Unlearning Sparring

Most of my training is solitary. And this seems almost comforting when I think about the techniques I must practice thousands of times over this next year. Just as Bruce would have wanted. Being alone may be the only way to accomplish those kinds of numbers. But I still need to train with others. Others who are fast. Others who are better than me. Others who can see where I am and where I need to be. When I have no opponent, I have no one to correct my mistakes by catching them (and thereby catch me). Living inside this skin, I can fail to see my little glitches. Like viruses, they are invisible at first, until illness sets in. Like the illness of telegraphing of my attacks. I am a quarterback who obviously stares at his receiver before the throw only to be picked off by the cornerback. Over and over. For the elites in karate (why are so many of them in southern California?), this means hitting me before I’ve even finished my first punch.

In the last two tournaments, I just couldn’t seem to get anywhere near my opponents. They knew when I was about to attack and would easily glide away. It seemed almost magical (and quite irritating). I would say, “They have gotten so much faster or I had become so much slower.” This may still be true, but I now know there is a more obvious answer: my pesky left foot. My teacher was kind to point out that I always taking a short step with my front foot just before I would launch any attack. Such a clear telegraph, “Here I come. Feel free to consider your best attack and let me have it!”

I didn’t even know I was doing it. Conditioned into me by hundreds of (glitch) repetitions. The dark side of reps exposed: bad technique turned into bad habit! So embarrassing. After my teacher pointed this out, I tried to spar naturally without taking this little step. Ugh, stomp, stumble. I’m back to white belt. Then my teacher gave me a basic combination of fakes and punches to try. It was sharp and beautiful in its simplicity. It occupied my opponent’s mind and created a huge target for a nice solid reverse punch. Just the kind that referees love. It worked every time. “There are hundreds more like this.” He dropped this sentence casually as a reminder that my brain operated somewhere else. Somewhere outside of simplicity.

I was reminded of his other deceptively simple lesson from just a few minutes earlier. “Fight off your back foot. That controls everything.” Again, simple. But tell that to my front foot. The one with ADD, the one that wants to squeal, to spoil our fun. This is unlearning.

Bruce Lee: Time Management Guru?

I’m inching toward my first ambitious goal: a day including all of the big three Bruce Lee training activities. 1. Cardio 2. Strength Training 3. Martial Arts Training. I’ve now had a week where I’ve done at least one and sometimes two of these. Today, I was proud to once again finished two. I’m still hoping for the elusive trifecta. Maybe next week. Hopefully next week. I’m starting to think that Bruce Lee must have been some type of time management genius. Either that or he got up at 5 am every morning. This is tough news to accept. It’s starting to look like I will have to develop great skill in one or both of these attributes if I hope to fully implement his training regimen by the end of the year.

Getting up at 5 am sounds like such a great idea. This is an idea that makes sense only the night before of course. The morning of, I feel a panic that tells me that if I’m crazy enough to get up, I’ll probably lose the ability to speak or start hallucinating. Time management sounds like a good idea too. And I have gotten better at it (I think the trauma of trying to write that 15 page 20th Century Philosophy paper from midnight to 8 am the morning before it was due helped a lot). I think one way to reach the next level of time management, the Bruce level, could be to find a way to wean myself off of my regular checks of hotmail, yahoo mail, twitter, flickr, facebook, Tumblr, Huffington Post, and Salon. I can feel the fear rising even considering this radical idea. So maybe this idea has merit. I wonder how Bruce Lee would manage his social media time? Judging from his schedules that I’ve seen so far, I think it would be something like “10:15 – 10:30 – Post to blog, flickr, facebook, and Tumblr.” He was an incredibly fast puncher, maybe it translated to other things?

April 19, 2013

An hour and a half of trail running and an hour and a half of weight lifting. I even got through all 13 exercises of the Hak Keung Gymnasium 1965 workout. Legend tells us that he made significant gains in size in just 44 days.  I guess I should measure myself. As for this weekend: karate!

Lessons from Being Punched in the Head

I was confident once. That was in 2002. That was the year that I won the City of Commerce Invitational in sparring. And the California Challenge Brick Breaking Championship. That was also when I didn’t think that much about karate. I just…did it. Today is different. I’m thinking again. I’m a novice again.

