Saturday, February 13, 2016

Back to Sparring

Point Fighting in Texas in 1996 as a TKD White Belt
Last night was Friday Fight Night at my Krav Maga school. I decided to try it out, although I was anxious about what might happen. I knew the class lasted two hours, and that sparring was involved. I hadn't sparred in 15 years, when I was 29. At 44 I wondered how I would handle the experience.

Before last night I had sparred in three different systems. At my Kung Fu school in Billerica, we did more of a Western boxing style of sparring, with less emphasis on kicking. We did not follow any "points" system, and I never fought in a competition. From this experience I learned the basics of boxing and picked up some nifty circular or crescent kicks. I am a fan of the inside crescent kick from the lead leg, for example. It can set up a rear leg roundhouse kick.

When I briefly practiced Tae Kwon Do in San Angelo, the emphasis shifted. Now kicks were the primary weapons, with extra points awarded for jumping kicks. I could occasionally catch the TKD guys off guard with boxing. I did fight at one tournament, as a white belt. I beat a yellow belt (shown above) but lost to a green stripe. In TKD I learned that I did not like fighting "sideways." The TKD guys seemed to stand with their centerline 90 degrees from the opponent, which takes away the rear leg and hand. You can see the yellow belt in the photo above with his rear leg facing to the rear, in fact. Of course, the TKD guys can throw some amazing kicks, so you have to be careful fighting them!

Wing Chun Hands vs Traditional Kung Fu, from Ip Man 2
When I moved to San Antonio, I briefly studied Wing Chun. I did not spar there, because I didn't stay there very long due to the nature of the instruction. However, the Wing Chun tendency to directly face the opponent nicely countered the sideways stance from TKD. I also picked up more lead leg kicks, such as the "reverse side kick" and the "stomp kick." These are great kicks but have two caveats. First, they require more accuracy to be effective, and second, they are likely to destroy an opponent's knee. Therefore, I don't use them when sparring. Wing Chun also introduced its unique hand positions, guarding the centerline, positioned much lower than Western boxing.

Finally, I did some sparring when studying American Kenpo. In this style I built on some of the hand techniques from Wing Chun. We did a lot with elbow strikes. For example, a punch can fold into an elbow strike, which can be reversed to deliver a second elbow when withdrawing from the adversary. Because most sparring disallows elbow strikes, this is not viable unless one has to use the tactic in a more dangerous situation.

So, how did this come together at Krav Maga last night? The majority of the class consisted of exercises, striking, and ground work. The last 30 minutes was more sparring-oriented. I really enjoyed how our instructor introduced progressively more sparring-like drills before we did free-form sparring. For example, after doing more striking drills with focus mitts and chest protectors, we did back-and-forth drills, with the first person executing one attack, to which the second person responded. After a while we did three-vs-three, then later five-vs-five. After those rounds the first person executed some offensive techniques, but the defender could try to exploit openings. These drills helped me quite a bit to make the transition from "no sparring in 15 years" to "I'm exchanging strikes with an opponent."

Eventually we were told to put our mouthguards in, and we each fought a round against three different opponents. I felt good about the rounds. My last two involved guys who were much senior to me. The third in particular was rough because he was very much taller, and had great range, quickness, and technique. He got the better of me, for sure!

During the sessions I felt comfortable enough to try different approaches, such as a Western boxing approach, or the Wing Chun handwork, or the various Chinese lead leg kicks. There's nothing like sparring to drive theory head-on into action. My mind was spinning afterwards trying to figure out how to handle the bigger, faster, more experience guys when we fight again next month.

If anyone has any tips or resources they would like to share, feel free to respond to my announcement on this post on Twitter, where I am @rejoiningthetao. You can also leave a comment here, but I have to approve comments manually in order to avoid comment spammers.

Over the next week I will also post product reviews for the shin guards and boxing gloves I wore to Friday Fight Night.

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