Karate: The Art Of Making Mistakes

By Bill Burgar

Nobody likes making mistakes, but we all do. They are a valuable part of our learning experience. Mistakes should be welcomed for what they are - a chance to learn or relearn something that will be of value to you in later life.

We all make mistakes for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons are good, some bad. Whatever the reason we should learn to accept the mistake and react to it in the right way.

So why do we make mistakes? Well, one thing that may cause us to err is a lack of concentration. This can happen at the least expected moment and we tend to do what we are used to doing (for example if you are giving a friend a lift home and you are talking about a very interesting subject, you may suddenly find yourselves at your home rather than theirs simply because the way home is so well engraved on your mind and you have driven that way so many times that your subconscious mind takes over and the mistake happens). However, if there has not been a pattern of behaviour established (for example if you have just moved house you will not have driven that route often enough to subconsciously learn the way) you will become confused and will have to give considerable conscious thought to performing the action.

When this happens in karate the mistake will happen immediately and you will not have time to put it right. This exaggerates the mistake and makes it seem worse to you.

Making a mistake in karate through lack of concentration is really bad and all karateka should endeavour to concentrate fully at all times. Lack of concentration may be a cause but should never be used as an excuse for making a mistake.

Another reason for making a mistake may be that you are under a great deal of pressure. Like concentration when you are on familiar ground, this does not play an important part in contributing to mistakes. But when you are doing something you have not done before or you are in danger because your partner is attacking particularly hard and fast in kumite, or you are entering a competition for the first time or you are going for a Dan grade, these are all situations where the mental pressure is high and you may make mistakes.

You could try to subject yourself to all unknown experiences thus when you meet them next time you will not make mistakes. Unfortunately this is quite impossible. Instead the best way to reduce mistakes due to pressure is to expose yourself to as much pressure as possible so that you are used to working efficiently and not panicking when you are in unusual situations. The karate dojo is very good at putting you in situations where your heart rate goes up and you have to deal with the pressure.

A very good and valid reason for making mistakes is that you are training so hard that you are 'right on the edge'. That is, that you are pushing yourself to be faster and stronger. Under these conditions you are bound to make mistakes - loss of balance, difficulty on getting correct foot placement etc. This is not a bad thing because as you make these mistakes you learn how to correct them. This results in you being faster, stronger, etc. which was the goal in the first place. You should never be ashamed of making these mistakes, although you should work hard to eliminate them.

In fact you should strive to keep the number of mistakes you make due to pushing hard at a constant level (don't make deliberate mistakes - that would be foolish). If the number of mistakes you are making stays at about the same level this is a good indication that you are steadily improving. You should find that the mistakes change in nature as you go up through the grades. They will be smaller and less detectable to other people but you will know that they are there and must keep working to eliminate them.

Your Sensei will not be upset with you if you are making mistakes for good reasons but they do mind if you continually make mistakes for bad reasons (loss of concentration, not listening etc.). They will also not like it if you react badly to making mistakes.

Some of the reactions to mistakes that are common are: - Exclamations - Tut tutting - smiling/laughing - no reaction

The first three are all unacceptable only the last is acceptable in karate. A good karateka will be in control of his mind and body at all times and will show no emotion of making a mistake.

So remember - making mistakes for the right reasons is alright, but you should not repeat mistakes where possible.

Eliminate all mistakes that are made for bad reasons like loss of concentration and finally if you do make a mistake, it has happened, accept it and show no reaction.