In the martial art of Tang Soo Do, we practice Il Soo Sik, or One Step Sparring as a means of building self defense skills. To the untrained eye (a.k.a. normal people, parents in the waiting room, humans with actual lives), it would appear that One Step Sparring isn't sparring at all, and almost all of the techniques (there's 30) have more than one step.
This is not the only place in our training where the given name doesn't match up with the observable behavior. For instance, if you've ever studied a martial art, you know that the term Free Fighting is anything but. I'm not suggesting that our training is not a great value, only that the word 'Free' is as out of place as a Wookiee at a Trek Convention (trust me, it's out of place).
Classically, One Step Sparring involves two students; one attacking and the other defending. The attacker begins by stepping forward and punching to the face of the defender. The defender then has, as mentioned earlier, 15 defenses using his hands and another 15 using his feet. All of the moves are carefully scripted, so the observer (and some Wookiees) often wonder; so what's the benefit?
There are three primary benefits to One Step Sparring and a couple more which are often overlooked. The first value one derives is the learning of a technique. Maybe it's a simultaneous blocking of the incoming punch along with a counter strike to the attacker's face. Maybe it's a nuanced sleight that moves the defender out of harm's way followed by a side kick to the chest. The important element is that the body is being trained through repetition how to move.
Some call it muscle memory; the notion that the body, through repeated action will learn to respond instinctively, without thought when confronted with similar inputs. Whatever you call it, it works - the body, or mind, or spirit, or ghost of Christmas Present learns to move without having to guide each nerve impulse. So the first thing you learn is a technique.
Next up is distance. Many of the early One Step Sparring techniques we teach involve the defender counter-punching to the face. I cannot count the number of times I've been hit by earnest white belts right smack dab in the mouth. This is always followed by a "Oh my God, I didn't mean to do that." Really, I think to myself - you only hit the very thing you were looking directly at; it's not like you were distracted.
Alas, the length of one's arm, or leg, or elbow, or other appendage (forehead, knee, heel, etc...) is apparently a carefully guarded secret that your do-ables keep from your know-ables. With lots of practice and repetition one learns the lengths of one's extremities, to the point that you can flat out punch towards a brick wall with full force and extension, and stop so close as to slide a piece of paper between the two. So the second thing you learn is distance.
The third major lesson embedded in One Step Sparring is timing; learning how to move with your opponent, neither anticipating or following their actions. This last element is the toughest to learn and takes the longest. In our school, nothing happens until the defender provides a loud 'spirited yell' which signals the attacker to attack.
We recognize this is artificial, and as the students progresses we explain that the attacker should be able to initiate the assault without prompting. Only then grasshopper, can you know if you are truly prepared. So the third thing you learn is timing.
There are some other benefits, for instance the constant repetition of having someone punch at your face reduces the natural anxiety this normally presents. Go figure. The back and forth practice often yields the most social interaction of the training hall - it's where you make really good friends. I guess that's another one of those misnamed exercises.
Question; "Where did you met your best friend?"