July Newsletter

Women and the Martial Arts

By Nerissa Spannos

My sons play a game where each one holds a beanbag chair in front of them, they then charge at each other and crash. They love this game, even though they usually get a few bruises. Kids love to roughhouse, but it seems that as we grow up we disconnect from this.

Many women are apprehensive about sparring or grappling because they are uncomfortable with contact, especially if they have never played a sport such as soccer, basketball or dodge ball. One needs to draw on memories of childhood and remember how much fun it was to play games. Sparring is somewhat like a game. I think of it as a combination of chess and tag. You use the strategy of positioning yourself and setting up your opponent while also trying to tag them without getting tagged back.

At every belt we are required to learn a specific amount of basics. These basics are useless if one doesn’t know how to apply them. You can practice your pairs in class every day but you can’t feel confident with them until you use them in an actual situation. This is where sparring comes in. Sparring brings your basics and pairs to life. You can’t develop your reflexes if you are not working with a moving target.

When you spar on a regular basis you become very comfortable taking a hit. Even though in class we use light contact, you can still get a sense of keeping your cool under stress, which is invaluable if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation. If someone hits you and you panic then you have no chance of defending yourself. Instead of connecting with panic you have to learn to connect with controlled emotion, which can save your life.

I’ve heard a lot of women who are just beginning to train in the martial arts say they are afraid of sparring. These women need to understand that there is more chance of getting hurt in their homes than there is in a sparring class. The object of a sparring class is not to hurt one another but to sharpen your fighting skills. Sparring shouldn’t be something you dread, it should be something you look forward to. Once you start developing your skills it becomes very satisfying to score on a more experienced opponent.

Facing your fears of sparring enables you to face life’s challenges with a better perspective. Sparring strengthens you physically as well as mentally; it is the only way, short of picking fights in the street, to actually practice your martial arts, and for those of us who work hard, have kids, houses, sick pets, errands and all the other daily stresses that life throws at us, sparring is a great way to play and have fun.

What makes karate kamp great

The 2003 UKC Karate Kamp is over, and once again it was a huge success. The eighteen kids who participated had a great time, most of them being brand new students. “What’s great about having the Kamp program every year is that it gives current students the chance to perfect their techniques, while the new students have the benefit of getting excited about an education in the Martial Arts,” says Sensei Kendra Smith, one of the Kamp’s instructors. Several of the Kamp kids graded on the 29th, and would not have been able to do so had they not gained an extra edge by attending the Kamp program. This year’s Kamp schedule included an hour each of basics, pairs and kata. Several of the white belt students were able to get a head start on learning kata, which they usually would not have been able to learn until earning a yellow belt. They enjoyed watching Martial Arts movies, playing karate games, learning to meditate and hearing karate philosophy from Sensei Emily Snyder. They benefited from being instructed by Florida State Martial Arts Champion Sensei Christina Brigida, who was the senior instructor for the Kamp this year.

July contest

Cut out the squares and arrange them to form a picture, and then paste them on a separate sheet of paper. Turn your entry in to the Front Desk by July 25th and be entered into the monthly drawing. The winner will receive either a free T-shirt or a Talking Kung-Fu Fighter toy. Good Luck! Bonus: Can you guess who the Sensei in the picture is? (Answer below)

Answer: Sensei Lewis

The Secret to Excelling

By Sensei Matt Bergstresser

My first priority after receiving my gold belt was to get my sparring equipment and go into sparring class to "fight." Many beginning karate students have similar aggressive attitudes, but there is another type of negative attitude as well. These are the overly cautious people who put off sparring until they have "more experience.” Both of these attitudes are counterproductive.

The gung-ho beginner who wants to go “fight” in sparring class has many misconceptions. First of all, sparring isn't fighting; it is more a game of timing and distancing. Not to mention it is far removed from a “real” situation where full force is implemented with malicious intent. Secondly, the more experienced students do not appreciate the cocky attitudes of the reckless beginner. When the class is over they usually leave with a bruised ego, and possibly other bruises that may lead them to abandon their martial arts training.

The counterpart to the reckless beginner is the more cautious, timid student. They want to wait to spar until they have “more experience.” The idea of getting more belts to gain the edge needed to succeed in sparring is misleading. Theoretical fighting is important, but the application of the theory is the ultimate goal. When this cautious student goes into sparring class after waiting until they know more theory, they usually end up being coached while they are sparring by a lower ranking student who has been sparring since gold belt. When the gloves go on the less experienced, higher ranking student can suffer a bruised ego and may also abandon their martial arts training.

Both of these wrong attitudes can lead to the same outcome: the student quits! The Senseis don't want students to quit; this is the reason beginners are invited to sparring class at gold belt, to keep them from feeling embarrassed. There is no pressure at this beginning level because no one expects a beginner to be an expert fighter. When the proper attitude is detected by the higher ranking and more experienced students, they will be much more inclined to assist the beginner instead of “teaching them a lesson.” Winning in this class must be defined as simply going to the class and learning as much as possible. When I realized this, I looked forward to going back to sparring class. Yes, I admit that at one point I had the wrong attitude too!

Having the proper attitude is crucial not only to being an excellent karate student, but also being an outstanding member of society. Once the proper attitude is understood and implemented, everything becomes easier and more pleasant. You too will look forward to sparring class and to gaining the necessary experience that might save your life one day. Learning how to fight, not just the theory of how to fight, is essential for the personal growth of everyone. The sparring class is the place to gain that experience in a relatively safe, yet more realistic practice environment.