Years ago I arrived at my work (in a posh city office) sporting a black eye. Having to attend a client meeting that day with my boss, he was less than pleased. He asked me what happened, I said with a swagger that I practiced karate; he said I needed more practice as I obviously wasn’t very good at it.
The more I think about it over the years I have carried more karate related injuries than from any other activity. Why? Ok , it’s a contact sport and the adrenaline is a buzz during kumite but why so many injuries? Did it make me a better practitioner- as my boss said – obviously not.
For years, sparring (or kumite) for me was hell for leather. Starting quite civilised, each partner bowing and moving around looking good, then with the first strike all pretence to style etiquette and grace was thrown to the wind as each of us tried to knock seven bells out of each other. I remember finishing fights more than once and really struggling to be sporting towards my opponent. Regardless of what was preached then or now there was little or no control and an underlying atmosphere of machismo one-upmanship. Really what should we expect when you put a bunch of guys and girls together whose pastime is to fight each other? And in all honesty it was great fun.
Starting Krav Maga was a real eye opener, suddenly I was dealing with a system that had been really thought about rather than simply passed down without question. When it came to sparring, I inadvertently re-introduced my swagger thinking I would be fine; after all I have been doing this for years. Oh dear…..
Some 6 years later I have finally learned to keep my guard up but it took a lot of re-wiring and sore faces to get there. So why was it so hard for me to change? I could see the logic in it from the beginning and in each session had every intention of doing it, however as soon as the fight started I resorted to my old form of the low Karate guard with the inevitable results. Why?
The answer lay in speed, or more accurately the lack of it. Krav Maga training includes the very clever tactic of slow fighting where you spar, but at a pace that ensures no potential for injury and lets you practice and play with moves and combinations, getting the tactics and techniques right before introducing speed. At first this is really hard, and I mean really hard as every part of you just wants to speed up however the learning impact of the drill is very effective and really subtle.
In the beginning I kept getting punched in the face because I was going back to what had worked for me previously. I had programmed myself to fight in a certain way and since sparring was always at speed I had little or no opportunity to change what I did. I either had to win or survive. Slow fighting was a reboot, allowing me to re-programme myself whilst not worrying about getting a kicking in the process.
I’m not saying I don’t get sore faces anymore, but at least if I do, Krav Maga has taught me how to hit Ctrl+Alt +Delete… and start again