In tennis there is a concept known as “forced errors and unforced errors”. A forced error is when one player demonstrates superior technique and strategy, pushing the opponent into a situation where they cannot respond effectively. Essentially, any time you see a player outright win a point, he is forcing the other player to be out of position or to hit a sub-optimal shot.
An unforced error, on the other hand, is when a player makes a mistake through no direct influence of their opponent. If you see someone serve into the net, or hit a ball wide, those are unforced errors.
That being said, I’d like to share a story about how I came to understand this concept and how it can apply to your martial arts training.
Story Time – The Trashman
In high school I was a tennis player, although not a very good one. I enjoyed playing, but martial arts got most of my time and attention. As such, I generally played down in the Junior Varsity leagues, scrumming around and having a fun time. Something weird happened my senior year though – I managed to place as the #2 seed on our starting team.
I was getting a little better year by year, but not to the point where I was actually good. My senior year “rank boost” happened because I figured something out – tennis players are neurotic. Much like golf, tennis is a very individualized sport where players spend a lot of time in their own head. As a result, the biggest opponent on the court is often “oneself”.
With that in mind, I developed a strategy whereupon my only real goal was to get the ball back over the net. I wasn’t trying to hit down-the-line winners or blitz serves at 80mph. I hit sloppy, medium paced shots that managed to make it back to my opponent time after time. My instructor affectionately nicknamed me “the trashman”, since I was routinely putting up garbage.
Something that frustrates tennis players is when they KNOW they are better than their opponent, yet aren’t getting ahead. As their self talk spins further and further out of control, they begin committing unforced errors as they lose patience and try to press too hard. Before they know it they are losing to an inferior opponent…which is generally when the cursing and racquet breaking begins.
I was never good at tennis, but I did come to understand the psychology of forced errors vs unforced errors.
Forced and Unforced: Your Opponent
It’s quite possible you don’t care about tennis, nor have any desire to get better at playing it. That’s ok! These concepts apply just as well to the martial arts.
When thinking of sparring and fighting, we generally conceptualize methods in which we will force our opponent into suboptimal situations. For example, if we punch them in the face we can then kick them in the groin and throw them to the ground. Straight forward and effective. However, forcing errors can go a little deeper than that.
If you think about distancing and body positioning during a combative engagement, the opponent MUST use the information you provide to make an informed decision about what he/she will do next. If you are close, they cannot use high kicks. If you are far away, they cannot grapple (unless they close the distance). As a result, you can use the knowledge of the situation to force your opponent into moving in particular ways. For example, if you are standing at a distance with your hands dropped low, what is the likelihood that the opponent will attempt a high, long ranged technique? Furthermore, he/she knows that a high technique is the obvious choice, so they will likely attempt a feint high in order to open up a low technique, which is their real intention.
You can never know exactly what the opponent will do, but you can refine their options which will make them more predictable, reducing the needed response options on your part and increasing the chance of your own effectiveness (the end goal of any combative engagement).
As for unforced errors…
An opponent’s unforced error may seem obvious at first – bad technique or decisions that leave huge openings. This is indeed part of unforced error capitalization. But we can go a step further. In tennis I used a calm persistence to disrupt the psychology of the opponent. Do we not have that same opportunity in fighting? Of course, conflict never lasts as long as a tennis match, but we can utilize the idea of gaining a psychological advantage (and implanting suggestion) even before a single strike is thrown as well as during the engagement itself.
Forced and Unforced: You!
If you’ve ever sparred you know what it’s like to get pushed around the dojo floor from time to time. You also know the frustrating repercussions of trying something stupid that is immediately shut down and punished. If you want to learn more about forced and unforced errors, take an honest look at your losses. Take it one step further and ask the individuals who beat you what they saw and how they were able to exploit it.
Let’s step out of the combative ring for a moment though. Unforced errors play more of a role in training than most people realize. Think of all the solo activity that goes along with martial arts training – kata, demonstrations, testing, etc etc. During all of those events it’s just you, the open floor space, and maybe some watchful eyes. There is nothing standing between you and success…which can be a debilitating problem for many individuals.
Unforced errors (aka wrinkles in personal psychology) appear all the time in martial arts training and can be so smothering that they cause many individuals to quit altogether. Anxiety during a testing, cold sweat as people watch you…these are purely internal matters and can only be rectified by one person (you).
I have found that identifying and placing a name on this kind of anxiety helps to overcome it. If you feel an overwhelming sense of dread or tension during solo performances, just remember that nothing can stop you except for you. Don’t “throw away the match” by riding the psychological tailspin of unforced errors. Recognize it, put it away, and do what it is you’ve trained to do!
Hey everyone! This is a quick personal update regarding my goings-on in Colorado. Long time readers may recall that I moved from PA to CO last year. Since then I have continued my karate and kobudo training, taught in a few seminars, and began training in Muso Shinden Ryu to augment my previous experience in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. I’m happy to say an opportunity has arisen for me to begin teaching again via my own program!
