Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Black Belt Test: Kickboxing

I want my black belt, sure.

But in a sense, one part of my test in November last year, five rounds of kickboxing, was a dream come true.

Just to be able to move on to the kickboxing part of the test meant that I had passed all the prior parts of the test, which was great. But the kickboxing itself was the most thrilling and exciting single sports event I've ever participated in.

In the photo above, taken right at the start of one of the kickboxing rounds, I'm the tall guy in the right center, with the brown belt, white pants, black shirt and big helmet. My opponent is on the left, with the red gloves--another brown belt contending for a black belt.

We fought five two-minute rounds. It may not sound like much, but it's tremendously demanding. We didn't have to win all our rounds, but we did have to show we could attack and defend ourselves throughout. We couldn't just survive and expect to pass.

I fought against one tall black belt who's a professional fighter, who was legendary for absolutely hammering a couple of guys from my school in their tests, guys who are far superior to me. I fought the Hulk one round, another brown belt for two rounds, and a black belt far younger than me.

I recall feeling more excitement than fear (though I certainly felt fear, too!). Already having competed in a tournament helped me stay calmer; and I knew that my kickboxing had gotten much better since the tournament. I also had a feeling that the professional fighter--who had complimented me on doing well in the first part of the test when I ran into him in the bathroom--would be taking it easier on middle aged guys than on the rough, tough younger guys.

My first opponent was the young black belt. I had a height advantage, but he had speed, which he used to land a number of kicks and punches. I finally found a combination that worked repeatedly against him--throw a low front-leg round kick to his ankle or shin, and then immediately throw my long stiff jab at his head. Gumba Frank taught me that move, and it works because it's attacking two different levels. The defender has a tendency to loosen his guard of his head when he's kicked low, which allows the jab to come through. It's not a knockout move, but it makes the other fighter keep his distance.

My next fighter was a brown belt from a different school than mine--I would fight him twice. He hit harder than anyone else I was fighting in the test, and to his great credit, he threw lots of varied combination. Again, I had a height advantage. What I did right in fighting this brown belt, both times, was that when he did get inside on me, I immediately clinched his neck and threw a knee kick. Black Belt Terry from my school had repeatedly told me to do that when other fighters get inside my long punches and kicks. This time, by damn, I did it. As soon as you hit somebody with a knee kick to the gut, his will to keep fighting on the inside goes away for a little while. He later complimented me on the power of my cross, so that must have been landing too. I did a little too much moving straight back when he was attacking, I should have moved to the side. But better moving back than getting hit with a spinning back fist after a spinning back kick.

The Hulk and I, who are buddies, landed a few blows, but I wouldn't say we were eager to smash each other up.

Fighting the pro, my wife later said, looked like ballet--we moved back and forth, attacking and defending. It was clear this guy wasn't there to beat me up, which he could have done with ease. Instead, he was there to challenge me and require me to fight to a high level. The best thing I did against him was, for the first time in my life, I used a snapping front kick to block his spinning back kick. The ref in our little area said, "Good block!" as soon as I did it.

My friends at the test said I looked surprisingly relaxed during the kickboxing.

It was challenging and tiring, but it was so much fun. I want to do that something like that sometime again.

I didn't get my ACL destroyed until the next part of the test, grappling.


John Vesia said...

You don't hear too much about kickboxing these days, with all the MMA and UFC matches that are in vogue. Grappling is good and effective, but I always prefer stand up fighting.

BobSpar said...

I also prefer stand up fighting, but I did also study grappling (and will again once my knee is more fully healed). Very interesting essay on your blog about stand up v. MMA, John.