I was having a weekend run with a friend and we begun talking about my early years in Karate. While running, I told him about my experience as a young athlete learning how to win in kumite (sparring). During my first competitions, I was always doing too much of too many without much success. I told him about the first time I joined a tournament and how terrified I was going inside the mat. I was a small skinny kid going up against a big guy. It was my first time and I realized that I really didn’t know what to do there. You can just imagine what happened. The big guy beat the crap out of me. Not that I didn’t feed him a nice sidekick which the crowd really loved, but the point is I was beaten badly.
A few more tournaments later, sometimes I won, sometimes I lost. I couldn’t really get to a winning feeling. I found myself throwing all sorts of technique but not having something that I knew I could always rely on. That was how I felt during those years.
One summer, my sensei and coach asked me to join a summer camp. My association during that time, Association for the Advancement of Karatedo (AAK) didn’t organize summer camps very often. I was excited to go. I felt that I was one of the chosen ones. Very lucky.
Now this summer clinic was all about kumite. We went in there to practice nothing but how to be more effective in kumite. The way the program was designed was we would practice scoring techniques repreatedly and it felt like we were not stopping until it was second nature and the confidence level was high. The objective was to gain a quality of execution that was higher than excellent. At the end of every session, we sparred. Now, this session went everyday for a month. I guess that was enough for me to realize a very important point. That was that I was right – I didn’t know what I was doing all those competitions that I was joining. Here I realized that a single technique that you practiced 10,000 times would be enough to make you win. Whether that was a reverse punch you execute on sen no sen (simultaneous counter attack), a jab reverse punch combination, a mawashi geri (roundhouse kick), or a hook kick you time to release when your opponent moves back after an intial attack meant for faking; it doesn’t really matter for as long as you can execute it with precision and confidence.
In my case, it was the jab reverse punch combination. It was the simplest technique for me to master. The idea of throwing a jab to set up your reverse punch was a thing of beauty to me during the summer camp. This technique was the first ray of enlightenment that made my eyes open bigger as a result of an understanding of what it takes to connect time and time again on a technique. I said to myself, “Now I always have a reliable steak to bring for lunch.”
It was the start of getting better and gaining better results.
I suppose this serves as a word of advice also for those who are beginnig to spar and compete in kumite. You don’t need 10,000 techniques. You need 1 technique and practice it 10,000 times. Reminds me of Bruce Lee.
Maybe, I should change the title of this article to “A beginner’s guide to sparring.” I hope the kids enjoy this article.
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