Understand, I had been in a few scrapes as a youngster and was on my school’s wrestling team. I did OK in both of these venues, and only embarrassed myself once (we will not review that at this time as I remain in step #1: Denial). My brother used to say that he never lost a fight, although there were a few that were as yet unfinished.
Sparring is daunting. Fighting even more so. There are those that will train for years in a martial art and never get comfortable with it. For most students this is what goes through your head when sparring:
- don’t get hurt
- block all incoming attacks, kicks, jumps, punches
- watch for the fake
- keep moving
- don’t run out of steam (breathe)
- look for an opening
- time your attack
- maintain control (don’t hurt the other fighter)
- avoid one and done (always attack with a combination of techniques)
- listen for the whistle / instructions / commands
So here’s a tip I share with my classes that always evokes positive feedback for days. As an instructor, set up your matches in class and then tell one of the fighters, do not attack - at all. Just defend. You don’t have to be secretive, in fact I make everyone spar like this - one attacker who can do anything - an all out assault. The other one, just defends.
There are benefits to both partners in this, but I’ll just focus on the defender. For him or her, the fight seems to slow down. Dramatically. Everyone who has been through this experiences an “a ha” moment very early on as they only have to work on blocking, backing, bobbing, and weaving. Trust me instructors - do this with your class, and they will be talking about it for days.
The other lesson that falls out of this exercise is that the defender starts to see openings; and in some cases cannot stop themselves from punching and kicking (A clear violation of the rules!!) I have to remind them not to do that, but after word we discuss how obvious the openings became.
As a student you can ask your instructor to try this, or you can wait until your next sparring match and just try it yourself. Spend the first 60 seconds in pure defense mode - you’ll be amazed.
Next time, I’ll talk about how this benefits the attacker.