The facility where I train in iaido is called Castle Rock Aikido. The Castle Rock Aikido facility is a spacious building with high quality mats and a great martial ambiance. The owner, Sean Hannon, expressed an interest in building out more than just Aikido and iaido in the facility and offered me a chance to start a karate/kobudo program as well. I was excited to work with a well run, ethical school so I jumped at his offer.
About Castle Rock Karate and Kobudo
The CRKK school revolves around Okinawa Kenpo of the Nakamura Shigeru -> Odo Seikichi -> Bruce Heilman lineage. I’ll be teaching classical methods that stem directly from Okinawa and utilize concepts from both modern karate and classical Pre-WWII karate. The specific programs offered within CRKK will be broken up as such:
* Full Karate and Kobudo Program – This will provide access to the complete Okinawa Kenpo system, including empty hand kata, weapons kata, self defense, joint locking, striking, sparring, philosophy, history, and more.
* Kobudo Expansion Program – This will be for individuals looking to expand their weapons experience. Individuals may be new to martial arts or may have experience in existing styles. Weapons studied will focus on classical Okinawan implements such as the bo, sai, tonfa, nunchaku, eiku, kama, nunti, tekkos, and more.
* Self Defense – This program is for individuals who may not have the time or physical ability to handle a full martial art but would like to increase their self defense capabilities. Topics covered will include threat assessment, de-escalation, modern law, self defense techniques, and more.
Examples of Okinawa Kenpo Kobudo
For individuals who may have never seen Okinawa Kenpo Kobudo before I decided to film two kata. This was also a good chance to show a little bit of the new dojo.
Sakugawa no Kon Ichi
Odo no Kama Ni
Finding Out More About the Program
If you’d like to find out more about the program, I have created a specific web page for it: Castle Rock Karate and Kobudo.
I have also created a facebook page if you want to follow along with seminars, classes, goings-on: CRKK Facebook Group.
Thanks to everyone for supporting me and helping me in the growth stages of this program. I appreciate you being a reader here and hope you can visit the program itself at some point.
This is the sixth article in Reader Week II. Author Jeffrey Riggs describes the experience of organizing and participating in a gathering of Okinawa Kenpo practitioners.
On June 7th, 8th, and 9th, Iwatana Karate of Rockledge Florida hosted the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Friendship Conference with an open invitation to all Karate practitioners with ties to Nakamura Shigeru, the founder of Okinawa Kenpo Karate, and ties to his lineage.
The Friday Meet and Greet started off with people showing up early, eagerly anticipating an evening of social activity and it was well underway in the hall prior to the buffet even being ready and the doors open. The hall was a beehive of activity and once the doors opened everyone was so engaged that nobody even noticed.
In predominant attendance were members of two lineages of Okinawa Kenpo, the Odo, Seikichi and the Nakayama, Hideka lineages were represented. As is usually the case, the higher ranked dan and sensei and the other students of the art gravitated towards their contemporaries and it was soon discovered that the opinion of all present was that everyone was connected in a familial manner with the word “cousin” generously uttered. It became apparent among the ranking sensei that they were looking forward to seeing and evaluating how the “art” of the two lineages compared. All of the emphasis was on the benefit of diversity and there was no mention or discussion of the negativity of right and wrong. Old friends and acquaintances reminisced and new ones created while the exchange of war stories of younger days were exchanged, no doubt exaggerated or embellished for effect.
One such story, related by Pat McGale Sensei was about when he was instructed by Odo Sensei at around the age of 12, to teach a young Marine Wansu Kata. He related that while he well knew the moves, he still had yet to learn the nuances. But, he knew enough to get this young Marine started on learning the kata. Once this Marine learned the movements, the young McGale then told him that when he got Wonsu down, he would teach him Twosu. Upon hearing this, Odo Sensei apparently went into “Father” mode and “Corrected” young Mr. McGale, quite emphatically.
Saturday training started exactly at 8:00 AM as promised. The banquet room was turned into a dojo with two large rooms separated by a moving wall.
An opening was located on the north side to facilitate movement back and forth. The West room had a tasteful “Spirit Seat” on an alter table with the picture of Nakamura Sensei, and the logo of Iwatana-do. These were separated by a “Tori Gate Frame of the kanji for Okinawa Kenpo Karate. This room also served as the “Mat Room” as mats were laid out for training as well as making seiza more
comfortable. The east room was left mat-less and was used for kata and kumite.
The Okinawa Kenpo Friendship Conference was by almost any definition a huge success. New friends were made, invitations for visits exchanged and mutual endorsements were freely given with a spoken desire to continue down the path of acceptance and sharing knowledge and perspectives. Older friends and acquaintances reconnected and reminisced. New friends were introduced and history as well as war stories were exchanged. Knowledge was shared, both graciously given and received.