Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sparring and the art of not running away

Sparring is hard.

Yep. That's it; that's the whole entry. I'm done.
Nah, just kidding. But really, I've learned that sparring doesn't just come naturally; unless you're practiced in it (like with most things), you'll find yourself getting hit a lot. Unfortunately getting hit a lot is something that I try to avoid, naturally. 

Of course, with sparring, pain is unavoidable. Which I don't like.
The only way to practice sparring is to get hit a lot. For someone like me, who is...well...not a big fan of pain, this creates a high-threat situation. In short, it freaks me out and I want to run away!
So basically, I'm a martial arts enthusiast that likes everything except...fighting.

But anyway, sparring is also hard because when you're in the moment, it's very easy for your mind to go completely blank. Conversely, it's also possible to have a complete overload of options where you're overwhelmed into inaction...and then you get hit. I think this is why repetition and refinement of a few choice techniques is extremely important.

While I was waiting to spar with Zach today, I was thinking about how I could set up an axe kick and completely surprise him, but my first priority is to not get hit. Of course, that itself is a recipe for inaction and...well, I lost that match, but my point is, I didn't do the axe kick because it was easier to do a front kick. Why? Not because I don't know how to do an axe kick; not because it was physically easier to do a front kick in that position, but because my mind went directly to the kick that I knew would deliver the results that I wanted. Axe kicks are flashy and are also very effective if done at the right moment, but there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that the front kick would've landed and scored me a point.

The axe kick might have given me the element of surprise, but I wasn't thinking about that. My mind went straight to whatever was at the front of my 'bag of tricks', as Sensei calls it. I suppose we could chalk that up to being in the moment, because when you get the adrenaline rush and your brain goes into overdrive, in any situation, thinking clearly is a very hard thing to do. There's hardly any time to think, "Okay, well this kick would be better than this kick in this situation" if the other guy is about to hit you. You're going to do the reflexive thing, and for me, that was the front kick and NOT the axe kick...Even though the axe kick might have been a better choice.

So, the reason that this entry is called "Sparring and the art of not running away" is because the first thing at the top of my list, at the moment, is to not get hit under any circumstance. This, I've found, is a recipe for disaster and I'm trying to change it. Or perhaps I'm not trying to change it, but I'm trying to think of ways to work around it. Changing instinct is extremely hard. Nobody wants to get hurt, no matter what they've trained themselves to do. It's the 'training yourself' thing that I'm struggling with.

I don't have to like getting hit, but I can teach myself to think away from instinct. Perhaps what I need to do is to practice applying the axe kick to more situations. Maybe I need to practice my crescent kicks and my hook kicks as often as I practice my front kicks. I need to find a way to make those other kicks reflexive. And maybe I need to practice getting hit so that I can better recognize the difference between a threatening and a non-threatening situation.

Truthfully, at this point, I'd rather run away from a sparring match than actually make a move. I'd rather block everything, time-out, and have nobody score...but that's unrealistic and it defeats the purpose of sparring, which is to practice applying what you know.
And since getting hit is unavoidable, I suppose there's no point in being hesitant.

But anyway, martial arts is teaching me a lot about courage. And about learning how to think away from instinct. Every time I practice sparring, I learn something. It's win-win, even when I get hit. That doesn't make getting hit feel any better, but at least I know that there's always something to gain from it.

I suppose it's all a matter of perspective.

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