Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Spar Me - The Details...

I really hate to admit this right out of the gate, but sparring intimidates the hell out of me. There, I've said it.

I have always hit like a girl. Granted, it could be because I am a girl. Or was a girl anyway. Now that I don't hit like a girl, I guess I'm not a girl anymore. So I guess you could say that learning to punch like a man has made a woman out of me! Or as Shania Twain once said, "Man, I feel like a woman!"

Punching doesn't intimidate me. Kicking doesn't really intimidate me either. (Except those darn inside-out crescent kicks - the bane of my existence thus far in my martial arts journey)Then why-oh-why does combining punching with kicking freak me out so much?

In practice, we punch air and we punch bags. But until the sparring gear comes out, we don’t punch people. And I think that is where the line begins to blur.

The first time I sparred, it was in a very controlled setting. Since I was the only person left from my beginning class, one of the senseis took me aside and taught me the basics one-on-one in a very non-threatening manner.

  • Breathing: Up to this point in class, we were told that we MUST breathe out on punches, kicks, blocks, etc. When I became out of breath pretty quickly, Sensei explained that this is why breathing out was stressed so much. In sparring, being so wrapped up in the match at hand, one tends to "forget" to breathe at all. But, if you do breath out, your lungs MUST breathe in again, supplying you with the oxygen you so need in sparring. As a matter of fact, I have found this martial arts "rule" to be very true and helpful in almost any physical challenge.
  • Get in and get out: Don't get in there and just keep advancing. Move in, attack and get back out of there.
  • Use combination moves - don't just do the same thing over and over, unless, of course, you do it on purpose to throw your opponent off before you literally "hit them with your best shot".
  • She gave me the low-down on what was considered "low-down" or dirty - our school does not punch in the face in sparring. Top of head, yes. Face - no. Kidneys are also off limits.

Then, it was baptism by fire. We played a game called "The Gauntlet". We lined up like Danny Zuko, Sandy, Rizzo and the gang in the dance scene in Grease. Only this was the martial arts version - "Gi's" (I know - that was a real moaner, wasn’t it? Sorry, I've posted enough now that you should know you're gonna get these really corny puns with me! You obviously did not read the disclaimer…) Anyway, we lined up and the objective was for each person to "stroll" down the center of the two lines of people, acting as if they are just walking down the street nonchalantly. These two lines of people were to randomly attack the one doing the strolling. The one being attacked was to block the attack and then counter-attack. This was even more intimidating to me than one-on-one sparring. Everyone is watching you walk the Gauntlet in anticipation. I remember walking it and the teachers and people who knew me well came at me and I was very slow to react. But that was to be expected, it being my first time walking the Gauntlet. I got to the end and joined one of the lines and proceeded to watch in anticipation of the other people advancing toward me. I think it intimidated me even more to be on the line because that meant I was to attack someone, too. Some of the people really get into this and staged big old mock grudge matches. It really is fun to watch…especially when you're not the one doing the strolling.

Another time, we played a game in which a large area was covered with mats. One person (aka: the victim) stood in the center with his(or her) eyes closed. Everyone else stood around the edges, quiet as church mice so the person wouldn't know who was coming for him (or her). Sensei would point to someone and they were to attack the "victim" in any way and the victim was to "get out of it". A brown belt was out in the center with her eyes closed. Her black belt husband snuck up behind her in an exaggerated manner as we all tried not to giggle. A woman who hates to spar launched an attack on one of the guys. The guys, who enjoy the art of judo as well, were pulling judo moves on each other (a whole new level of intimidation for me!) Well, we were almost out of time. I thought I had managed to finagle my way out of being the "victim". Nope. Sensei pointed to me and told me to stand in the center of the mat…that we had time for one more - lucky me. I did and all of a sudden, what I was sure was one of the 6' guys, wrapped their arm around my neck…and tightly at that. We had done some self defense and escape techniques in class, but I had never seen the techniques for getting out of this hold demonstrated. So, I just kind of started to pull down on Hulk Hogan's arm and started to curl into myself, bending at the waist toward the mat, but not intentionally. All of a sudden, I have 2 senseis and quite a few others surrounding me, telling me to drop to my left knee and throw the guy over my shoulder. So, I did as I was told and threw the big guy over my shoulder. Everyone was clapping and thinking I had done this on purpose and saying stuff like, "Way to go." Now, I don’t know whether I was more embarrassed that they all thought the newbie had performed this really cool judo throw when it was really a complete fluke, or if it was more embarrassing when I found out which giant had the hold on me in the first place. It was the female brown belt who was no taller than me and weighed quite a bit less than me.

Just goes to show, size doesn't always matter.


Michele said...

When I was a green belt, I avoided sparring whenever possible. I would even "forget" my gear in the car in order to delay the inevitable. I eventually started to enjoy sparring but not as much as kata.

We practice drills similar to the ones you described. It sounds like you did great. It is amazing how perception changes with eyes closed. Keep up the good work!

Martial Arts Mom said...

I know I have to force myself to not come up with an excuse sometimes. But it does get easier as you have done it more. And I agree on the change of perspective having your eyes closed. I especially enjoyed doing kata with our eyes closed. Put a whole new spin on that experience as well. Thanks for reading/commenting, Michele!

Steve said...

Sparring is one of my favorite parts of class. We spar for 30 minutes in just about every class. I look forward to it as a way to develop tactical competence. If you only ever do drills, one or two steps, and kata you never have the opportunity to develop the timing and coordination necessary to actually make the techniques work.

There are a lot of ways to ensure that sparring is productive as just wailing on each other without thought isn't doing anyone any good. I have specific things I'm working on all the time and focus on those. Sometime (often) this is a position that I'm weaker in and so don't do as well, but you don't learn unless you are willing to expose your own vulnerability.

And it is just fun. :-)

Martial Arts Mom said...

Steve, I agree with you and am getting more comfortable with sparring. It will just take time & practice. As I improve my techniques, I'm sure it will get less uncomfortable. The women in class who are - I don't want to say older - but the ones who aren't in their 20's, how's that? - they (we) tend to be more uncomfortable with their(our) own sparring skills. But I think at the beginning anyway, that exposing your vulnerability is hard for everyone - that classic fear, "How stupid am I going to look doing this (or that)?" Thanks for the imput and the "gentle nudge" in the right direction!