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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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The Rut

Shaun Banfield


Shaun Banfield demonstrating Yoko-Geri Kekomi



The “RUT” is not necessarily a bottomless hole, but it can most certainly be a deep one.


When you fall into one, you are almost certain it is the end, but your reaction will be the determining factor as to whether this is so. Do you fall and just allow yourself to helplessly drop - forever expecting to hit the bottom - but always moving further away from the surface? Or do you grab onto a ledge or hanging branch to start the long and sometimes tireless climb to save yourself?


I thought that dramatic introduction would get your attention!


Drama aside, you get the idea…I am talking about the notorious RUT that we can all fall into from time to time throughout our karate career.


So what is this infamous ‘Rut’?


You will know when you are in one…it’s an indescribable feeling of being, well… quite lost. Not always lost in a blasé, indifferent way; but lost all the same. When you are uninspired, unenthused, and quickly avalanching into absolute disinterest, you can be sure you are in a rut. It’s when you are physically able, skilled even, but your primary fuel – your enthusiasm – is running dry.


I am taking a confident guess and maybe being a little presumptuous here, but I would predict that everyone practicing karate at one time or another will experience this universally recognisable sensation.


It is usually the penultimate chapter of a karateka’s journey, before they finally hang away the gi for the last time.


I made an error earlier in this piece of writing. I commented that ‘You know when you are in one’. On thought, I think maybe I am wrong about this…in fact, I do think it is possible to be in a rut and not necessarily know you are in one. Maybe you fall, bang your head and wake up falling down the hole, never knowing any different.


I can, to some extent, identify with this feeling…of not knowing you were in a rut until, ironically, you are out of one. This is how I spent much of my mid to late teenage years. Only when I exposed myself to new experiences, travelling and training everywhere my car could take me, could I look back and identify where I had been in recent years. I had been falling into this ambushing hole for a while, plodding along and not really knowing any different, and then…BANG…New experiences, new concepts, new ideas, new methods of training…where had I been?


It is not necessary, I don’t feel, to spend a huge portion of this article discussing why people fall into the rut. The ‘whys?’ are personal to the individual and for this reason it would be a somewhat futile list that would have no real ending.


My interest here is in the solutions.



Solutions – Ducking, Diving and full on Jumping over the Rut


·        I will mention THE most important solution here, as I think it is THE most significant thing a rut-experiencing karateka should keep in mind. It comes from something Aidan Trimble once said in an interview on his DVD with Dave Hazard ‘Applied Karate’. He stressed, and forgive me for not being able to quote what he said line for line, that the worst thing you can do, when in this position, is stop training. This sounds like common sense, and of course, yes it is. Is this sense all that common however? I don’t think it always is.


I do not believe that too many people quit karate in one big dramatic bout of decision making. I don’t think they say to themselves “Right that’s it, I’m quitting”. The rut is far more subtle, stealthy and sneaky than that. It starts with just one lesson…that’s all it takes. One lesson of deciding not to go training, but to instead do something else. One lesson casually becomes two, and the karateka - unaware of the lurking rut – justifies his absence to himself. Two lessons then becomes a second week of absence, and the pattern escalates from there.


Therefore – Just don’t stop!!


·     Opening your eyes to new experiences, ideas and methods is vital here. As I shared earlier in the article, I did not realise that I was in a rut at all until I had been lucky enough to have an opportunity to have a vast and wide new set of experiences. This not only opened my eyes dramatically and fed me unabashedly with buckets of new knowledge, but it also got my juices flowing again. It got me thinking…yes, my brain working again. One idea would give me something to go away to think about and work on. This would prompt another new set of ideas, some contradictory and some supporting, but all tried, tested and analysed. Experimentation here is vital. Train with as many different people as possible; absorb, analyse, practice and evaluate. Read more, watch more footage…expand your horizons. This worked for me back then, and is still essential to me.


·     Take a long, hard look at yourself. If you have lost your way, find it again by being critical of yourself and find your direction. Set yourself maybe three targets. I did this also, and constantly keep something up my sleeve to work on. This of course is not to say that I only have one thing I need to work on, but I have to be selective and simply identify one thing to work on at a time. One thing of mine for example, was that I wanted to work on the transition and application of mawashi-geri. I wanted to deliver it with as few telegraphing telltale signs as possible.


By focusing wholeheartedly on something you know you are not happy with, this provides direction.


·        Challenge yourself…set yourself a challenging objective. Here, the process is of most significance, working towards the objective. Reaching the objective in many ways is inconsequential. By this I mean that although you will be working towards something you want to improve, most emphasis should be placed on the process of getting there. This is one thing I have learned. More is learned in the process rather than the outcome. Therefore give yourself a direction of study…a few years ago I decided that I would study the role of the rear leg in rotation. I would train, study, read, and research this topic whilst incorporating the new stuff I was learning into my personal training. The more I learned, the more questions were raised, and eventually snowballed and widened my study of the subject. This process of study will whet your appetite and get your brain going again.


·        How about considering a new avenue of attention? How about competition, if you are not a competitor then how about giving it a go? Competition is seen as a little taboo to some extent within many karate circles, but it most certainly has a place. One such place is here…competition can give you so much enjoyment if that is where your interests lie; so considering it and working towards it could work – of course again, the process rather than outcome is of significance.





‘Can someone put a ‘DANGER’ marked orange cone next to this very deep hole please; it’s a hazard…Oh wait, maybe I could do it myself!’


Over the years, I have trained in some dodgy karate classes, with some dodgy characters. You can spend an entire lifetime blaming this instructor or that instructor, blaming this set of circumstances or that set of circumstances for you Shaun Banfield demonstrating Mae Gerilosing interest, but at a certain point in your training you must take ownership.


Sadly, as I touch on in another article, most shodan karateka are heavily neglected by their instructors. This generalisation of course does not apply to everyone as many groups do invest fully and wholeheartedly in their post-shodan karateka, but such cases are, in my opinion, in the minority.


At my point in my karate, I am not waiting around to be inspired…I seek it. If I did not seek it, I know I would stagnate. I would rot and what inspiration I initially had would be completely gone. Therefore, I seek it, I push for my inspiration and development. I have taken ownership of my karate. I have not ‘Owned’ it, as in ‘Mastered It’, but I am taking my development into my own hands. I am travelling the country, reading as much as I can, talking to as many people as I can, training as much as I can…investing in my own development.


Everyone says ‘Ah it was the same old stuff week in, week out, never learning anything new’…well motivate yourself then, do something about it.


I suppose the point that I am making is that you are in control of your karate, so make decisions to protect it and push it forward.



‘Oh wait…I’ve made myself a ladder out of broken twigs, branches and a convenient very long piece of rope that I happened to find in my pocket. I am now ready to start climbing out…’


The ‘Rut’ is a dark place. It is a hole, and is very dangerous. But you can survive the drop if you prepare well, act decisively and most importantly, want to survive it. Everyone experiences it at one time or another, so do not feel alone. But don’t shrug it off either; invest in your own inspiration and development, take ownership and just be sure to smile through it all!


Everyone will no-doubt identify with this feeling, so please don’t let it ‘OWN’ you…TAKE CONTROL!


Shaun Banfield