Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fight Plan

One of the most exciting features of karate and related arts is that of kumite - free style fighting. Many schools offer sparring only as an option, in part, because one-on-one matches run counter to the essence of kata (forms) which expresses the idea of facing multiple assailants. The other reason is a bit more mundane: Some people just don't like to fight. It's important to understand that it is the idea of fighting that these practitioners may find repugnant. But whether you possess some innate athletic ability, enjoy the competitive challenge, or feel that kumite really is at the heart of karate, here are some guidelines that I've drawn from my own experience that represents a combination of ethics, practical insight, and technique:

  1. Play nice. It's a dojo match, not a free-for-all. Even if you're fighting heavy, fight clean and show respect. Remember, what goes around comes around.

  2. If you're a senior and you're matched up with someone less experienced, offer suggestions when appropriate. You can do this even while you're sparring. Approach this in a way that is not belittling or condescending to your charge.

  3. Always keep moving. Never retreat in a straight line; use your angles and side-to-side movement (tai sabaki).

  4. Blocking should be regarded as a last resort. Instead, focus on making your opponent miss - then strike. If you must block, immediately counter with a strike. If you do get hit - hit back!

  5. Fully commit with your attack. Don't wade in with some half-baked move. If your opponent slips back and makes you miss, don't stop; keep going until you connect. Always follow through.

  6. This is the time to experiment. Try out something totally exotic, like a flying axe kick. Do it!

  7. Above all, relax.

Certainly there's more; this is a highly condensed list. Your own experience is vital. Remember that free style fighting is just a part of the martial arts. I find its most valuable aspect is that it forces the student to embrace spontaneity and uncertainty - something that cannot be derived from practicing forms, basics, or even self-defense. While the martial arts is a lifetime pursuit, understand that no one - regardless of skill or ability - can or should spar forever. Hajime!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just talking to my instructor last night about sparring. To me it doesn't make sense if you study karate without it. Knowing kata's is one thing, but being able to actually implement and adapt them is what really counts from a self defense perspective.

We were also talking about kata's and how at the level I'm at, many of them are starting without preps, just blocks. It's to be prepared to be taken off guard.

Great post, but what do you mean about not doing it forever? I hope I'm a sparring grandma one day! ;-)

9:14 AM  
Blogger MrX said...

Great post!

I think the most important is being relaxed.

It gave me an idea for post. Aspects of martial arts that I am improving by doing sparring. You can read it here.

P.S. : Hope you don't mind me posting a link...

2:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Amen to this posting. All of it is dead on. The way I've been taught, and if you think about it, martial arts is really defensive arts. Forms, learning weapons, etc. is nothing if you don't know how to put it to use, which is what freestyle sparring is really all about. I know as the junior in most situations with classroom sparring, I have DEFINITELY benefitted from seniors helping to point out where I'm making mistakes and teaching me, challenging me, and not beating me to a pulp (even if it's a clean pulp) in the process. Most of the time, while I'm a color belt, I usually end up sparring with 2nd degree BBs, so that definitely ups the ante. I think the only time that particular rule doesn't apply is during a tournament match with color belts. The higher belts often don't care if a lower belt is not as strong and will go for it, naturally. But that's the exception. A clean fight is always expected, and you are penalized if you don't act accordingly. Of course, I admit that sparring is definitely not my forte' (something I've said many times, and still believe), but you just have to keep trying, and keep working on it. One of my instructors told me it takes at least 2 years or so before you learn how to anticipate moves from your opponent and it clicks on how to counter those strikes. Of course, as you mentioned, my head instructor said the best defensive move is simply, "MOVE OUT OF THE WAY!". ;-)

10:00 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Black Belt Mama:
Sparring grandma, eh? That's rich. Say, that would make a nifty title for your blog in about 30 years!
Mr. X
Thank you. And I appreciate the link-back from your post.
You'll always benefit from sparring with people that have a variety of abilities and experience. You did point out something that I left out in my article: In tournament matches, all bets are off.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Mathieu said...

do you do bogu kumite in isshin-ryu?

7:18 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Bogu is kendo gear, isn't it? Shimabuku (Isshinryu's founder) advocated its use so trainees could go all out in sparring. I've also seen the wrap-around face shields (similar to kendo headgear) in boxing - not a bad idea for certain situations.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Mir said...

I believe that my greatest problem in sparring is that whole idea of "relax". I found out that you cannot force yourself to relax. I can slow my breathing, and focus on calming, but then when my muscles relax they tend to lose that sharp alertness since my mind is busy putting all of my energy towards relaxing.

I think that I will improve in my efforts to relax as I gain in experience. Please tell me that this is so..

12:49 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Your ability to generate maximum power, speed and fighting effectiveness require a relaxed disposition. Anything else is illusory. "Efforts to relax" almost sounds like a contradiction of terms - but it does get easier as you gain in experience.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Miss Chris said...

Follow through. That seems to be the hardest thing for me and my daughter. We don't particularly like sparring so we want to get the point and get out. We are working on it!

1:36 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Miss Chris:
Get the point and get out. Sounds like "Do unto others and run", which is actually excellent strategy. Keep up the good work!

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

being able to perform all your techniques and Kata's is great but once we are thrown into a simulated fighting situation such as sparring or kumite, we have all these new variables that constantly hinders our ability to perform fluidly.
Your opponents resistence will upset your balance and techniques but this can be worked around through fixing and adjusting accordingly to the situation through gaining experience.
Just using Visualisation of the opponent not enough.

6:33 AM  

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