Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fight Club: Becoming "Tigger"

Yesterday, I hopped in my trusty ride and drove two hours to spar session in Brooklyn. It's an amazing session - one I've been to a few times before - but yesterday I finally caught part of the conditioning and drills that precede the sparring and it moved the amazing factor up a notch. And of course I'm a bit sore today, but, well...it is what it is.

Battle in the Ring: Tournament Kumite
That lone scuffle I had back in second grade may be the only street altercation I've ever had, but if  time in the ring counts, I've actually been in quite a few "put up your dukes" situations. I've learned a little something from every one of them, too - but much more from the tight battles and losses than from the wins. But what I also learned is that I like to fight. I mean I REALLY like to fight (I know, right?!?).

Understand that I'm not waltzing into bars and sizing folks up for a beat down in the parking lot, but I do like the thrill of going toe-to-toe with someone in the controlled environment that is tournament kumite. It's like a game of tag where both folks are "it" - in that one person is trying to get you while you are trying to do the same. It's a battle of timing and technique as well as creating and exploiting openings and weaknesses. It's a vertical and sweaty intensity that's fun! And through these sessions in Brooklyn, I'm learning that my game looks a lot like checkers while the seasoned veterans across from me are strategically planning chess moves.

No one there is trying to hurt anyone, but they do move with purpose. Each time I've been to the sessions, I've had at least 10 three-minute rounds but I've only gotten one boo-boo - a self-inflicted injury to my wrist when I collapsed it trying to land a reverse punch. No real harm - just a little stinging - no foul. It's karate, not knitting, so I expect to get a few owwies.

Improvements are coming slowly, but steadily. Here's what I gleaned from fight club "commander in chief"/kumite champion Gamal B. and crew yesterday:
  1. Switching lead sides during the heat of battle is a very bad thing. "When a person switches sides, something probably made them feel uncomfortable in their original stance," he said. "Make them pay for it by attacking as soon as the change."
  2. But a fake technique can be a very good thing because it helps you test to see what response will come from your adversary (a defensive side kick? off-the-line movement?). "If a fake is greeted by a side kick, that foot has got to return to the ground eventually," he added. "And when it does, attack for real."
  3. Keep moving. It's hard to be explosive when your feet are planted. That's where the bounce comes in, because it makes getting off your adversary's centerline or blitzing in any direction that much easier.
  4. Create as much space as you can when avoiding or defending against a technique coming to you - because things like leaning back a bit (instead of standing straight up) when throwing blitz-stopping side kick can make it that much harder for that oncoming lunge or reverse punch to find you. 
  5. Fight everyone in a similar manner. In other words, don't open your arms when kicking someone shorter or taller and don't fight with your hands down just because your adversary has less experience. Just like in any other part of karate, how you train to do it will probably be how you will actually do it when you really need to.
  6. See a target, hit a target. That "s/he who hesitates is lost" thing? Totally spot on.
At the end of the two hours, my pants, t-shirt and even my hair are all literally dripping with sweat. But it ain't really learning if you don't look like an exhausted drowned rat after, IMHO.


  1. I've heard sport kumite being compared to chess before (I'm not good at chess either!). kumite is one of those things that is easy to learn the basics and get going with but very hard to learn the subtleties of tactics and strategy that mean the difference between a good fighter and a great fighter. Some useful tips here though so thanks.

  2. Yay, thank you for those 6 points!
    I also feel that good kumite/sparring is like playing chess (while being hit). :)