B is for Spring and K is for Sparring

Bright yellow daffodils and budding buckeyes. Brilliant sunlight and a barrage of birds. Bubbling springs and a bounce in my step. The bard owl hoots and the beagle bellows. Businesses re-open. Barbeque grills are dusted off and displayed. And at my porch light after sunset? Bugs. These are the signs of spring.

My “school day” routine of 8am to 3 or 4pm fits nicely in this season. I wake in time for the last colors of sunrise and conclude my day at the desk with several hours of sunlight remaining. There is time to stand on the porch and listen to the mountain thaw and stretch in this forgiving warmth. Patches of soil swell and spread, dampened by rain or an overflowing spring. Just before eight ‘o clock there is still enough light to hike back home and a few birds chatter their news to the forest.

I have lived on Fork Mountain for nearly two years, so close to the summit of Roan Mountain and the Appalachian Trail that I cannot glimpse see the top from my porch. As the crow flies, the distance from where I sit to Roan High Bluff is a mile and a half. A ridgeline and three small peaks lie in between, but make no mistake, when I sleep at night I am sleeping on the back of a giant beast, close enough to tickle her behind the ears.

There’s an old road past the turn to my driveway (the end of the line). I’ve followed it for over an hour with no end in sight. After a while, it grows so tumultuous that a Hummer might not even survive the trek in tact. But a clearing remains, wide as a road, rocky as ever. I never seem to go much longer than an hour because there are so many interesting game trails to explore and I prefer to contour the mountain than climb it (at this angle, at any rate). But before the season is through, I resolve to bushwhack (with my extremely geographically intuitive friend) in the direction of Roan High Bluff and maybe, just maybe, reach the top.


I fought in 3 kumite (sparring) matches at the dojo last night. First a karateka two ranks below me, then one two ranks above me, then—and this was the surprise—Hanshi himself.

Sparring a lower rank is hard for me to wrap my brain around, as Hanshi has given many speeches about how upper ranks are expected to teach the lower ranks and develop trust. Yet I have the same amount of sparring experience that the lower rank does (very little), and so I find myself pausing during the matches to let her move. I get whacked for it sometimes, other times I do not. I think what I learned yesterday is that when sparring a lower rank, I should focus on blocking the techniques that come my way and looking for the openings. This saves energy, shows prudence, and doesn’t overwhelm the lower rank with a barrage of techniques.

Sparring the upper rank is always a challenge. He moves quickly and smartly and, most of all, he is at lest twice as fast as I am. He can get a kick in and out faster at about the same speed I can execute one punch. And his blocks (and eyes) are quick enough to stop all of my kicks, which should be my most powerful technique. Last night, I learned that I need to trust my kicks even though they are not fast. They will get faster the more I train and I have a level of flexibility that most people don’t, so if I can outreach or go over the top of a block, I don’t have to worry about speed as much (for now). For instance, I can stand a foot away from Jeff and round kick him in the temple. Most people don’t have that hip flexibility, so I need to capitalize on that.

Trusting my kicks has more to do with my knees than anything else. I could feel myself leaning forward or ducking to get under for a technique, when I fact I should be stepping low and driving in with my techniques, keeping my head, hips, and shoulders in line. If I want to spar effectively, I am going to have to trust my knees.

Sparring Hanshi was a total rush. I had no idea what I was in for but the best part of that it was that I didn’t have time to think about it. He hit me so many times and so fast I couldn’t even venture a guess. His hits were light taps or shoves, nothing to even cause a bruise or take my breath away, but certainly enough to be noticed and affect my concentration. I was able to get a few shots in, but by and large he would set me up, I’d take the bait not knowing it was bait, and he’d wail away as I tried to (and sometimes did) interrupt his blitz and reposition myself in the fight.

We started, stopped, started again, stopped. Hanshi gave a mini-lesson, then looked at me and we started again. In the final minutes of our match (not that I knew it was the end), he blitzed so effectively that I couldn’t not even see what was coming at me in order to successfully block it. But I never gave up, kept punching and kicking (and got a few, here and there), and didn’t get pinned up against the wall. When he administered his final technique, I somehow ended up with my back to him and his fist in my kidney. I whirled around and responded with a back kick. I completely missed him but I kept my eyes on him the whole time and that is when he stopped the match.

“Good,” he said, smiling. We were both out of breath. “Very good.”

Then he turned to the rest of the class and said, “At least we know she’s not timid!”

I smiled all the way home.

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