Sunday, March 13, 2011

No Flinching Allowed

Once you've been punched in the face repeatedly, it leaves you with the desire to avoid ever doing that again. Ever. Sadly, as a woman, I'm far from alone in my experiences. A brutal assault when I was in college by a man in my apartment building left me in the hospital with a broken nose and multiple stitches in my face. So when it comes to karate and sparring, I'm about the worst flincher around. Something comes anywhere near my face and I squeeze my eyes shut and turn my head. In normal karate practice, it's taken years to train myself out of that reaction.

I have to admit, I've tried to avoid sparring as much as possible. That was easier to do at the lower belt levels, but now it's just not possible. Yet at the same time, my experience with being assaulted is part of my motivation for training in the martial arts. Clearly, this is something I have to overcome. So when it comes to me and sparring, it's been the mountain I've had to force myself to climb. I mean, there's no point to training in martial arts if you freak out every time someone throws a punch at you, right?

That's why I'm so proud of myself that yesterday morning I set my alarm at 6:00 am to go to a sparring seminar with my son. Taught by Tim Tolliver, a sparring champion and really excellent instructor, we had an hour and a half of focusing on sparring techniques.

That gave me enough of a boost that I managed to buckle up and register to compete in sparring as well as kata. Since breaking my arm last year, I haven't even done much sparring in class, so I wasn't only concerned about my flinching and basically panicking, I was just plain worried that I would suck! And I sort of did. I mean I know I have pretty good reaction times, can block well, and have fairly fast hands and feet. If I could just stop closing my eyes, I might be okay.

It turns out, the worst of my problems was not with hitting or getting hit. Fortunately, neither of those seemed to bother me too much. It was with hitting too hard. This tournament was "light contact" and you can even score points for no contact if it looks like you would hit the person. That was hard to get used to. Clearly, if I'm going to compete in this division, I need to focus on control and targeting more than anything. Especially in my division (women over 35, which annoyingly are called "Senior Women". Senior??? I'm not ready for that 'til I'm 65, thank you very much.), the judges were watching the contact very closely. I watched other divisions fight and let's just say that the contact was neither light not non-existent.

Strangely, I felt myself wishing I could compete more like the other divisions, which is funny. Here I thought I'd be afraid to get hit and instead the adrenaline of the fight was a rush.  In other words, I actually liked sparring. As soon as I started facing off with an opponent, it was like "Game on". I won my first round, which gave me a little boost. Second round was with the woman who eventually took 1st place. I got a few penalties, and ended up with negative points. Had to climb out of a points hole. Unfortunately, time ran out and she was still ahead of me at the end of the round. I ended up in a round that decided 3rd or 4th place. Third place was a trophy and 4th was a medal. Okay, I know that's really really silly but damn it I wanted that hardware. So I concentrated on pulling my punches and eked out a 3-2 win for third.

Overall, I surprised myself by liking it. We have plenty of black belts in our dojo who like sparring, so I know I can learn a lot if I just do it more and ask them to show me some good techniques. The black belts in our dojo are all very helpful. Next time, I'll be even better. And I won't flinch.

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