By Jesse Enkamp
Are you scared of sparring?
You’re not alone…
This is a common question I get:
“Jesse-san, how can I overcome my fear of fighting?”
Today, I will share my approach to sparring.
But first, understand this:
Fear is a liar.
If you think you must overcome fear before you can fight, you are mistaken. The only way to overcome fear is by fighting.
When you face your fear, again and again, you befriend it. You remove its scary mask.
The greatest fighters don’t fight without fear. They fight DESPITE the fear!
Fear never really goes away.
It just stops affecting you.
In order to reach this stage of “fear-friendliness”, you need a practical approach to acquaint yourself with fear.
You wouldn’t throw a child in deep water before first dry swimming on land, and then in shallow water with floating pads, right?
Sadly, I see Karate instructors throwing their students into full sparring without any progressive build-up at all.
It breaks my heart.
Your first impression of sparring should NEVER be chaos and panic.
It should be a safe and fun learning experience for you.
Jesse’s 3 Baby-Steps of Kumite
This is my step-by-step way of introducing ‘jiyu kumite’ (free sparring).
The idea is to reduce the unpredictable and scary nature of fighting by imposing 3 rules.
#1: Reduce the number of techniques and/or targets.
The first step is to reduce the number of allowed techniques and/or targets. By eliminating elements of uncertainty like this, we can regulate our feelings towards kumite.
For example, only allow straight punches (technique) to the stomach (target).
Or, only allow round kicks (technique) to the body (target) and straight punches (technique) to the face (target).
Gradually increase the options of techniques and targets.
#2: Use extra protection – foam helmet, boxing gloves, knee/elbow pads etc.
The more padding, the more security, the less fear. You need to be able to receive blows from your opponent, in order to rewire your brain’s instinctive flight-fight-or-freeze response.
Of course, this can backfire. Some people automatically hit harder when they are wearing protection.
(That’s why the next rule is important.)
Gradually remove protectors one by one.
#3: Reduce the speed.
Lastly, all moves must be in slow motion.
As the saying goes; “speed kills”.
When you fight slo-mo, you develop the ability to see attacks before they reach you.
This changes your mindset from reactive to active, since you’re removing an element of surprise.
Gradually increase the speed when you get more comfortable.
If you follow these 3 baby-steps, you’ll get accustomed to free sparring (‘jiyu kumite’) in a safe and fun way.
The final piece of the puzzle is to adjust your mindset.
The only thing you have to fear is fear itself…