I had to interrupt my plan for a quick article.
I have a student, Pia Cainglet, who has been studying with me for a few years. She has a very busy job and she joined the school at an older age than most new students (actually, she and I are about two weeks apart in age), and as a result has not been able to compete very often. She also has the distinction of being my only active female student, among a crew of very aggressive, physical younger man. The result is that she does not get as much “tempering”–rough treatment–as the rest of the guys. When they spar her, they are sparring their sister, not just an opponent. When she attends a tournament, she is usually the only woman her age in the tournament. So recently, we sent her to Oakland to fight with women half her age.
I have former student I will not name because he is a teacher, who is in the same position as she is. He is older than most of the fighters in a tournament, and has spent the last two decades or so training but not competing. He is at a stage in his martial arts journey where he needs to compete, and when he decides to–will be in the same position Pia is.
Here is the thing. Every martial artist must be “tempered” to get the butterflies out of his or her system. Regardless of how much you train, if you are not a naturally aggressive person, your skill will be blocked by those butterflies that paralyze you when you know what to do. Bottom line–you can’t think, you can’t react, you can’t move. You can either rid them in the ring under sterile circumstances while people watch (and you are embarrassed and end up beating yourself up over your performance)–or you can end up with injuries after a successful mugging, or worse. Some people can learn a “few moves” and commence to whipping some ass, but most people must try them out and get used to the idea of hitting someone and being hit before they will have full access to those skills.
There is no short cut. Forget what the so-called “experts” say about the unrealistic nature of tournaments and sparring. The truth is (and they will never admit this) but those drills are far LESS realistic than sparring, and they lack the adversarial nature of sparring. And the main part of that nature is the presence of fear. If you do not confront it and capture it, and harness it–throw it in a headlock, kick it in the nuts, and punch it in the chest–you will never be able to tap into the skills that lie on the other side of it.
Fear is the bridge between trained skill and fighting skill. It most likely will paralyze you. In isolated cases, like in the hands of a coward, fear will make a grown man armed with a gun shoot a 17 year old kid half his weight rather than take his ass-whipping like a man. Or cause a knife-trained Kali practitioner to slash and kill an unarmed man because his teacher never taught him to deal with his fear. Again, there is no short cut. It is the one thing that TMA (traditional martial arts) people must learn to incorporate into their martial arts journeys.
If you hear a teacher try and convince you that sparring will create bad habits, but some other non-aggressive type of training will–leave. You are not learning martial arts, you are learning martial-like arts.
Now you teachers must lose the fear of letting your students lose a fight or two. This is the main reason I believe Sifus and Guros prevent their students from competing; the teacher himself never fought and is afraid of the match, so he passes on that fear to his students. Sparring and competition is not about the win. Of course, we all want to win. But what you gain from fighting, win or lose, is so much more valuable than that cheap plastic trophy. You get a full understanding of how techniques work, how your own courage level and reflexes work, and what the erratic chaos of a fight feels like. No seminar, DVD or youtube clip can give you that.
Not even the great Kuntawman can fully explain it in a blog. 😉
We must be tempered at the hands of opponents. We must be dealt with unfairly by judges and cheating opponents. We must be bullied by aggressive fighters, pushed around, struck and taunted. I estimate about 10 fights of this type, and then the butterflies will begin to go away. And when they do, look out, because you have just entered the next phase of your martial arts journey: You are no longer a martial arts student. You have become a warrior.
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