“Eight highest ranked people – line up at the front of the room. The rest of you – choose one of them for your sparring partner.”
I’ve done this before, but always in my home dojo. Everyone runs to the teenage girls and away from the two tall young men – the two highest ranked students. Twice now when class was smaller than usual I was up front. But this time I wasn’t in my home dojo among familiar people. This was a sister dojo with somewhat unfamiliar people. The class included people who outrank me by more than three belts (as does the most senior student in my home dojo). Only one of these potential sparring partners was someone who I’ve fought against enough to know a little about. Someone snatched him up almost immediately. I was not in a position to be picky so I gravitated in the opposite direction from the mad scramble.
Someone who outranks me by a fair number of ranks was standing at the end of the line in “yoi” (ready position) and like I said, the mad scramble of people finding a partner was heading in the opposite direction. But I happen to like this man. All my dealings with him have left me with the impression that he is a good person. Yet in that moment when I realized who everyone was running away from, I realized I too was intimidated. I’d never fought him before, but I’d seen him in action. Uh oh. Yeah – him. YIKE! In seconds, it was obvious who I was going to spar.
I drew a deep breath and settled into “yoi.” I had a moment to conjure up some semblance of inner peace.
That peace didn’t last long. I need to work on that – among other things. It quickly became obvious that my usual groove of standing my ground – the thing that works so very well against those of my same rank – wasn’t going to fly with this opponent.
“Oh, so you want to go toe-to-toe?” GRAB! My wrist was encased in an iron hand. “Now get out!”
I twisted free and scooted back. In that moment, I lost my cool. Something about his tone of voice triggered a reaction I wasn’t expecting. I was outraged he’d done something that is illegal in a tournament (hey, thugs in the street won’t be fighting fair either). My “id” started driving. I was angry and my lips curled in a snarl around my mouth guard. Looking back on this moment, I really can’t fault my sparring partner. This is how he rolls and really he wasn’t being disrespectful. Now that I know I have this trigger, I can get to work on disabling it.
My opponent and I tested each other a bit, dodging other combatants. He bobbed his head and rolled his fists, daring me into action. That made me hopping mad, and again I fault myself. A few more techniques thrown by both of us, then I realized I had him. I deftly moved sideways and cornered him. After I threw a kick I asked myself if I really wanted him cornered – and I released him. As he moved out I tried to tag him with a combination of punches but made the foolish mistake of staying put. Instantly he pinned both my arms and punched my gut. “Get OUT!” he urged. Somehow I twisted out of his grip and moved back. I breathed in, squished the inner turmoil and was just on the verge of adjusting my style of fighting when…
“Engineering to Bridge. Cap’n, the ship canna take any more o’ this!”
“Scotty, I need more power!”
“She’s gonna blow!”
“That’s an order, Mister Scott. We’re up against a Klingon bird of prey and…”
“Bridge to Engineering – Scotty, what the —- was that?!?”
“Did I no warn ya, Cap’n? Automatic systems jettisoned the dilithium crystals before they exploded.”
Apparently I’ve reached some sort of milestone. You know how people can get kind of silly about things babies do – even the gross things? “Awww, she spit up – let’s just clean that up – dere, is dat bedder? Wook at her, she’s smiling, isn’t you just the cutest widdoo ting?” Well… Yes, do laugh – I think it’s funny that the Senseis were saying things like, “Hey, there’s not a single one of us upper belts who haven’t done the same thing,” and, “This just shows you’re pushing yourself hard – good job!” They were proud of me – for barfing??? So am I in some sort of club now? I’m still chuckling over that.
The man I was sparring was worried he’d nailed me too hard – I assured him that wasn’t the case. A Sensei said later I might still have a trace of the stomach bug I’d had the week before. It could’ve been, but I’m thinking the hormones from fighting while angry sure didn’t help. I absolutely must get control of that and now I know one of my triggers. On one level, yes, my sparring partner was my opponent. But on another level, I was my own opponent. It’s true – I am my worst enemy. I have things I need to overcome.
So I as I recovered my composure the Senseis brought cleaning supplies. I cleaned up as per the Y’s specs (and I’m a Y employee so I know exactly what to do, LOL). I visited the drinking fountain. I bowed back into the dojo and waited for the next round of sparring. I chose someone who outranks me by not quite as many ranks.
I’ve fought this other man enough to know that if I’m lucky I can roundhouse kick his left side when he turns just a little too far to his right while doing his favorite block. He’s tall, so I have to make quite a few adjustments – that’s OK, two of the senior students in my home dojo are tall too. I learned something different from this opponent. He’s heard one of the Senseis tell me to speed up my kicks. Since then, he saw me fight in tournament. This man has the heart of a teacher and he decided I’m ready to improve. He caught my kicks – all save one (he’d turned just a little too far). Catching my kicks is something he hasn’t done to me before. I kept a level head, even chuckled inwardly a little. Having my leg caught is a little dangerous, but if this is what it takes to get me to improve, I’d darn well better practice and improve if I don’t want it happening often.
I left the dojo marveling at how much I have to learn. I’m grateful I have years to develop my skills. There’s no deadline looming over my head – I just have to be a little bit better than I was yesterday. If it’s going to take years, I might as well enjoy every step of the way and be patient with myself. I will learn about myself and I will grow. Even though I ran the gamut of emotions, got my tail soundly and thoroughly whipped, and even tossed my cookies, I had a ton of fun. I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything.
I’m elated that the ante has been upped – it means I am growing and am ready for more. This isn’t even my home dojo but I’m being treated as one of their own and I’m grateful. I can get away with a lot when I’m up against people my own rank, but bad habits fall apart when I’m up against people who outrank me. I learn and grow as a result. Still, a part of me is a little scared of the higher expectations.
I guess I’ll just have to get used to higher expectations because they will be a part of my Karate career from now until I’m dragged kicking and screaming to the nursing home.