It is said that the fool debates for the sake of of winning and proving his point. The wise man debates to uncover the truth–even if he were to discover that he were wrong himself.
The same could be said for sparring. Each month my school hosts a “Fight Night”, in which anyone can come in and spar–on my terms and rules, of course. I have tried several times to run just sparring without giving instruction. After all, many who attend are not my students, so why should I share what I know with them? Yet the teacher in me finds it difficult to watch another man fight with mistakes and not say anything. In fact, because of this I have recruited many students this way. My first class in Sacramento consisted mostly of Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo fighters I competed against in the first few tournaments after moving here. Frequently on the circuit, I will see potential in a competitor and cannot resist the urge to drop a few tips–or at least request a short match first, and then give them (advice is better taken that way) to him.
So in our fight nights, I will often guide the path of the sparring by making occasional breaks and then offering my observations during those breaks. And this advice will sometimes help another fighter beat my own guys. No problem.
One of the things I think instructors have to be able to do is allow his guys to get whipped sometimes. It makes them tougher and wiser. Of course, we all want to protect them from injury. Yet, what better way for them to learn to keep their guards maintained while attacking, than to have a guy nail them when they let their hands lose while moving in? I could say it a thousand times, and all it takes is one match where their opponent smacks them 6 or 7 times! If a teacher avoids letting outsiders fight their boys because they fear their boys losing a match, we must look at what causes this fear…
Do you know what I think?
Teachers who are overprotective of their students are really protecting themselves from the belief that his teaching is inferior. He doesn’t mind if his students could never beat him, and I consider a teacher whose students cannot beat him to be an inferior teacher. (In my 19 years of running a school, many students have risen to the point that I will lose a match to them. I was prepared for this while still a teen, and told repeatedly that I should expect to be better than my teachers. My failure to do so meant that they were poor teachers.) At the same time, the teacher must put men in front of his fighters that will challenge them and occasionally dominate them. After all, this is the only way they will improve as fighters. No fighter ever sharpened his skills on inferior opponents. Never forget that.
Now if teachers are keeping their students from tasting the bitterness of defeat–and it’s due to fear that their teaching is inferior–then why teach at all?
It’s because these teachers are not teaching and wanting to “test” their students’ skill. They are teaching because they secretly hope their students will be dominant off of their instruction alone. This is foolish thinking. I have had, in my 19 years of holding Fight Night, no fewer than 20 teachers who wanted to “check out” my Fight Night before allowing their students to attend. Knowing me personally and my character–I would never allow a visitor to get hurt on my watch–these teachers are not worried that their guys will get hurt they just want to see if their guys will win against our guys. If they would show up and find out that my guys were all slaps, they would eagerly encourage their boys to come and fight. I met a neighboring Sabumnim once at an A&W shop, and he brought 6 Black Belt students to a Fight Night a few years back. This was without seeing my school, and he was attending based on his perception that I was a short, smiling and friendly guy who probably couldn’t fight. That night, I was not in attendance, but the late Grandmaster Vince Tinga was standing in for me, and he allowed (encouraged is more like it) my boys to waste the visitors. (He was angry that the man brought Black Belt students to fight a group of beginners). The Master I met then suited up in the attempt to teach my guys a lesson. After thumping on my then-15 year old brother, and then a female student, one of my advanced beginners put him on his butt. The next day, I called him and berated him for fighting my students in my absence and suggested he meet me for some friendly sparring. Needless to say, he never came and neither he nor his students ever attended another fight night, until one of his guys, Daryl, came and signed up.
That Sabumnim was guilty of coming to spar, not to test his skill or develop technique, but to thump on what he thought would be easy prey. He mistook my supposed humility for weakness; on the contrary, I was insulting him by being humble and friendly. See, the true warrior is cocky around fighters who are his peer and potential rivals, but is humble to those who pose no threat. It is like a big strong man flexing his muscles around 12 year old boys. Let that one sink in…
We spar unfamiliar opponents–my friends–not to dominate them, but to test our skills against them and experiment with unfamiliar techniques in the effort to improve. This is why I don’t care to find out who is attending when you come to fight. I don’t need to know that you consider yourself an MMA fighter. I don’t care if you have a Black Belt. It doesn’t matter if you are an experienced fighter or not. What matters is that you bring enough skills that my boys are able to find out where they stand and that they get an opportunity to develop their techniques on you. I do this because I want them to face fighters and fighting styles they haven’t yet faced. I must say this, because we always get MMA/Muay Thai wannabes who think they are coming to thump–and they end up getting thumped. I have yet to have an outsider come and perform as well as they hoped, because more often than not they came to kick ass rather than improve–and our guys have faced many like that. If you want to knock someone out, there are events where that is the goal. If you want to see how tough you are, there are events where that is the goal. But in the effort to develop new skills and fine-tune existing skills, you must spar for the sake of truth and development. To see if what we’re doing is working, or if we need to change to increase our intensity: for no other reason.
I don’t need these Fight Nights for my boys to kick someone’s behind; that’s what tournaments are for. We do these events so that everyone gets strangers to fight with and learn from, and develop. Even if it’s my own students who lose the match. Even if my teaching has failed them.Even if I have realized that what I’d been teaching all along was wrong or needed to be modified. Yet we do not avoid opponents and events–or come for the wrong reasons, because in doing so we avoid the truth. And for the martial warrior–truth must be the motivating reason, not ego. As a matter of fact, we betray ourselves when we spar for ego. We should be sparring to find out if our training has been in vain. You do not fight with the end result in mind; to do so shows a lack of faith in yourself and your training. Simply, you must spar to do a job: To stop the opponent’s attacks, to counter his attacks, to land your own attacks, and to counter his counters. Anything else is irrelevant, and the outcome should be nothing but improving the two men who started at the beginning of the match.
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