Saturday, November 15, 2008


I am trying out a new schedule for martial arts. After a stretch where crises at work and home really ate into my time for training, I'm now going four hours a week--an hour Tuesday night, two hours Friday night, and an hour on Saturday.

Last night, I had an hour of intermediate-advance grappling (a new thing for me and my school) and an hour of sparring.

The grappling was fun; I learned a new move, the Darse (Darce? Maybe Steve knows) choke, in which you can use someone's locked arms around your neck against them from side control (I know this is gibberish to traditional martial artists, apologies).

And in sparring, I had an important lesson.

Brandon, a second-degree black belt in my school, is my nemesis. I don't mean that phrase as in he's mean or out to get me or evil or anything. I like Brandon, he's a polite young man in his 20s. He's a great athlete, V-shaped torso, all that. He's really fast, and strong, and he's really, really a challenge for me in sparring.

(A digression: Once I was writing to my friend Wendy about how Brandon was just kicking my tail in an effort to prepare me for a tournament some years back. Her response was classic: "This is great. It's so much more important to get beaten up by a 20-year-old with a V-shaped torso than by paunchy middle-aged men in a meeting at work.")

So anyway, Friday night, Brandon several times would slip my jab, move in and throw a flurry of punches. While he's not throwing as hard as he can, the punches do hurt.

My quite natural reaction was to move - walk - backwards, lean away, do anything to get away from the punches.

What my sensei pointed out to me--and to all the other people in class who had the same reaction to his flurries--that we were just opening ourselves up for even more punishment by moving backwards. We were placing ourselves at the far end of his punches, where they have the most power. We were loosening our bodies instead of tightening them. We were opening up and making ourselves more vulnerable.

You can try to do other things, like move to the side. But what he told us to do was grab the mat with our feet, stand our ground, tuck our chin down, protect our head and torso with our arms, and keep our eyes open. When he's in close, his punches won't have as much power. Our bodies and defenses will be closed and tight. And we will be able to look for an opening. A single return punch, even if it doesn't land well, will tend to stop the flurry and make him instinctually move backwards, giving the defender a chance to breathe again. Also, standing your ground can allow you to lock up the person's arms so he can't keep punching.

This is great theory, it all makes sense. What it takes to put into practice is courage.

The characters above are, according to, kanji for courage.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bob. I am so glad that I found this blog. On June 10 of this year, on the second day of a weeklong karate camp with my son, I suffered a complete tear of my ACL, a fractured tibia and femur, a torn meniscus and severe sprain of the MCL. I landed awkwardly from a jumping side kick. Not sure if it was a freak accident or a yellow belt mistake.

At any rate, I had ACL reconstruction June 24 using cadaver tissue. About 6 weeks ago (early October), I returned to training in the dojo, participatin in all non-contact aspects of class. This past Saturday, I promoted to orange belt.

You have confirmed my feeling that I am rushing it. My frustration and impatience has led me to participating in some kicking drills. I'm thinking that needs to cease. My knee still feels stiff and at times a bit painful. My gut tells me to focus on kata, punching and blocking drills and non-contact kicking drills.

I just wanted to thank you for this blog and let you know that you have gained another follower!

Steve said...

Glad you're enjoying the training. Sadly, getting beat up by 20 somethings with v shaped torsos is something I'm familiar with, too! ;D

For what it's worth, it's a D'arce choke. You'll also hear it called Brabo choke. Both are guys who made the choke work. It's a head/arm choke. If you google those, you'll get lots of ideas for setting this choke up.

BobSpar said...


Definitely go at your own pace. I believe that our ACLs are stronger than we expect after five or six months, and the key thing that needs strengthening is the mind. I remember being told by physical therapists to jump down from a tiny, two- or three-inch elevation onto the floor using my leg, and I felt like they were telling me to jump off Niagara Falls. But the mind is a real thing, and we need to go at the pace it allows us. I'm glad you like the blog; clever handle you've got there!

Steve, hey, I knew you would know the name of the D'Arce choke!

PS, I've tried posting twice from my Blackberry to this, but it didn't work--sorry for the delay in replying.