Control in the martial arts.
I've been thinking about control lately and how it applies to martial arts. Control can be easy to define in some cases and very hard to define in others. For example, in judo or bjj I can define control as the ability to control and submit/throw your partner without injuring them. This means that I can spar with a beginner and move slowly but at the same time keeping them from hurting me. Even when I defeat them I protect them from harm. This could be done by slowly finishing a armbar or controlling their fall to allow them a softer landing.
Control in arts that include striking however seems very different. When I first started striking in martial arts it was in Taekwondo. We were told that control was the ability to tag your opponent without harming him. Eventually as the schools affiliations changed we were told real control was stopping just short of actual contact. Eventually I came to aikido and found the instructor there would flash strikes that stopped again inches from the face. He never mentioned control in striking but it was a familiar sight to me. The uke/nage relationship was slightly different. We were told to throw a solid blow that would move though the target. The blows speed might vary depending on the skill of your partner, but it was on him to move or be struck. Due to the nature of the attacks however this was basically a non-issue. Either you were moving off the line of a overtly telegraphed punch/chop/haymaker or you were flashing a feinted strike to some region of the human body and having uke react to that.
It was this flash that was taked about often. The idea was with intent you did not need to strike to get a reaction. This would lead a lasting impression on me as something of value.
Most recently I have taken up the art of boxing. Here I have learned control as a completely different thing. Here control is done by just throwing less punches or just throwing them a little more telegraphed. For example, when sparing someone better than myself I may find myself reeling from a few well placed jabs. Control in this case is not finishing me off with the right hand, but circling around and giving me time to recover and continue the round. Likewise control is showing me I have a big opening by slipping and landing a solid shot to the ribs, but not following that up with another hook/uppercut/cross. This allows me to learn from my mistakes, but pay for them as well. This is something that I can ever remember happening to me in a striking art like Taekwondo. You get the wind taken out of your sails by a hard swift shot, you remember to keep your hands up and close up that hole he just used.
So this got me to wondering why this is so different. Good striking should be good striking. Yet everywhere I go I seem to see some different definition of the word control when it comes to hitting people. So this is my take.
Stopping short leads to bad habits. While it would take a lot of skill to throw a shot with big power and proper form and stop it one centimeter off the face, you mostly see guys throwing pulled strikes with improper form to generate power when sparing tip tap. Obviously this is going to build bad habits where you pull your punches when you really want to hit something with full power. This game is even worse when you consider that if they did throw all their shots full power but stop them short more people would get knocked out by walking into a shot they didn't see coming and taking a full blast kick. When I was in Taekwondo sparing partners would walk into a kick on accident all the time. They were rarely really hurt and the teacher would say "watch your control". If I was really throwing that kick properly and they walked into it not expecting to get hit (it is tip tap sparing) they should have been rocked.
Even more bad habits get built by defining control as no touch. As I get better at striking I can tell if a strike is in range and is a threat. If a kick or punch is not even in the distance to hit me why should I react to it? How do I know if I blocked/slipped/dodged an attack that wouldn't have hit me if I didn't move? This is even true in tiptap sparing. If I try to slip a punch and it grazes my head, do I really know I slipped it or did he pull it?
I think my boxing gym might have it right. Real control is throwing your shots properly, intending for them to hit, and intending for them to hurt. This builds good habits. If I'm trying to dodge or slip and I mess up I will get immediate feedback by a nice dose of impact to my body. This is truth in training and honesty. I can learn the limits of my body, how to read the attacks and learn what to deal with and what to ignore. My old Taekwondo teacher would say that training like that has no control. I think the control comes in the form of reading your partner and knowing just how much he can take. Keeping him on that edge and pushing him to grow better and stopping just short of sending him down to the mat for a nap.
How would this relate to my aikido example? Well in that case if the instructor feinted an strike you were meant to raise your hand to defend. He would then grab that and do something with it. As I have gotten better in training with the hard hitting form of control I find that I don't react as much to things I know will not hit me. Truth in training would require them to learn to deal with this reality in some manner. Real truth in training would require me to ignore their feint (if I was not affected by it, a feint done properly will affect you) and attempt to reverse their technique.
In any case. I just wanted to get peoples thoughts on what control is in reference to martial arts.