Scenes from Sparring
“How do you hide a tree?” asks Hanshi. We’re sparring again and I’m slow to react.
“In a forest,” answers Nate, the 2nd degree black belt.
“Good. And how do you hide movement?” Hanshi turns to me.
“Within movement,” I say.
“That’s right.” He steps into fighting stance and bounces his body a little, keeping his feet poised for action but not letting them leave the floor. In this way, it’s more difficult for an opponent to see where the next move is coming from because every part of his body is moving a little bit already. “Katey, Nate—bow to each other. Fighting stance. Ready? Kumite!”
And we’re off, a snap kick here, lead punch there. Backfist to the head then reverse punch to the solar plexus. Fake footsweep and round kick to the kidney. For my rank as yankyu (purple belt), I’m far behind on sparring experience, having only been in about 15 very casual matches at the dojo. Some karateka get that many matches into one month, yet I’ve been at this almost two years.
Kumite translates to deciding hands and that is precisely where I struggle. I square off with an opponent and I know his hands are faster than my feet so I hesitate to kick. (Have you ever taken an elbow jab into the top of your foot? Sounds simple enough but it stings, let me tell you.) Struggling to decide what next, I step past the kicking zone into the punching zone and either luck out because my opponent doesn’t attack (which is unrealistic) or I take a snap kick to the ribs. Either way I’d be done for if it was a street fight.
Once inside the punching zone, I can get a decent haky ryu, backfist, or lead jab in but I never fully commit my body—I’ll send my arm and fist out full force and on target, but if you stop time and look at my stance, I never bring my body into my technique, therefore the entire move is only 20% as effective as it could be. In other words, my body reveals that I haven’t actually committed to my technique and therefore am poor at making decisions on the spot.
“Yame! Stop!” Hanshi yells. Nate and I disengage and stand at attention. Hanshi turns to me. “You’re thinking too much. What is wu wei?”
“To act without thinking, Sir,” I say.
“That’s right. Now do it. Ready? Kumite!”