Sparring 201 - Controlling the Fight

Mr. G asked me to write a paper on "Controlling the Fight" a couple months ago. Here is what I wrote.

Controlling the Fight

There is not a single key tactic that in and of itself will control, and therefor win a fight or spar. It is a combination of several things and also one’s personal ability to use them well. The physical component of the fight is important, but I believe that the mental aspect is equally important, if not more so.

I’m going to begin with the mental part of the spar.

    First is mindset, which begins before you even bow in to begin. What is your attitude – your sense of purpose for the fight? Are you going to play tag with your opponent, trade a few techniques back and forth, or are you coming in with the attitude of “I’m going to dominate my opponent.”? You need to have the mindset well before you bow in to spar. You need to “flip the switch,” especially if your opponent is better than you. Flipping the switch also has to do with mindset. For me, there's a huge difference in mentality when sparring someone who's just learning to spar than sparring one of my instructors. If I'm sparring one of my instructors, the goal is not to go “tap tap” with my opponent unless instructed to. It’s no longer a friendly game of tag. It’s a fight. My opponent is my opponent, not my friend at that point in time. Best bring your “A” game both mentally and physically.

    Next, is focusing on the fight. Your mind should not be racing a mile a minute, thinking about what could happen, what you should have done, and what your opponent’s every move means. These things should be muted, in the background of your mind at the very most. Thinking slows down your reaction time and interferes your ability to just let your training take over. It also makes you get locked up with your thoughts and distracts you from your opponent. You should be focused, but ultimately thoughtless. Basically, mushin. “Mind, no mind.” Thinking and figuring out your strategy should come before, not during.

    Third, is reading your opponent. Before the fight begins, you should already know how your opponent is going to move by their stance. You should know, if not immediately, within a few seconds the distance that their arms and legs cover and where you must be to barely avoid being hit.

The physical part of the spar,

    Fighting your fight is vitally important. You can’t wait around for the other person to initiate. You run the risk of falling into their rhythm if you’re constantly waiting for them to do something. Strike first, strike fast, and strike hard. Keep the opponent on their toes, guessing what you’re going to do next.

    Next, Be mobile. Don’t stand in one place planted on the heels. Get on the balls of the feet. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE! Vary your steps. Cut angles. Don’t be linear. Don’t make your transitions big. Keep them quick and few and far between.

    Quickness is next. Being able to spot that opening and capitalize on it immediately is key. The opening will only be there for a second, and if you don’t take it, it’s gone.

    Power is not as important as the previous things that I’ve mentioned, but it is still something you must have. Your opponent must respect the power behind your techniques.

    Varying technique is my final point. If you do the same things over and over again, your opponent can pick up on it and adapt to it. You may get by doing the same thing over and over again with a lower ranking or younger student, but when the time comes where you're sparring someone who knows what they're doing, they are going to read you like an open book. You must vary up your techniques. Throw lots of combinations. Even if you have a few go-to combinations, mix it up, because patterns are obvious.

Official Test Day is Set

In my last post, I mentioned that I had a tentative day of March 31st, 2012 for my black belt test. I was under the impression that this would be a tentative date to give me a goal to work toward. Not a set in stone, definitely happening at this time. Obviously I was wrong.

I walked into class on Tuesday night. It was a normal class night, other than the fact that we've moved to a new location that has more floor space than the last church we were at. I began getting ready for class, putting on my uniform and belt. Mr. G then walks over and matter-of-factly states that he talked to Mr. R.S. over at our sister school, and since they are off for Spring Break the week of the 4th, they will come up for my test then.

So my official test date is March 10th, 2012

Okay then!

That means that not only is my test date written in stone, but it also means that my test has been moved where I originally had it on the 31st up to the 10th instead. Oh, good. Less time for me to prepare! With that said, I suddenly feel the need to go spar the heavy bag for the next several hours without stopping. . .

Black Belt Test Thoughts

Over the past couple months, there's been some talk about a certain test.

A very big test. . .

My black belt test. 

. . . .

That's scary.

