Sparring, and the desensitization to violence.

So Friday was my first ever sparring class. I hadn’t been going before this, because I didn’t have equipment. Mr. C. finally hooked me up with some ghetto old used gear, which I was so thankful for because I can’t imagine paying full price for all that. All piecemeal parts; I look like a Raggedy Ann of sparring. Oh well, Rocky was the poor kid too, right?

I was as nervous as a virgin on her honeymoon. I felt like I was brand new at the school again, with no idea even if I was at the right class time (I was) or the right room (I was). Warming up, pretty normal. Then, Mr. C. put on some hoppin’ music, paired up the teams, and let ’em at it. I was paired up with a 16-year-old green belt. I totally thought she was going to take it easy on me. Boy was I wrong.

Like most new sparrers, the first thing I did was let down my hands and got kicked in the face. Sweet, ok, learned from that. I got some good kicks in, but definitely felt the force of hers through my thin padding. It seemed I could only think fast enough to throw the most common kicks- turning, side turning, and 180 back piercing. I was in wayy too close, which allowed me to get in some punches, but that kind of defeats the purpose of TKD, so I learned quickly to back up and give myself some space to get full power on my kicks. Sparring against the green belt was tons of fun.

But then I was paired up the next two times with two red belts- a mother and daughter. The mother gave me a decent fight, though she may have been taking it easy on me, but the daughter was either really bad at sparring or just not trying at all. I rapidly lost the will to fight her. For my three kicks, she got in one, not even very good ones. I didn’t want to hit her at all. It was the absolute strangest thing- I felt sick almost every time I hit her, and couldn’t look at her face.

It was so bad it made me wonder if I’m bad*ss enough for a martial art. Up until now, I’ve only experienced the art part. Now, I am seeing firsthand the martial side of it. I feel very strongly that I could get used to sparring. But in order to do so, I would have to depersonify those I am sparring against- and I wonder how good of an idea this is. I wonder if I could see them as objects just for during sparring class and then see them as persons again after class. I wonder how it would affect me if I ever got into a real street fight- if I would be able to see them as persons just enough to keep myself in check. Should I let myself be desensitized to the violence I’m inflicting on others (even if they have protective padding)?


5 Responses

  1. Well, those are some difficult questions. Let me try to give you some thoughts on some of them. In combat you need determination and courage. The attitude is one of the most important parts of the whole package. As any human act, how will any action affect us depends on the intentions and purpose of our action. So, training on combat could degenerate on violence but sparring and training must be done with a different set of mind. With martial arts you can learn how to fight and yeah martial arts techniques are designed to disable the opponent. But that’s just the end result. Why do you want to learn how to fight? In what conditions,? how will you respond under different scenarios? All the circumstances and reasons motivating the student to learn a martial art are important. In fact, fighting could be learned independently of any martial art. But a real martial art is holistic. It is your choice, if you will decide to center your efforts in the physical fight or you will embrace all the martial art’s “way”. The fight is of all the person (mind, body and spirit). So, the set of values on the practice make the difference between a street fight and learning a martial art for defense, or learning it as an integral system and tool to help you grow in every aspect of your life.
    By the way, you should see the opponent as person or you would not be able to exploit all their weakness in combat. On the other hand, in sparring, you should keep in mind that you are helping the other person to learn too. It is a two way relationship. That’s why you experience different feelings when sparring with different persons. Yeah, striking for real and without simulations is necessary to help the other person to improve as much as help you to become aware of your own limitations. Also, being aware that a person is at the other side will help you to learn how to use wisely what you have learn. You know that hurts, so you won’t use this knowledge incorrectly. Finally, sparring could be very enjoyable. Of course, some times painful but that’s how life is. Nothing wrong with that. It keeps things interesting. It helps you grow.

  2. This is an interesting post with some good and thoughtful questions. I certainly didn’t ask them when I was doing TKD, but as I think about my experiences there several years ago, I think I can speak to some of them.

    First of all, I agree with MA on just about everything, and he said just about all that needs to be said.

    I will add that one does not need to “depersonalize” another to commit violence against them; while this is a common way of dealing with violence that you inflict on someone else, it is not by any means necessary. In fact, as MA pointed out, keeping in mind that you’re fighting another human being is an important part of learning how to fight!

    As you fight more, you will learn how to control yourself and adjust how hard you fight. You’ll be able to know when to “go easy” or when to give it all your effort and kick hard (and you’ll know how to do each well.) I’ve never fought for my life before, but I imagine that with my training, I would automatically jump to the latter as well as throw in a few techniques (eardrum popping, knee kicking, etc.) that I’ve learned and practiced but never on a real human being. Your training, if it’s good enough, will prepare you for this.

  3. This is all really awesome advice, amazingly thorough.

    MA asks the question of “why do you want to learn how to fight?” The answer to that is not clear to me. It was, at first, “to be cool”. But I’m finding that’s not enough of a reason.

    I am coming up on my next sparring session in a couple of days. Although I’m still not exactly comfortable with the idea of hurting people, I think I will try to concentrate on mastering a couple of kicks. Maybe emphasis on technique will take my mind off the violence.

  4. While sparring, although I objectify my opponent to some extent, I still think of the person as a person. My real shift in perception is in my understanding of pain. In my training, a firm distinction was made for me between causing pain and causing permanent harm. That is, punching and kicking, even without padding, although it hurts, isn’t likely to break a limb or tear flesh. This is important because, if I’m ever attacked, I have to be able to look past the pain and see my circumstances for what they are, and I have to be okay with causing pain; causing harm, I would like to avoid.

  5. In my case, I do not depersonify the opponent. I merely see sparring as a means of testing the strength or weakness of the opponent. That’s all I want to do when I spar. Most of the time, I try different techniques and see how the opponent will respond to them. Every opponent is different and I do adjust to every single one of them, my level of play varies from playful to serious depending on how the opponent wants to play it. And I do get different results, sometimes I get good results and sometimes I have to accept defeat.

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