One day, the first Sensei I mentioned called me up to the front of a class to help him illustrate his points about sparring. I listened to and watched him for cues on what to do. This is well within my comfort zone and I love helping this way. It’s a challenge to keep up with the expectations on the fly, and sometimes – surprise! I end up on the mats twisted up in a pretzel. All in good fun and for the benefit of us students. I get to experience the techniques firsthand, which is a good lesson for me in trust, in the importance of control, and in what these movements are supposed to do.
At one point Sensei backed off a bit and I paused in response, but I maintained my fighting stance. Sensei finished his point and then said, “Now, in the old, old days – sparring was this,” and he suddenly “froze” in fighting stance, guard up. Not really frozen as in stiff – more like a coiled spring. I copied him. I had no clue what to do next, but during a demonstration, one cues off of Sensei. After an uncomfortable few seconds of us staring at each other, watching each other for signs of attack, I raised a questioning eyebrow.
BAM! Next thing I knew, Sensei had covered the distance between us, coming at me like a spring-loaded freight train.
Sensei explained to all of us that in that style of fighting, one waits for a flinch, a submissive lowering of the eyes, a shifting of the gaze in response to a sound in the room, or whatever other cue that shows one’s opponent is vulnerable and/or distracted. In my case, it was that raised eyebrow. Yep, I was too busy communicating and wasn’t spending any brain power observing.
About a month later, this Sensei faced off with another black belt for sparring. Both men went into fighting stance… And they just waited. I grinned, recognizing what they were up to. I don’t know who broke first, but they both exploded at almost the same time. A heartbeat later the corner judges’ flags went up, so obviously one was faster.
Patience works. Impatience and haste doesn’t. I think that’s one of the things I was supposed to learn, and I’m glad I had this firsthand experience with an “old school” method of fighting.