19. Bully, Bully

Now here is a question which makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I have been facing this question since I decided to go non-contact back in the 1970s. It’s always the same, I cannot and never will be able to convince a certain set of people of the importance of non-contact karate. So, I don’t try any more. Well, let’s look at Shelly Strout’s really good question:

“Often when I talk about my karate to other people they have a negative reaction when I mention that we practice “non-contact” karate. How was the decision made to make Aoinagi non-contact? Also, why is this negative reaction so prevalent?”

I had 15 broken ribs in a few years of tournament sparring. It takes six weeks until the pain subsides enough to practice karate with intensity again. During that six weeks I couldn’t train very well at all. Sometimes I broke two ribs at a time so the total number of six week periods was probably about 10. Ten times six weeks is 60 weeks which is just over a year. I messed up one year of training by having injuries associated with contact sparring. Was the cost worth the benefit?

I REALLY do not think so. Losing a year of training was, in no way, worth the benefit of learning to hit another human being hard and learning to be hit hard and continue. If I want to learn to take pain and learn to continue in spite of pain I can learn it a lot of different ways and get the benefit without losing the six weeks of training. Want to know what pain is? Come along with me to Aconcagua. I’ll teach you what pain is and how to continue in spite of pain and fear and cold and nausea and shortness of breath. You don’t have to get your body broken to pieces in order to learn the benefit of martial spirit.

In the full-contact and heavy contact schools I attended there is one overwhelming physical characteristic of the students; bigness. They are the monsters of martial arts. They are big boned, heavy set, muscular individuals. The thin and small boned people have been broken-out-of-there. The full-contacters are truly tough, it is true. They are fabulous pugilists, that is also true. But they are the people who enjoy being hit because they are built (physically and mentally) to take the beatings.

When I started Aoinagi Karate I decided a no-contact policy. It was my hope that there would be fewer injuries. That happened!!! It was my hope that the fewer injuries would lead to students being able to train more consistently. I believe that also happened.

So, that is how the decision was made and why the decision remains in effect. So let’s turn to the other part of the question about the non-contact decision: “Why is this negative reaction so prevalent?”

1) Full contact practice is closer to a real fighting situation than is light contact. Light contact practice is closer to a real fighting situation than is no contact. If the real goal is to get as close to a real fighting situation as possible then it only makes sense to go full contact. (This, of course, disregards the loss of practice due to injury. It also disregards that certain people may be small boned, light weight and more easily injured.)

2) Full contact does not require the discipline of control. No contact requires intense prolonged practice to develop repeatability. It is just plain a lot easier on the individual to plow thru the target, not worrying about loss of balance, distancing and responsibility than it is to meter the strike with intensity but not just plow thru the target. The discipline of control is obviated in many full contact schools, and many people do not want to learn that type of discipline. Hence they really like full contact schools.

3) Responsibility not to injure another is present in a no contact school and sensitivity to another’s personal space is also present. That responsibility and sensitivity is not necessary in a full contact school. Some people do not handle responsibility well and so migrate to schools where they don’t have to have responsibility towards another’s being. In addition, some people do not have sensitivity and do not want to be required to be sensitive to another person’s being. They migrate to full contact schools and argue that one better not have sensitivity for it may inhibit you in a fight.

At Aoinagi Karate we have sensitivity to another person’s being. But in a fight we blast away with the intensity of a million lightning strikes at once. If a student does the program as it is designed the no contact control during dojo practice will be full contact blasting during violence on the street. The key is to do the program completely. I absolutely disagree with those who would state that because Sensei Neville Billimoria has trained in no contact school he would not be able to hit an opponent on the street. And that goes for other fine well-trained no contact Aoinagi Karate students such as Barbara Sedgwick, Sensei Paul Billimoria, Lee Carmean, Gary Fisher and many others. The complaint against no contact as a detriment to development of defense on the street does not hold water. It may be that beginners don’t develop street sense as quickly, but beginners then also don’t get injured as often either. The advanced Aoinagi Karate student is a powerhouse and exceedingly capable of blasting an opponent on the street to oblivion. In fact, by virtue of their multiple opponent training (with no contact control) they well may be able to annihilate multiple opponents on the street far better than those who have been trained in full contact schools.


The other side of this question has to do with our attitude towards the opinions of others. It has been my experience that I have never, NEVER, ever convinced a full-contact practitioner of the value of no contact practice. I explain, implore, beg, argue or whatever. They are of the same opinion still. It is the limit of their own field of vision and so it is the limit of the world, to them. I cannot, and I really think you cannot, change their opinions. So I let them be. Perhaps, that is best.

I have trained in all manner of contact schools. I believe in no contact. It requires more practice because the student needs to be in control of the strikes ALL OF THE TIME and needs to be able to miss a target in the dojo and hit a target when fighting on the street, but the practice only does the student good. I believe in no contact.

I believe in no contact. At this very time Barbara Sedwick and Julianna Sperin (married name?) are both pregnant. They can practice in a no contact school. Could they continue their training in a full contact school? Do women have the right to train in martial arts when they are pregnant? I believe in no contact.

I believe in no contact. Women generally weigh 25% less than men and have an additional 10% less muscle mass. They cannot hit as hard as men who outweigh them by 25% with a 10% additional muscle mass bonus. Do women have the right to train in martial arts along with men? Should we (in a full contact school) just “baby” the women and not really train them at full intensity dual to everyone else in the dojo? Or (in a full contact school) should we beat the women with the same intensity we would beat a larger opponent till the woman quits and takes up some reasonably sane activity? I believe in no contact.

I believe in no contact. Gary Fisher and Preston Sowell are big men. Each of them weigh near 200 pounds and are built of muscle, sinew and big bones. Phil Swiderski and Devon Dods are much lighter, at least 25% less. How long would Phil or Devon enjoy their training if they were being hit by Gary and Preston in full contact? And is a well-developed and powerful strike from Phil as damaging to Preston as the same percentage body-weight-power strike from Preston to Phil? Phil would be on the injured list much more frequent than Preston even if Phil were the better technician and landed more strikes. Is this mismatch just because of body size important enough to keep Preston and let Phil give up martial arts altogether? I believe in no contact.

Unfortunately, others do not believe as I do, and I (and you) will probably never convince them. Unfortunately…but for whom???


Shelly really sums it up in a statement she made to me. I will close this essay in Shelly’s own words:

“I think that a non-contact dojo has certain things a contact dojo just can’t have. We learn control, and we also have diversity in members. I for one would not feel comfortable in a contact dojo because of injuries. One of the reasons I joined karate was to protect myself so I view contact as increasing the possibility that I will get injured in a situation when it is not necessary. Therefore, I think we have more members and diversity because people don’t have to fear injury while practicing karate.”

Well said.