portion is non-negotiable.)
This starts with making sure your attack has real intent even if it doesn’t have real speed. A punch that stops three inches from your partner’s face does no one any good. Also remember that you’ve read the script! I often see students start resisting too soon because they know what is about to happen (instead of reacting to what IS happening). Or I see ‘competition resistance’ where an attack is half thrown, knowing the defender will do something, then immediately trying to shut down what the defender tries to do. Sure, it could happen in a real fight. It just almost never happens. What almost always happens is an attack that was meant to succeed, and then resistance starts if there is a defense. It may seem like a subtle difference, but it is very important. ‘Competition resistance’ requires higher skills and strategies. Be sure you know what level of resistance is appropriate for the technique or drill you’re working on.
Look for Lessons
Each kata or technique we practice has a specific attack. We all know that. But what we may forget is that each kata has important lessons hidden within the attacker role. It might be a lesson about balance control (yours or theirs). It might be a lesson on delivering a specialized attack. It might be a mindset. Look for those lessons. Ask your teachers. Being the attacker is just as much ‘your turn’ as being the defender!