My possible de-evolution seems to be most obvious in my sparring. In 2002, I fought with no strategy. Well, actually, I did have a strategy, but not a real strategy. It seemed to work, though. I call it “Berserker.” Before the match started, I would bounce up and down and stare at my opponent like I wanted to chew on his arm (and this was before the current zombie craze). Then, when the referee shouted “Hajime” to start the match, I would usually let out a yell for no reason whatsoever. I would follow this up by charging like a maniac toward my opponent. Catching him momentarily off guard as he stared at me in confusion, I could then launch into a more reasonable sparring combination. This generally impressed the referees. I’m still not entirely sure why.

So maybe it would be better to call this strategy “Berserker, then reasonable.” Still, I mostly enjoyed the Berserker part of it. I wouldn’t have even attempted reasonable sparring except for the fact that AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) referees are biased toward rewarding very proper and reasonable techniques with things called points. Being a maniac does not generate these points.

This strategy really used to work, I’m not kidding! Then it did stop working for me. That was this season. I think the only explanation is that my opponents got much faster in the last 10 years (who could imagine that I would have slowed in 10 years?). The following is my summary of every single exchange in my matches this year:

Me – Crazed attack

Opponent – Immediately pop me with a little punch to the head or stomach

Me – “Where did that come from?! And you didn’t even give me a chance to show the refs my proper technique. Now I just look like a lunatic!”

I’ve tried this for two tournaments this season and come up a little (OK, a lot) short of victory. It’s time to learn from this. So it’s back to the tree.

April 18, 2013

I’m sticking with the one line about “500 punches” from The Art of Expressing the Human Body, (Bruce Lee, 1940-1973). Why am I sticking with the “500 punches?” Because I’m told that it takes 10,000 repetitions to absorb the basic fundamentals of a technique. I have a ways to go. I’ve certainly done more than 10,000 punches in my martial arts career, but I can do them better. Much better. The last two tournaments have shown me that. I jog up to the park and start practicing using the tree as a target again. I start slowly at first. I’m looking good at this pace. Then I speed up.


Attacking the Tree

I’m starting to realize that some of Bruce Lee’s workouts are perhaps a little daunting. At least according to some other people. Not me, of course. I got through eight of the thirteen weight lifting/strength training exercises before I ran out of time yesterday. If I had had the time, I could have done them all. Trust me. That’s what my brain is telling me. I think my body may disagree a bit. OK, I want to be honest with you, my mystery reader. The last time I actually lifted weights was during my one season of JV football. That is when my quads ballooned and nothing else seemed to grow (clearly I was destined for karate). That must be why the 95 pound sets of squats wasn’t fazing me on the next day. See, no problem. Except, I seem to have lost full range of motion in my upper body. I think those muscles were a little confused about my intentions. My quads are not confused, clearly they love to be punished.

I don’t mind the soreness, but I didn’t get to do any karate yesterday and now I’m a little worried that I will be able to pull off my ambitious karate goals for today. Year of Bruce does imply some type of martial arts training, right? I can’t let my mystery readers down, they might mysteriously share their disappointment.  Today’s karate goals will be implemented, I’ll ignore what my body is saying for now. The mysterious readers win. This blogging thing might be working. The guilt of letting these phantoms down is keeping me ambitious. Nice.

Day 2 – April 16, 2013

Looking at some of Bruce Lee’s more martial arts related workouts, I find myself again running into the time crunch issue (This in the first two days. I wonder if there’s a lesson here…). Entries like, “7 – 9 am Kung Fu, 9:30 – 10:00 run, 11 – 12 design entire fight sequence for new movie…” have me a little concerned. Maybe I’ll just focus on one thing. I see “1 – 1:15 500 punches.” I can do that! Not in 15 minutes, but I can do it. I jog up to a nice grassy spot in Griffith Park along my running route. I have the earbuds in and Au Revoir Simone blasting (a little twee, I know, I must like a soothing vibe when punching). I have two combinations to work through, 100 reps each, which will get me over the 500 punch mark. But where to punch? I need something to punch at so I can check my accuracy. That tree will do.

Back foot up, explode to the tree. Back foot up, explode to the tree. Nice rhythm. I just need to ignore the homeless, previously napping guy who’s risen from his slumber to wonder why I’m attacking this poor tree. If he thinks this is strange, wait until he see’s me practice kata.