Mr. G asked me not too long ago when I thought they could pencil in my black belt test. I froze on the spot, still as a statue, and I'm sure that had my jaw not been stuck firmly in a closed position from pure surprise, I would have gaped at Mr. G as I stared at him. I'm not in any hurry to test. I want to consolidate my knowledge and ability further before even thinking about testing.

He went on to say that I do well with having a goal and setting a tentative test date to work toward is something I need to be thinking about. I agreed, and then he asked me how six months sounded. While the thought of testing has been in the back of my head ever since my red belt test, I have had it set as a future goal, probably happening in around a year. I've said "about a year" in my head since my test, but that time line has not changed since March. Hearing "six months" as a possibility changed my thinking from happening in the future to happening soon.

I mention this now, because he brought it up again last week, except this time he was wanting to hear an answer. I considered it and what I have to do to be ready for that test. The major issue that came to my mind was not technique. It's conditioning.

Conditioning is the big one. I need to get in serious shape and drastically improve my stamina. I have good flexibility, but my endurance needs work. I've been to two black belt tests, so I have a good idea of what they're like. First of all, they are intimidating! Not only in the time involved - a minimum 3 hours long. Yes. I said THREE HOURS LONG. That is a seriously long time since I'll be the only one testing and the 9+ black belts who will test me will be staring at every single move I make. The test is just as big of a mental test (if not moreso) as it is a physical one. There are also at least. . . five spars plus a 2 on 1 spar. . . back to back. And I thought my red belt test was long (just over 2 hours). Ha! Endurance is KEY! Not only is endurance part of the conditioning, but I need to be better conditioned to take a punch or kick. I have been told that being able to deal with a good, solid punch or kick is part of the test.

Of course the second issue that came up is my technique. I am a perfectionist, so there are so many things that I want and need to improve on before that test. I know all my forms, one steps, kicks, etc. but it's a matter of getting them really, really good and up to black belt level.

My sparring is also an issue. I'm still too defensive when I spar. I need to adapt and not use the same sparring style against everyone, because this will get me beat. Going in straight on an opponent who has greater reach is not the smartest idea. I need to stop thinking so much about what's going on, what the opponent is doing, and just react. Sparring needs to become more second nature than it is currently.

The final area I thought about is my confidence. I am very comfortable when I'm put out there teaching the kids class. I know what I want to teach, how to get it across to my students, and I know what to look for. I'm confident there. I'm not so confident as a student. I second guess myself too often and I need to fix that.

With all these things in mind, I came up with a tentative date. Mr. G approved it and told me that I need to work toward that goal.

My goal for testing for black belt is March 31st, 2012.

That's just under six month, which will put me at a little over a year since my red belt test. I think this is a do-able goal. It gives me something to shoot for, and if it takes me longer, then so be it. But with having a set date, this makes the test real and not "Oh, well, it's sometime in the future." I have a goal and I'm going to work hard on the things I mentioned so I can meet that goal.

First Tournament Results

So, the tournament is over and done with. The experience was great and I learned a lot. I was able to experience the other side of the coin, going from spectator to competitor. Sitting in the stands is so much easier than participating. You are comfortable and cozy, relaxing in your seat and watching the others warm up and get ready. You watch the matches, cheer on your classmates, and point out things that other people are doing to your classmate sitting next to you. You are relaxed. As a competitor, here is what I experienced.

6:30am came early. I got ready to go, then drove to meet Mr. G, who I was carpooling with. At this point, I was already a bundle of nerves. We met up with several members of our sister class at McDonald's and had a good breakfast. Well, most did. I attempted to eat, but my appetite was gone, so I only finished half of my meal.

We drove down the street to the event, found a parking spot, and registered. Over the course of breakfast, Mr. G had talked to Ms. S about competing, so she signed up for the same events I did - Point and Semi-Knockdown.

We changed, warmed up a little, then Ms. S and I walked over to one of the Point rings and warmed up with a little sparring. Mr. G and I then spent a couple minutes sparring and I worked on my techniques. As more and more people arrived, I tried to see how many women would be in my division. It was hard to tell, because the few I did see looked like they would be in the Under 17 division, so I didn't get an accurate count.

