Thursday, 2 April 2009

Learning to Spar

Last night in class we did a lot of sparring practice. When I first started karate I didn't like sparring at all, I just didn't really get what it was all about. The moves that we were being taught in sparring were very different from the moves we were learning in the traditional karate. They seemed to contradict each other. With the traditional stuff it was all about planting your feet firmly on the ground, staying low in a stance and making big arm movements with the blocks. Shukokai is a very linear form of karate so all the basic combinations are performed in straight lines. It's only in kata like Sanchin and Tensho where we learn some more circular movements.

Then we move onto sparring training and suddenly its 'up on your toes' and 'get off line'. The punches become more like quick sharp jabs and the blocks are more like parrys. This sudden change of technique is very confusing to the beginner. It's a bit like training to play tennis and then entering a badminton competition. There are similarities, yes, but the techniques are completely different. It took quite a long time to realise that in Shukokai we are basically learning two different types of karate side by side. We are learning traditional karate and we are also learning sports karate. Now that I realise that these are separate things I have learnt to switch more easily between them.

Now that I know to put my sparring 'hat' on when doing kumite training I am making more progress and actually starting to enjoy it. However that doesn't mean I find it easy - I don't. My main problems are: I find it hard to see openings - the opponents arms always seem to be in the way! I telegraph too much what I am about to do - my shoulders go up, my arm pulls back to punch and my face is the proverbial 'picture that paints a thousand words'. I'm not conscious of doing these things, I only know because both sensei and my husband give me feedback on my technique. My other problem is that I don't have enough variety of techniques to use. We have covered a lot of techniques in the hokei kumite but I find some of these too complicated to remember in a free sparring match, so I end up using the same couple of techniques all the time.

Anyway, I decided to do a bit of reading to try and find some useful sparring tips to help me overcome these problems. A book I find useful is 'Ultimate Sparring - Principles and Practices' by Shihan Jonathan Maberry (I have added this to my Shelfari bookcase in the side bar). This is what I found out:

Finding openings: Be ready to counter-attack as soon as your opponent attacks - he will have to use his defensive arm to make the attack and thus create an opening. Getting the opponent off balance will also cause him to open up, so use sweeps or charge in on a kick.

Avoiding telegraphing: Don't look at the target you are planning to hit, flick your eyes at a more obvious target to fool the opponent into covering or blocking in the wrong place, then strike at a different target. Strike quickly and straight before the opponent can register the inevitable rise in the shoulders that give the game away. Put on a 'game' face which means keeping a mainly neutral expression that shows no fear or sign of injury and uses facial expressions to intimidate or lure the opponent into a trap.

Variety of techniques: Well I already know there are many different combinations of feints, strikes, kicks and blocks. It's just a case of selecting maybe four that suit me and then drill, drill, drill until I they feel like second nature to me. Once I've got that sorted I can start adding more to my repertoire.

I think that is enough for me to be thinking about and working on for now. I can see I will be revisiting this book many times for more tips and advise as I progress in sparring techniques. The only other issue which seems contentious is whether to bounce or not bounce when sparring. Ultimate sparring advices you to stay on the balls of your feet and move around constantly. However, John Vesia posted on this subject a few weeks ago (Take a Stance) and the comments he received seemed to be firmly on the side of not bouncing! What's your opinion or experience of staying on your toes - are you for it or against it?

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Anonymous said...

As always, terrific writing, Sue! You have a wonderfully descriptive style that I think is pitch perfect for a blog about karate. Your blog is really going to go far, I think!!

Unknown said...

Sparring sounds like you have to be really flight of foot! I've got flat feet and don't like leaving the ground! I would not be the "bouncing" type. Maybe your choice to bounce or not has to do with your body type.
Thanks for a look into your passion!

Littlefair said...

" It's a bit like training to play tennis and then entering a badminton competition"

Nice one.


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