The Dilemma of Sparring

Sparring, or strategy, class is probably the most important and the most challenging class in the karate curriculum. It is the one place where everything in a student’s personality can become open for discovery: the arena where we can face the ultimate personal challenge. Free-fighting, as sparring is sometimes referred to, gives a person the opportunity to refine their martial arts skills, while extending the limits of their physical, emotional and psychological self-knowledge.

In this arena there is no time for analytical thinking or emotional baggage; one needs to be able to respond in a way that shows control, balance and focus, spontaneously and immediately. If a student’s response is too soft (civilized) they stand to be over-run and dominated; if their response is too hard (wild) their aggression may be turned against them by a skillful opponent. The challenge is to “hold the tension of the opposites” as a philosopher once said. That is, to remain poised and alert while allowing the whole of one’s being to respond with the techniques and strategies that have been programmed through months and years of training. We must allow our mind to stay out of the way while we relax into the intensity of the moment, so that “in the joy of battle” we may discover ourselves displaying our technique impeccably. Martial arts magnifies what is experienced in every-day life, both positive and negative. If a student can overcome something in class, especially during sparring, it follows that they can overcome analogous lessons in their life.

We live at a time when “extreme sports” are very popular; people are looking to push everything beyond the “edge of the envelope”. Sports involves the effort of combining the all out effort to win, with the comprehension of a set of “agreed rules” that require the exercise of self-control. Thus the desire to compete must be mediated by the need to cooperate. When athletes disregard the rules the sport degenerates quickly from an exercise involving skill, to an exercise in violence.

Martial arts is too dangerous to be allowed to degenerate in this way. This highlights the importance of ethical practice, politeness and courtesy in martial arts practice. Without courtesy martial arts is just clever street fighting, rather than a way of self-actualization.

A good example of successful integration of these principles is women’s soccer. Soccer is a sport that has some history of violence, both on and off the playing field. More than is traditional for the men’s game, women’s soccer is both competitive and skillful, while following the rules that have been established for the sport. This requires cooperation with the other team, of course, a pact to play fair.

In martial arts, sparring forces the student to continually solve the problem, the dilemma, of apparently conflicting principles: cooperation (nurturing) and competition (risking). It is in the moment of decision, under the stress of “combat”, that the individual can develop the character and active intelligence which is the underlying purpose of training: the art of winning with honor and courtesy.

Sensei Robert H. Mason c2001


Karate Kamp

10:30—Wake up.

10:40—Park in front of the TV

12:00—Stand up, but only to walk to the fridge, get food, and walk back.

12:30—Tie up the phone lines till dinner.

Ah, those lazy summer days. This schedule may sound familiar to those families dealing with kids out of school. This time of year cries of “there’s nothing to do!” can be heard nation-wide; but not by the kids who enrolled in University Karate Center’s two week Karate Kamp. They were up every morning to get to the Dojo by nine to practice all their techniques, as well as have some fun. These eleven kids showed non-stop enthusiasm, backed by their natural out-of-school energy.

The day started with half an hour of warm ups. If that seems like a lot, it was necessary to get through the active day that awaited them. Warm ups were followed by all the kids’ basic moves (respective of rank, of course), then a short break where they could snack and socialize. After the break came half an hour to forty-five minutes of pairs, another break, then Kata until 12:00. The white belts who made up about half the camp population had a chance to get a head start on Pinan Nidan. It was challenging work for them, but they all made it through and showed tremendous improvement by the end of the two weeks.

After lunch, all the kids pitched in to clean up the Dojo. They swept, mopped, took out the trash, and vacuumed with surprising cooperation. With all of their help it only took a few minutes and we could move right on to movie time. For thematic purposes, Sensei Mason chose movies that included either martial arts, or a philosophical theme or idea. Among the movies were The Last Dragon, Dragonheart: A New Beginning, and the entire Star Wars trilogy. All of them went over well with the kids who were happy to have a break after their rigorous mornings.

The break ended after an hour, and an hour of Karate games followed. The kids participated in a variety of games, including dodge pad, sword play with the kick bats, pad sparring, circuit training, and concentration and balance games. A favorite among the general camp populous was grappling. Every Wednesday Sensei Bergstresser would come in to teach the campers some moves, and supervise free-style grappling matches. Some of the kids who had been struggling with basics found that grappling was their “thing,” while others just appreciated a break from the norm.

To finish the day on a subdued note, half an hour was spent on an in-depth philosophy discussion. Every morning a quote was written on the white board in studio one, and the kids would have the day to think about it. In the afternoon, everyone had the opportunity to give their thoughts and opinions of the quote’s meaning, and how they could apply it to their life. They stimulated each other’s minds, and were inspired to new theories by the discussions.

Through this program, five new white belt juniors were introduced into our curriculum. All of them came in excited to learn, and left with budding knowledge of martial arts. This summer’s Karate Kamp can definitely be considered successful. If you’re interested in the camp for next summer, contact Jackie or Sensei Mason. This is a chance to get up off the couch and have some fun at Karate!

By Emily Snyder


Turning a Negative into a Positive

For one day, 24 hours, see if you can think about and talk about only the things you want. When you dwell upon something, it grows. The more you think about something, the more it becomes part of your reality. You cannot think one thought and get a different result. You cannot plant oats and get barley. Successful, happy people are those who have developed the ability to concentrate single-mindedly on one thing, and to stay with it until it’s complete. They discipline themselves to think and talk only about what they want, and to keep their minds off of what they don’t want.