Pulling your punches has both a literal and a figurative understanding to martial artists. Literally, pulling punches would be punching "short" or intentionally missing the target so that your opponent can win. Figuratively, we pull punches when we hold back criticism in a way that's not completely honest. Both interpretations have the idea of honesty vs dishonestly whether it be with your words or your physical actions.
I don't pull punches. As an instructor, one of the most damaging things I can allow to happen is for a student to leave the dojo with the understanding that they can do something that they really cannot do. Whether it's a strike, a new combination, a takedown, or a defense, I cannot afford to let a student leave thinking they're the bee's knees when that actually far from reality.
So, I refuse to pull punches and I suggest you stop pulling yours as well. Does that mean you've got be be heartless, cruel, and brutally honest? Certain not! Where dishonesty and false praise can be damaging, there are few things as uplifting a honest encouragement...and when it's true, no amount of encouragement is too small! Can you find one positive skill or characteristic that your training partner is showing? By giving honest feedback, you create an environment when pulling punches isn't necessary. Consider these two scenarios in training:
Student H- "That kick was garbage. You have no idea what you're doing."
Student T- "Umm...ok." (student leaves feeling discouraged)
Student T- "You've got incredible flexibility. I don't think I can get my leg up that high yet! One thing you really should work on is pivoting on that base leg...you're not doing it at all right now. You'll gain more power and range of motion if you fix that part of the movement.
Student H- "Oh, thanks. Can you show me how to do it better?"
(student leaves feeling challenged and encouraged)
Which criticism would you rather receive? My guess is that you would prefer to be in Scenario #2. There was the same feedback without the "you suck" feel to it. I want to challenge and encourage at the same time in the dojo I like to think I balance this well. However, I'm still learning how to apply this way of communicating in other areas of my life.
At Phoenix Gaithersburg, I regularly remind our group that "the threat of contact must be real" or our training is a lie. Remember, the spirit behind literally and figuratively pulling punches is one of dishonesty; of holding back the truth. I can still push my partners and my students through drills and training without punishing them as long as I'm clear and honest with the expectations of contact. When learning new movement patterns, there is an aspect of being a good partner where you want the people you work with to experience success in the early stages so that they have "hooks" on which to hang other new skills. When learning a new takedown, we might take a lot of the power out of the technique but the integrity of that technique must be left intact. We are showing our partner an honest, realistic picture of what they could be up against.
Why do people pull their punches? I think they honestly have the best intentions and want to keep those around them safe and happy. The problem is that by withholding truth, they cause more harm in the long run.
Our style, Kyokushin, translates to "ultimate truth". We as Kyokushin karateka should be at the forefront of bringing and bearing truth in our personal lives, in our respective dojo, and in our communities.