Want to be a terrible fighter? Use protective gear.
Ok, ok, that’s enough reader-baiting. In reality my view isn’t quite that extreme. But when I see people sparring, decked out from head to toed in what equates to “Nerf body armor” I just can’t imagine the experience is very instructive.
“Learning”, at its very core is nothing more than “change” (changing from ignorance to knowledge, hopefully!). And for most of us, change only comes from pain – the pain of the present situation being seen as greater than the pain of altering the present situation. This applies to all things: studying for good grades, losing weight, leaving unhealthy relationships, etc. So to learn (change) as much as possible, it is often necessary to experience as much pain as possible – frequently in terms of quantity rather than intensity.
True, that one can learn from others. No one can deny the power of stories, parables, and cautionary tales. And yet, even for those of us who learn well from our elders and teachers there are still lessons that must be experienced to be understood. After all, one could read the entire works of William Shakespeare and never truly know love. As such, in the world of fighting, one might spend decades in their art, become a well respected and accomplished master, and yet…
Simply put, there are some lessons that must be learned in the crucible of violence induced pain. So what are those lessons? I don’t have all the answers but so far these are what I’ve learned:
Don’t get hit (Hey, I didn’t promise this would be ground-breaking stuff)
Remember when I said that I’m not a very large guy? Well this mean’s that I cannot do what a lot of other Kyokushin guys do: absorb ridiculous amounts of damage and just wait for their chance for a KO. Watch the ‘red’ fighter at 2:52 and you’ll see what I mean…
And since we don’t use chest protectors this means that, in our full-contact world, a guy like me must be skilled at intercepting and evading attacks if he hopes to have a chance. Because there is nothing to mitigate how damaging these strikes are, so my choices are “block or die”. And this facet makes me a better fighter than I would be otherwise.
But a lot of strikes still make it through. So if I fail to block, in accordance with the first lesson, what’s left to learn? How to properly deal with pain, of course. This is where my Sensei repeatedly admonishes us to keep up our “Poker Face”. Without it, my opponent will know where I am hurt, and zero-in on the target – just like he did. If we sparred with too much padding, as some schools do, then he could tell me this until he was blue in the face and it might not ever truly sink in. This was one of those soft-skills where for me it really was “no pain, no gain”.
And it isn’t as if I don’t think that padding has it’s place. I’d be a fool to look down on Boxers or Muay Thai fighters – their protective gear, minimal as it is, makes their sports safe to practice for careers that span many years. I also acknowledge that many, many respected female fighters require female chest-protectors, as those are some very sensitive parts and they’re basically ground zero for body blows. I am also a firm believer that EVERY child that engages in sparring should have appropriate protective gear to protect their heads, hands, and (tasty) internal organs.
Even in my own school, we will sometimes spar with thin hand mits and shin guards, (and groin cups are naturally required). Furthermore, in the case of Women’s Self Defense courses the wisdom of armoring the poor guy who is going to take that beating is obvious – since the training involves full force strikes while aiming for vitals like the eyes, throat, groin, and other soft targets. And this same thinking applies to Kyudo arts like Kendo where a single blow – even in practice – could maim a student.
I am very interested to hear what you think about padding. Especially from those who are in charge of training others. For you, how much protection is enough? And how much is too much?