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 gottenĀ so much faster or I had becomeĀ 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.

Leave a Reply