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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Make a MistakeWe Need Mistakes

Avi Rokah


When we are at the dojo practicing all kind of timing drills, my teacher, Sensei Nishiyama will often say: “make mistake, we need mistake”.


This obviously goes against our natural inclination, we practice hard because we want to win, not to make mistakes, and we want to look good.


Fear of making mistakes can prevent us from enjoying the experience of learning through trial and error. Mistakes are our best opportunity for growing and developing; it allows us to be creative. Making mistakes allows you to experiment, allowing you to go beyond your boundaries and into the unknown.


You see, you have to go into the unknown, what is not comfortable to you, what is risky, in order to become free to apply the basic principles in infinite ways, and find what fits your body, your personality, rather than just imitate your teachers.


In karate we say that the teacher is like a compass, he points the finger to the right direction, but the students has to walk the road, to experiment, to fall, and if he loses direction the teacher will point the right way again.


If you try too hard not to make mistakes, when you face an opponent you will always judge him, confirm his action and consciously decide your own action and therefore you will always be behind rhythm, behind the moment and your action will be late.

By accepting mistakes you take your ego out of the way, you remove the separation between you and him and you can become the opponent, “ride” on him instead of competing with him.


When you don’t except mistakes your judgment will cloud your perception, intuition, your “antennas”, and you cannot see all the information that the opponent gives you before he actually moves.


When you see one side of the coin you know the other side, by what is there you can tell what is not there yet, if you allow yourself to see.


When you allow mistakes, you allow what we explain in previous articles as breath reaction, which is at the spinal level, before a conscious decision. This reaction allows us to move without space between us to the opponent, making a conscious decision is always too late.


If you react from the brain, decide and than move, the whole cycle, pattern of movement in the nervous system and sequence of muscles recruitment is different than in breath reaction or action that initiates at the spinal level.


If the movement initiates at the brain, the brain will order the arm or leg, and usually there will be an isolated movement, on the other hand, in the case of breath reaction, the movement will initiate at the spine and the body center will integrate with the extremities, the way we practice in the basics (if we practice correctly).


If you are not going to allow mistakes you will only be able to respond to situations that you know and are used to, but if a circumstance is not within your experience, you will get stuck and hesitate.


By allowing mistakes you will be able to flow with even unknown circumstances, and respond without violating the principles of natural movement, and you will be free from form without violating its principles. Obviously this is truth only if your technical level is high and the movement principles are digested in your body.


If you allow mistakes you will find out that you will be able to apply the techniques you have learned in many different ways that you did not necessary learn, you will find ways to use techniques that you are not comfortable with yet, and you will find out how to adapt to changing space and timing. If you do not accept mistakes you will be rigid and use the techniques only the way you learned and are used to.


If you accept mistakes you will take the chance and respond to a chance, circumstance that you are not sure about, and you might succeed or not, but you gained the experience and will be able to respond more surely and successfully the next time. While if you don’t accept mistakes you will miss a lot of chances that you could use but did not allow yourself to gain the experience and the confidence to capitalize on.


If you don’t accept mistakes, you will always be too careful and rigid and not be able to fully commit yourself. I remember that Sensei Nishiyama told me that it is common for champions to become more rigid and tight, and that’s because they are expected to perform at a certain level and are afraid to make mistake and not to look good.


Once at the Pan American Championship Sensei Nishiyama noticed that I was unfree in the first few matches, he came and told me don’t try too hard, just enjoy it and do your best. That was great advice, I could only enjoy it if I forgot about winning or losing and than I didn’t worry about mistakes and only than could I really do my best.


Some quotations that I like about mistakes:



I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.


Michael Jordam




If I had my life to live over...I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.


Nadine Stair







“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”


Japanese proverb