Sparring for the first time last night was so far out of my comfort zone, so far outside my bubble of life as usual. It was unlike any situation I’ve ever been in. Mr. Ninja gave some basic instructions, but being out of my comfort zone and my brain and ears covered in the puffy vinyl head gear, I’m not sure it went in. Okay…brain trying to wrap around this…I’m hitting someone. I’ve never done that before.
How do I do that?!
Here I am, wearing a mouth guard, putting my arms into chest protection, gloves and foot covers. The mouth guard is a really awkward thing. I’m doing something that means my teeth need to be protected. As a kid, sibling fighting wasn’t throwing kicks and punches. In high school, I tended to stay outside the fray, never being in or even watching the fights that would be pseudo-secretly moved from school grounds after class. I’ve fought with words, but never with fists and feet.
My first attempts were tentative little jabs here and there, staring intently at what I was trying to hit.
When sparring, you want to look your opponent in the eye, so that you aren’t giving them a clue as to where you are going to hit them. And with some of the class, you could see the excitement, the adrenaline that sparring could bring. One Mr. Ninja had icy blue eyes that met mine as we kihapped into sparring stance. He was dancing, bouncing, gloves up, blue eyes practically shooting snowflakes they were so sparkly with anticipation of sparring. Sadly, he was sparring with me and was expecting WAY too much. I was a white belt, first time sparring, and absolutely intimidated by a black belt standing opposite to me.
Mr. Red Belt had intensity in his eyes, tempered with the gusto of fun and energy around the sparring. I think he knew I was a little clueless because he urged me to hit him. “No”, he said, “a few times” to get a feel for it. Well, it feels weird. Another classmate, a teenager, seemed excited about sparring but being across from me probably felt like being up against that aunt that always gives you cookies when you visit.
So what did I learn, middle-age white belt, other than I’m not a natural born fighter?
I am S-L-O-W slow. I’m going to have to work at this to get comfortable with it. I definitely need more of that Muhammad Ali “floating like a butterfly”. Staying out of your opponents punching/kicking range requires constant movement, and blocking any punches and kicks that do make it close takes quick response time. So, the message is the same as with other aspects of learning Taekwondo: I need to improve my cardiovascular fitness–at the end of sparring I was seriously out of breath and sweaty. (It doesn’t help that your hands, feet, chest and head are wrapped in plastic and vinyl.) And losing weight would help with all of that.
The lesson beyond the physical is that sparring requires me to stand up for myself. Not in anger or retaliation, but in strategy, self-control and calm awareness. To have learned this as a young girl… How would that have changed the trajectory of my life? How would that have changed how I WAS in my world, how I interacted with classmates, employers, or that bullying co-worker? I’m a little sad because while I’m not good at sparring (hey, let’s be positive and throw in a “yet”), learning this earlier in life could have helped me in SO many ways.
So I learn it now.
In the end I feel fairly neutral. Right now, I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it. It was a bewildering experience, like taking a test you haven’t studied for, barely passing and just being happy that it’s over. But there will be more…
…because Mr. Ninja announced that there will be sparring in the next tournament, which is less than two months away.. I’m not sure how I feel about sparring, in a tournament, with multiple black belts judging me on my ability to hit and not be hit. Oh, wait, I DO know how I feel. TERRIFIED!!!
Yet the little voice inside still says “keep learning”, so sparring gear it is.