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Of Sheep & Tigers

By Perry Campbell

Hard versus soft training? Over the years I have heard a lot of discussion about the merits of soft versus hard training, the latter including both body conditioning and makiwara training.

At one time I had no use for schools that did not incorporate conditioning and makiwara into their training. I have now come to see the good in both methods of training. Both help the student to gain physically and mentally through the training and philosophy.

What is dangerous, however, are schools and sensei who do not teach body conditioning (hardening) while at the same time lead the students to believe they will be able to defend themselves using their martial art. There is a difference between learning to defend oneself and preparing to defend oneself.

One can learn the techniques without much impact on one’s body. But that does not make them prepared to take multiple, or even one, blow from a strong person who is fully intent on taking off his head. You might get lucky and not get hit, but if you are hit and you aren’t prepared for the physical and mental impact you are put at a distinct disadvantage.

It is important to remember that many of the people who pick fights have a backgound in fighting, be it street fighting or otherwise. They are used to giving blows and taking blows. I have heard many martial artists say that body conditioning is not necessary, or even harmful, because in a real fight situation, adrenaline will kick in and you won't feel pain. Woe to anyone who believes this. I can say this from my first experience in Okinawa when my arms and legs were pulverized in the first class.

The event inspired me not only to change my training methods (back to hard I should add), but to move to Okinawa two years later. No amount of adrenaline will keep a person fighting when a conditioned martial artist attacks his legs or even his arm (it can be extremely painful and debilitating).

This theory is best explained in the analogy “Tigers and Sheep” given by Tomoyose Ryuko, 9th dan Uechi Ryu (the first student of the founder of Uechi-Ryu karate, Kanbun Uechi. Ryuko later moved to Japan and taught there.).(1) He said:

"Sometimes karate training can be called training as a tiger or training as a sheep. If you train as a tiger -- hard training and body conditioning -- you can always train with tigers. Other tigers will also recognize you and you can train in peace with them. They know that when two tigers really fight, one will die of injuries today and the other will die of injuries tomorrow. Both will die, so they have nothing to prove.

If you train like a sheep -- no contact and no two man conditioning -- then you can only train with sheep. A tiger can train with tigers and he can also train with sheep. He just has to be careful not to hurt them. A sheep cannot train with tigers. Sheep see tigers as being very frightening and their conditioning, he says, will cause cancer (the belief that repeated impacts used to harden the body can also lead to the onset of cancerous growths). A sheep training with tigers will get eaten up.

Sometimes you see a sheep who sees the truth of tiger training and changes. In reality this sheep was actually a tiger in sheep's clothing waiting to come out.

Watch people training. Look at how they act and how they behave. A tiger can be like a little kitty, but be dangerous even though he is friendly. Tigers are quiet and watch everything. They listen and watch. They know who they are and they have nothing to prove. They are at peace.

Sheep, on the other hand, make all kinds of noises and demand to be heard. They run around and seem to crave attention and say, 'We're baaad'. They are easily hurt and easily scared. They always group together for their own protection. When danger approaches they look towards the group for protection because they cannot defend themselves. They are easy prey for the tigers. Whether it is one sheep or several, sheep are still sheep."

Whether you train hard (go - with conditioning and Makiwara) or soft (ju - with no conditioning and makiwara) is a personal choice. Both will benefit. If you are a sheep your training will undoubtedly have durable benefits both mental and physical. Just don't be deluded in your beliefs and think you can really fight a tiger.


(1) Given in an interview with Mr. Tomoyose conducted on July 20, 1991 on Okinawa by Sensei Earnest Estrada, 8th dan Shorin Ryu from Grand Rapids Michigan.

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