Last night, a Friday night, I was the only student in my sparring class, so I got to spar with sensei.
My sensei is a Muay Thai champion.
When Caryn at the front desk told me my sole classmate would be sensei, I said, "You know, I think I have something really important to do at home...."
"Too late," sensei said.
I didn't suspect that he would injure me. He is totally in control. I'm safer sparring with him than with most of my classmates, in terms of risking injury.
I was very aware, however, of how futile my response to him would be on the mat. This has to do with his skill level compared to mind, but it doesn't help that he's 32 and I'm 52.
After warming up, we started off with drills--he would use his jab only, for instance, and I would block with the same-side hand. Since I knew it was coming, I could generally block it. But even in the drills, I was getting tired from the constant motion around the mat.
We would trade roles in the drills, then we started counterpunching--each time knowing what the other would do since the type of punch or kick was limited.
Eventually we got around to free sparring, two-minute rounds, 30 seconds off.
I have sparred with people much better than me. I usually manage to defend myself and land some punches and kicks, even if the other person is clearly better.
With my sensei, trying to block his punches was like trying to block lightning. And he moved so constantly that I usually couldn't come close to landing a punch. He didn't wear head gear or a mouth guard, because he didn't need them.
At first we only used hands. He urged me to keep moving; use my reach with my jab; to not cross my legs when moving backwards; to cover up if he came in too quickly for me to evade, but to keep looking for opportunities to counterpunch, and to get out of there when I could. I was totally, totally overmastered. My jabs kept sailing around or over his head as he moved. I was afraid of using much besides the jab for fear of exposing myself to counterpunches. He would set up his punches perfectly--getting me to, say move my hands together in defense in front of my body so he could throw a hook punch unblocked. And I was getting exhausted.
I did a little better when I could kick. He later said that my kicks are fast for a big guy. But as I tired further, it got harder to kick. At one point, he faked a round kick with one leg, I brought my leg up to block, he then kicked with his other leg after my block went down. I need to try that on somebody sometime!
On top of all this, I got stomach cramps toward the end. First thing I did when I got home was head to the bathroom.
He explained a lot about what he was doing, what I should be doing, that evening and the next day when I came to class again. I asked if I was telegraphing the punches or just slow--he said he could read my punches but I wasn't telegraphing too badly, he's just able to see them coming. He said that when someone shorter than me comes in bobbing and weaving low, I should jab down at him, maybe even hold him briefly, and use uppercuts to bring him up.
There will be more classmates in future Friday night classes, but I do think I will learn a lot from sparring with sensei. I hope I don't get too frustrated in the process.