10 'o clock finally rolled around and the age groups were divided up. I walked over to the 18+ group with Ms. S and waited as a couple black belts separated us all into our divisions. There were only a handful of women, and like I thought, a couple went over to the Under 17 side. I believe there was one yellow belt, one green belt, one blue belt, myself, Ms. S, and another black belt. The yellow and green belts were put into a division, the blue belt and I were in another, and the two black belts had their division.

I think I scared this poor blue belt woman half to death. Our class was the only Tae Kwon Do group there. I think everyone else were from various Karate styles. As such, they don't have a red belt in their syllabus, only brown. She saw my red belt and asked what kyu that was. I told her 1st. Her eyes went wide and she said "You mean your next belt is black?!?" I said yes, and she asked me how long I had been training. I told her eight years. Her eyes widened even more, and she exclaimed "I've only been training a year!" She immediately called a ref over and told him the situation. When he heard that I have been training for eight years, he sent me over to the black belt division, and she was grouped with the yellow and green belts.

Mr. G had mentioned that I may be sparring black belts, so I was prepared for this, and also pretty happy that I would be sparring "up" instead of down. All the kyu ranks went first, then our red/black belt division had our turn. Ms. S would be sparring Ms. M, then I would spar the winner. I ended up sparring Ms. M. That point spar went by so fast! I lost 4-1, which put me in 2nd place. What hurt me the most in that spar was that I backed up instead of going forward and the judges called a couple of her techniques as connecting before mine.

We had a long break as the rest of the point sparring finished and the mats were set up for Semi. One event completed, one to go. I was feeling a bit more at ease now that I had gotten the point sparring out of the way and Semi was next. Point sparring is just a totally different mindset from the continuous sparring that we do in class so I was feeling good about this next event because it is more like the sparring that I'm used to. Mr. R.S. had brought two target pads and he called me out on the floor for some Semi-Knockown warmup. He had me work on shin kicks to the legs and also some knees. At this point, the kids had started their semi-knockdown, so Mr. G, Mr. R.S., Ms. S, and I went down one of the hallways that led to the locker rooms and we continued to work with the targets.

Like I said, there was a forever long break while the multitude of kids sparred, so Ms. S and I spent about ten minutes doing some light sparring once we had our gear on.

Our division was finally called. The two mats that were set up for the kids had been combined into one large mat. There were only five women sparring this time, and we were separated yellow/green and red/black. The green and yellow belt women were asked if they wanted to combine divisions since they were so small, but they said no. I would not have minded because that meant I would fight more people if I won. The way it worked out, I was up first against the Karate black belt, and Ms. S would fight the winner.

The round was set for two solid minutes. Over the past several weeks, I had been drilling what to do and what not to do in this spar. No hand techniques to the head. Kicks to the head and the legs were okay. If you're knocked down, that's half a point or a whole point awarded to the other person depending on how long it takes for you to get up. The most common stance for Yoshukai karate is a front stance. We spar from a side stance or a modified back stance. I needed to be aggressive and advance - because the aggressive person is usually the winner. It would not be good if I went backwards or was too defensive (which is a bad habit of mine). I am a defensive, counter fighter. If I went toe to toe with the Yoshukai front stance, it would most certainly turn into a slug fest with punches, and I would probably lose, because that is how they train. I repeated to myself that I would not go there. . . . but....within ten seconds, I did. It was not pretty. The other girl was not hitting me hard, but she did whip a pretty roundhouse kick up to my head a few times. Also, I backed up and tripped over my feet once, and she got me with a front snap kick that made me fall. The round was called in her favor. I was not happy with how the spar went at all. It's like everything I said I would do (or not do) just went out the window. I didn't get in any of my hard kicks, and I mainly just traded punches with her.

Anyway, rant aside, it was a good learning experience. I'm determined to train hard, fix the mistakes I made, and go back next year with better results. I have no more "Well, it was my first tournament. . . " excuses. I was beat mostly because I was too defensive. I backed up and wasn't driving forward like I knew to do.

For the moment though, I'm ready to forget tournament style sparring and get back to the normal sparring that we do in class. None of the "don't punch the head," "Stop sparring when someone gets a point," "A tap is a point" rules.