Sunday, January 22, 2012

Humble Pie and a Side Order of Ribs

I know I've said this before, but I absolutely love to spar. It is one of my most favorite things about karate because I learn something new each time out.

Thursday, I learned my ribs are a little tougher than I ever imagined.

While round-robin sparring in class, my Sensei stepped into the mix. He'd already told us that he was going to push us all a bit - and it became apparent after the first round with my training partner that he meant it because there was no "Yame!" after a clear hit was made. He kept going - trapping us against the wall before hitting us with a barrage of punches and even sweeping us to the floor. Knowing a technique is coming and being able to defend against it are two different things, we found. But surprise, surprise - each one of us stepped up our game because we HAD to. He told us later that getting us to do just that was exactly what he was trying to do.

As we faced off, I had an epiphany: if I waited for him to attack, I was toast. In an effort to be more pre-emptive, I began to try to move off his line to see if I could create openings. At one point, Sensei dropped his left shoulder a bit while he prepared to blitz. For some strange reason, I lifted my rear hand to attack, thinking I could somehow get to him faster than he could get to me (ha!). The next thing I felt was his (pulled) side kick landing on the right side of my rib cage. And yes, even though he stopped the technique, I saw stars.

You ever get hit so hard that there is no pain or sensation at all for a few moments? That's what happened, although it was quickly followed by an intense wave that made me want to spew profanity and drop to my knees. My mind was telling me to suck it up and keep going, but my body was saying "Sit your butt down and lick your wounds!" In the end, my body won.

It took about a minute to catch my breath - mostly because I was afraid to take a deep one because I thought my rib was broken. My right side is the side that received radiation seven years ago during my breast cancer treatment and it has been a bit more sensitive as a result. I was panting like a pack mule in what probably seemed like the most melodramatic way ever, but I'd never experienced anything like that before. Sensei, of course, felt terrible and was the first one checking my side to see if anything was broken - but it wasn't his fault, really. My raised arm presented a target, which he hit with total control. That I was moving in at the time is what caused the pain. Once I was standing again, he told me to take off my gear, have a seat and get comfy since I'd be spending the rest of the evening watching. But after observing my training partners for a few rounds, I felt OK - so much so that I put my headgear back on and asked if I could continue.

Pain, it has been said, is a great teacher. What I learned from my dance with her is that I didn't shatter into a million pieces when I got hit hard, which was kind of liberating. And since she wasn't much fun to hang out with, if I didn't want to face her like that again, keeping my rear hand down is a good idea, indeed.

She's a pretty fair teacher, I'd say...


  1. Ouch!

    I vividly remember getting hit in the stomach so hard if felt like my stomach expanded then imploded. Weirdest feeling...kind of reminded me of microwave popcorn. My worst sparring injury occured due to a light tap. It must have been just the right angle to dislocate my shoulder. I dropped to my knees. No one understood what happened because of the minimal contact.

    Great post Felicia! I hope your ribs heal quickly.

  2. I absolutely concur with this post. BJJ has taught me the human body can take a pretty decent beating, between accidental elbow shots in the eye, kicks in the leg, knocks on the head. We are a resilient piece of machinery.

  3. I very much enjoy your blog by the way to start, but I would just like to comment that after practicing martial arts for years, I decided to take a easy credit intro to karate at college with my friend. We needed the PE credits, and it was the only class for martial arts my college offers so I said why not? But the problem was, was that my teacher had been practicing faster harder punches and kicks for years upon years, but barely any contact punches/kicks...also, I have never sparred before. The guy is much older and for some reason, never had us practice sparring, not even the black belts that I have seen. Anyway, being put in an easy credit class was a no-brainer, but when we had to work with blocking bags one day, that was the day I woke up. Or more in a sense, realized a problem. My friend whom I was practicing with was having a rough day, so I said, "Hey, you know, take your anger out on the bag." Thinking I'd be fine, stupidly. Next thing I know I see her smashing the bag furiously as I am sent flying backwards, embarrassingly. I then questioned what DID I learn in karate class? I had no idea how to really take a punch and kick if I was out on the street or in a situation and had to defend myself within a split second. Now I question would I even be able to take getting the wind knocked out of me, let alone be able to punch fast and hard enough to create any impact if I had to defend myself? I ask myself these things everyday, I have been punching air for five years. Any advice?

  4. I find that I cope much better with the acute impact injuries that we often get whilst training than with the chronic strains and pulls that we acquire (not always acquired in the dojo!). Acute impact injuries are intensely painful for a few minutes but tend to heal up really quickly whereas the chronic strains just linger on at a low level for weeks or months and are much more annoying...

  5. Alice, my first school was a lot like what you described - air punches without much actual contact. As a result, my self-defense really sucked - and it didn't improve until I also woke up and realized my best defense to that point would have been running away from an attacker. Then I found another school. It was quite the epiphany.

    People start training (and continue to train) for many different reasons. For some, it is for the workout/physical activity (why I started). For others it is to learn the art of self-defense (one of the reasons why I train now). I think it's perfectly OK if the reason why you are shoeless on the mat changes. The thing that matters is how you handle that change. Karate is not an instant gratification activity; it takes a long time to develop the techniques we train to use - and it takes even longer before those techniques become second nature.

    For me, cross-training helped. Mixing it up in aikido, jujitsu and krav maga has helped me see how the application of the techniques learned via karate can be used in very real, very practical ways. Sparring in karate has also helped. There's nothing quite like seeing a technique flying at you in real time to help you realize you need to block, move out of the way and/or counter post haste. It's great to hit stuff like heavy bags and pads, but it's also a good idea to work with things that can actually hit you back (other people)...

    So don't give up. If you trained for a few years many years ago, know that there is more stuff you can learn to enhance/build on what you already do know. There's always something new to learn in the martial arts. Have fun learning...

    All the best,

  6. OSU,
    Oh man, I know exactly that feeling you're describing, haha!

    If you dance with pain often, by the way, you'll find you can take more and more... and your body will toughen more and more. What completely knocked the wind out of my sails the first time I ever sparred The Juggernaut, for example, now just makes me grunt and either say "awh man" or laugh.

    In Kyokushin, we do have some people who are counterstrikers, but for the most part, aggression wins the day, IF you have a good sense of rhythm and timing and know when to go for it and when not to. I haven't got all that down yet... but I'm working on it!

    I remember the first time Sensei Wah stepped up his game a bit with me. I knew he'd been toying with me, but not how much... and it took a lot longer to realize that even when he stepped it up, he was still toying with me. I can't even count the number of times I went flying across the mat. I remember that was my first open sparring day, and I went home with my shins and feet completely black and blue.

    Protective gear lets you train longer, for sure. Though sometimes it can give a little too much of a sense of security. Of course, you can say the same for mats, too! Sometimes we use gloves, sometimes not.

    I've had Ed Gruberman moments aplenty. Those "mind if I just lie down here" moments. Mostly taking a knee to the unprotected shin. Boy howdy that hurts!

    But pain is a great teacher. It's a great motivator. Sensei Dunn says I'm the most aggressive fighter in my class. Sometimes they have to use pain to get me to chill out. The kind where you're hit and then a few moments later your body overcomes the shock enough to tell you "OH THIS IS NOT GOOD" are the worst!

    Ever get hit so hard you just start laughing? That happens to me sometimes.

    Tighten up! If you've got muscles around the area where you're about to get hit, tighten 'em up if you possibly can! Lean down a bit and tighten your lats if you see a kick in time to know where it's going but with not enough time to stop it. Eh you probably know this already! I can always tell when I don't quite manage to- the pain is WAY worse.

    I like your fighting spirit! Keep it up!