Recently, I was teaching a semi-private lesson with a couple of students. We were working on a new technique and it was taking them awhile to learn it. They then turned to me and asked: “how do you counter this technique?” My answer was that, like anything in the martial arts, there were several counters. They were excited. I said “But…….

But what?

You haven’t even gotten this new technique down yet. In order to understand the counter, you need to understand not only how this technique works but also to relax.

The biggest issue is that they were either muscling their way through the technique or resisting the technique. They had not really learned to relax.

In short: how do you expect to learn the counter when relaxation is absent?

To be fair to my students, they were enthusiastic about the lesson and were like kids on Christmas morning. How can I not be happy with this enthusiasm? To satisfy their curiosity, I did show them a basic counter to the technique that they were learning. To their credit, they knew that they were struggling with the basic technique and, more importantly, with relaxation.

Learning to counter requires relaxation. If you default to resisting techniques being performed on you, you will have a difficult time seeing the counters. Resisting techniques seem to have the magical effect of creating tunnel vision, narrowing your options.

In other words, the more you relax, the more you can see the counter possibilities. Conversely, those possibilities narrow considerably when you focus on resisting a technique.

If you are not able to view this video, click here:

For example, in the above video, I tried to counter Alex’s punyo shot by stiff-arming and resisting him. See 0:13 through 0:20 of the video. Because I stiff-armed him, Alex got around this by punching me.

I often see students resisting or muscling their way through techniques and then ask me what the counters are. I always tell them the same thing: “you’ll learn the counters when you can demonstrate to me that you can relax.” 

In other words, what is the point of learning the “counter for counter” if you haven’t learned to relax?

“The more you relax, the more you can see the counters!”

I once asked Professor Presas, at a camp in Atlanta, about this after observing a player trying to muscle or resist a more experienced player. Over a breakfast of eggs and bacon, I asked him: “is it appropriate to resist a technique?

Professor responded: “My God if you resist me, I will crush you. If someone resists, you must relax and go with the flow!” 

In order to pull off counters, you must be in a relaxed state. This means learning how to relax.

From an instructor’s perspective, it means teaching how to relax.

Teaching students to relax is sometimes difficult. Most students understand this intellectually.

However, to be able to actually physically relax is easier said than done. And, for some, it takes considerable training.

So, when teaching the concept of relaxation, I keep it simple. “Just relax throughout a basic drill and refrain from resisting or muscling a technique.”

For example, if I can show that I can stop Alex’s punyo feed in a relaxed state, then I’m ready to learn a basic counter. If I can’t show that I can relax, how I properly learn the counter?

Bottom line: I’ll teach you the counters when you learn to relax.

As Morpheus said in “The Matrix”: “Free your mind.”

And that comes from relaxing.

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3 thoughts on “When to Teach Counters?

  • April 21, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Thanks for this article – you know I’ve been trying to relax 🙂 Yep, I’ve noticed that if I power my way through a block, my opponent is already coming at me with a second attack ’cause I’m slow and stiff.

  • April 21, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    I thank you for sharing.

    • April 22, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Thank you for reading this post and commenting. 🙂


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