Advice from Sensei:
When I was fifteen or sixteen, I was training in full contact Karate. I was a bit shorter then, and only 150lbs. There were others in the class that were bigger, faster, and stronger. Often I would get hit, and I’d be down on the floor. I had my face punched so hard I thought the bones in my back were broken.
At any rate, I was tired of getting pummeled and tired of not being able to do anything about it. So I went up to my Sensei (Bob Guse at the time) and I asked him. “Sensei, how can I block more effectively.”
His reply both stunned and confused me, “Don’t get hit.” He said.
I squinted my eyes, and rephrased the question, “How can I block his kick better, I keep getting tagged.”
Guse Sensei looked at me and said, “Don’t be there, and don’t get hit.”
“Um…well, how can I block his punch then?”
“Don’t let him hit you,” Bob Guse said.
I thanked him, but I didn’t know exactly how I was supposed to magically not be there, and magically not get hit. That part, as it turned out, took about 25 years to understand. I had inadvertently asked the most fundamental and persistent question that plagues most martial artists. At the time I basically dismissed Guse Sensei’s comments, and kept it away from the surface of my mind. It was only until much later, when I met Ito Sensei that I finally understood.
This is how I met Ito Sensei.
My best friend, training partner, and business partner Brent Yamamoto had met Ito Sensei, and was very excited for me to meet him. So I went out to a friend’s dojo, Kris Wilder out in West Seattle, to meet Ito Sensei. Now, I’ve met a lot of quacks over the years. People giving themselves 10th degree black belts, and people claiming they know this or that. So, I was coming from a deep root of skepticism. I suited up with the rest of the Yudansha, and stretched out in a corner.
Brent brought Ito Sensei over to me, a 60 year old Japanese man. “Punch me.” Ito Sensei said to me in a thick Japanese accent.
“Excuse me?” I asked, wondering if I misheard him. We hadn’t even shaken hands yet.
“Punch me!” Ito Sensei said again, this time sounding really annoyed.
So I look over at Brent, and he’s got this shit eating grin all over his face, he nods to me giving me the go ahead. I square up with Ito Sensei, who was now pointing at his solar plexus. I gave him a 50% punch.
Nothing happened, and Ito Sensei yelled this time, “NO! PUNCH ME!”
So I hit him again, and again, and again. Each time I dialed up what I thought of as power back then. Each blow landed squarely in his solar plexus. Each punch did exactly nothing to him. He didn’t block, he didn’t evade, he stood there and took it. And my punches did absolutely nothing to him. I was stunned.
“Craig San,” Ito Sensei said, “Now I hit you. This is only 5%,” Ito Sensei then raised his hand and tapped me in the chest. I collapsed and flew to the ground. All my 20 years of experience washing over me in a haze of WTF and horror, as I had never experienced such power before in my life.
I got up, wheezing and out of breath, but trying not to show how compromised I really was.
“Now,” Ito Sensei said, “I teach you how to punch.”