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Sparring in Taekwondo: Part 2

Part 2 of a 3 part Blog Post

In our last post (part 1), we began talking about the importance of the martial arts in the lives of kids today, specifically with regard to gaining self defense skills. And if the martial arts student (no matter the age) wants to be truly proficient in defending themselves, then they must get comfortable with sparring, as it is foundational to learning self defense.

Apprehensive about Sparring?

At JTF Taekwondo, the instructors do understand your apprehension toward sparring. They get it because they had the same feelings when they started. It's completely natural considering our built in desire for protection of "life and limb," and overall "self preservation." Keeping ourselves physically safe and free of pain is deeply wired into us. But what else is at the root of our sparring anxiety?

A Movie Fight vs a Real Fight

We've all seen TV and movies where the epic battles with heroes and villains seemingly go on forever. Blood is shed and bones are broken but the fighters barely wince in pain. No one ever gets tired. A fighter in the movies just keeps on going like a fierce and rabid "Ever-ready" bunny. That of course, is not reality.

The movie fighters who get up time and time again, are not depicting real people. And that is not actually how fights usually go. Your typical street fight is over in less than a few minutes. And that includes the trash talking that started the fight in the first place. It's been said that less than 5% of people in America even know how to truly fight (that very likely includes the bully who is "picking" on you or you kid). The majority of bullies just want to hit somebody hard enough to get bragging rights. And it may be that that bully's punch to your hard head (no offense meant) can actually do more damage to his hand than to your head!

Knowing that a real world encounter with a jerk likely won't look anything like a scene from the latest "beat-em-up movie," can lessen your apprehension a bit, but preparation and practice is what will decrease your anxiety the most, and that is what sparring is for.

A Controlled "Pretend Fight" - Sparring

The first couple of times you are up against a classmate to spar with them, you may feel about the same level of adrenaline as you would before a"real fight." It is true that the potential is still there for getting hurt. But just knowing that you are in a controlled environment with people who are not actually "out to get you," should start to make you feel a bit calmer! You are wearing protective gear and have cushioned floor mats for when you do take a tumble. Plus, its all being overseen and managed by Grandmaster Dunn or a another member of the black belt team.

But what can I actually DO to avoid injury?

  1. Put Em' Up! Start by protecting your head, that's why Grandmaster Dunn and all of the other JTF Taekwondo instructors are emphasizing "get those hands up," or "block your face!" It's natural to drop your hands, since they normally find their back to our sides, but you must learn to "keep em' up" while sparring.

  2. Heads up! This is to say, keep your eyes open and on your opponent. You want to see what's coming your way so as to not get "sucker punched." Student's tend to look all around, which is in itself not a bad thing, but when face to face with someones arms and legs coming at you, you need to stay alert and focused on them.

  3. Get Dancing! Not the Jitterbug, but close to it. You will come to realize that the fighter with superior footwork will win the fight. "Footwork" can be defined as keeping balance, closing or furthering the distance, controlling spatial positioning, and/or creating additional momentum for strikes. Learning how to defend yourself against a moving enemy is the goal here.

  4. Get Offensive! We've all heard the phrase "The best defense is a strong offense." In our 3rd point above, we talked about the importance of "footwork" mostly as a defensive maneuver. But when you "keep moving" along with your moving target (your opponent), your hands and feet don't miss your target nearly as much.

  5. Psych! Proper mindset is critical to our success, no matter what we are pursuing. We've all heard ad nauseam throughout our lives - "stay positive," "just believe in yourself," or "if you don't believe in you, who will?" While these phrases may be a bit overused and may sound a bit "corny," using positive affirmations can actually be very useful and powerful. There is power in what we tell ourselves. Visualization can also be a powerful tool. Many famous athletes have used visualization to help their "game," no matter what it is. Scientific studies have shown that internal visualization of specific movements forms neural patterns in the brain, which help advance neuromuscular coordination. Since the brain instructs the muscles how to move, stronger neural patterns result in clearer, stronger movement.

Next up...

I very much like the famous quote by Henry Ford - "Whether you think you can or cannot, you are right." The truth of this becomes evident anytime we pursue a goal. Whether it is starting a new business, writing a book, or become a competent fighter in the martial arts, it starts with our attitude, or mindset as many call it today. In our next post, we will look some practical sparring techniques to help make us better at fighting, and therefore, more capable of protecting ourselves or our loved ones.


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