Learning To Get Hit And Other Lessons – Part 2
Paul, the Singaporean training partner, made this observation when I told him about sparring in S’s class.
“Too soon,” he said.
He thought I wasn’t ready for full-contact sparring when I hadn’t even learned how to throw a punch properly. S, however, thought differently. After a few lessons with him, he invited me to spar with some of his more aggressive fighters. Mind you, I wasn’t asked to spar with students at my level, but the senior ones who had already been following him a year or so before I did.
S’s idea was that throwing someone into the deep end right away is a good way to gauge the his ability and potential as a fighter. And he wasn’t alone. Boxing coaches, of the “old school”, like to do that as well. Throw a noob into the ring with an experienced fighter to determine if the new guy is worth the time and effort. Those coaches, in my opinion, are more interested in FINDING fighters than training people to be fighters. They are looking for their rough diamonds in the coal heap, ready to shine in the spotlight after only a bit of polishing up. What about Joe Average? Well, who cares if he gets beaten to death next time he accidentally bumps into a violent drunk at the bar? He ain’t gonna win us any trophies, yeah? F**k him.
After a few more lessons in getting hit in the face, I found myself agreeing with Paul. Initially, I thought I would get faster and stronger after getting hit in the face more often, you know, like in those Japanese martial arts manga. You only get to become a Super Saiyan after getting beaten senseless and half dead, right? But, I didn’t. Get stronger or turn Super Saiyan.
The following is one conversation I had with Paul after one particularly demoralizing sparring session.
Paul: Did you learn anything at least? Learn from your mistakes during sparring?
Teck: Not sure. I got punched in the face one second after I put my hands up. Then they kept punching. I guess… I learned that getting hit in the face hurts?
Paul: Exactly. You learned nothing except that you got hit and that a more experienced fighter could take you. But you already know that, so why pay for that lesson?
Paul had an idea about sparring. I call it progressive sparring. AFTER you have developed your tools of trade, your punches and kicks and so on, you start sparring by limiting the initial sessions to only one tool. Say, the jab for example. The beginning students start sparring by only being allowed to use the lead jab against each other. Next, the cross. During each sparring session, only rear crosses are allowed. Thus, the student learns to maximize the potential of each and every tool in his arsenal. He learns to use them properly. And finally, only when he is ready, having developed each and every tool in his arsenal to the satisfaction of the teacher, he can spar in the “no-holds-barred” fashion.
Also, instead of having the sparring bouts degenerate into unseemly spectacles of mad pokes and wild swings, it is better to restrict the bout to just one simple technique at a time. Beginners who are allowed to go in “no-holds-barred” may want to throw a lot of wild swings, that would probably get their hands broken if they tried it without gloves on, in the hope of getting that one shot in. When you know that you are going to be judged on the usage of one, and only one, tool, you tend to want to use it properly. And you want to make it count every single time.
One of Paul’s training advice was about developing finesse. I noticed a lot of instructors, not just S, like to mix physical conditioning with the practice of martial arts techniques. Nothing wrong with that actually. In fact, that’s how things should be since a martial artist needs to be in good physical shape to be effective. I myself do lots of road work (running) and other exercises (weights, push ups and sit ups etc.) to develop strength and explosive power.
The problem, Paul observed, is when both technique practice and strenous physical conditioning takes place within the space of one lesson. A typical lesson with S, for example, takes between one and two hours. Usually we start the lesson with a brisk run and some exercises like push ups and sit ups. The technique practice starts after. And that poses a problem. Two problems actually.
Firstly, technique practice is to develop finesse in our techniques, but with an intense workout beforehand, our forms suffer. Yes, we were considered to have above-average fitness, but that just meant we were pushed harder in order to get a decent workout. And with that, pounding hearts and shaking limbs conspired to make us drop our guards and shift our postures for comfort. Look, it doesn’t matter who you are. Tyson, Ali, Marciano or Batman. When you get tired, your form WILL suffer. That’s why finesse development during training is important! If you put in 100% towards developing finesse in your techniques, maybe your tired body will deviate from the perfection by 25%, giving you an acceptable 75% to work with during your fight. HOWEVER, if your training is only up to the 70% or 60% mark, then the 25% deviation will cost you dearly, giving you only 45% or 35% to work with! Can you imagine how sloppy you would look in the ring? If you consider a textbook-perfect jab deserving of the 100% mark, then 45% would be the sort of drunken poke a half-assed drunk at the bar might attempt.
The second problem is that S’s lessons were held only once or sometimes twice a week. That meant 3 hours tops. I felt that we should spend that limited time we had doing stuff we could only do in a group. Pad work and partner drills for instance. Physical conditioning, in my mind, was something each and everyone of us could do by ourselves. Our individual responsibilities. You don’t need to go jogging in a group. You don’t really need a spotter to watch you do push ups. But I bloody well need another person to flash me the pads. So I didn’t like wasting time doing something (running and other exercises) I had been doing by myself when I was alway from the pack. In any case, running only once or even twice a week ain’t gonna cut it. Not really.
I voiced that out to S but he ignored both my concerns. I got the feeling that he didn’t really trust his “prize fighters” to do physical conditioning without his supervision. My proposal to hold physical conditioning AFTER the technique practice session was also ignored. That would have gotten us the best of both worlds. Finesse during training because we weren’t exhausted and physical fitness because we could really go all out, push ourselves to the brink, once the proper martial arts lesson was over. I think after that proposal, I got a reputation for being a wimp.
So my advice here is, look for martial schools, if you are looking for one, that do not focus mainly on sweating and grunting during lessons. Physical fitness is your personal responsibility and CAN’T be imparted to you like martial arts techniques. So keep your eyes on the prize, yeah?
Teck Y. Loh