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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Finding Strength in Sparring

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
- Frank Herbert, Dune

Much is made of how unrealistic taekwondo sparring is. There are extensive rules about where and how a participant may hit his opponent, there is no grappling or ground fighting (a cardinal sin in the age of MMA), there is much more kicking than in a typical fight, and participants are extensively padded. What's more, since participants are playing purely for points, strikes and kicks tend to get slappy, more concerned with speed than effectiveness.

I myself have complained that my taekwondo instructor at the Academy spends so much time on sparring. It's not something that's going to be on my test, and I really feel I need more instruction in the basics than I'm getting. And I can see as well as anyone the disconnect between sparring and fighting.

All that said, sparring is one of the main reasons I continue to train in taekwondo, and I think there is tremendous power to be found in it.

I think I saw this power exemplified a few months ago.

We used to have a rather troublesome brother and a sister at the Academy with a notorious family. Their previous school had taken out a restraining order against their father after he made threats against the staff.

The first and last time we had the father in to conference about his daughter, he flew into a rage when a teacher tried to explain something to him he didn't seem to understand. He started screaming that he wasn't stupid and that he had a college degree, and threatened to "fix" the teacher who had tried to explain.

At this point, one of our aides-- I'll just call him D here-- stepped in, and calmly told the father that it was time for him to leave the building. I've seen the security footage of this. The father is a positively massive man, easily over six feet tall and probably more than 300 pounds. He was screaming and waving his hands in D's face, but D stood his ground calmly, repeating himself politely until the father agreed to be escorted out of the building. It was a magnificent performance.

This is the power I am searching for in sparring. In the nervousness, the sweat, and the flurry of fists and feet, I am hoping to meet my pain and vulnerability and make peace with them. Once I no longer fear these things, I will be able to face even the most fearsome of enemies with a smile and a bow.

And that would be a greater power than even the deadliest of techniques.

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