You teach, you bleed…

OK, here’s another teaching concept I’ve found to be true: You get the most injuries when you hold back instead of going all out. Especially when you are in “teaching mode”.

Two of my students are preparing for a Sanshou tournament in a few months. As a result, the sparring sessions in class are more intense than otherwise. Most of my students train for different reasons than competing: they want to get in shape and be healthy, they want the stress-release you get from punching and kicking or they just enjoy the training. For them, the classes are not totally the same as for competitors. Everybody trains the same techniques but the standard for competitors is much higher. I expect and demand better performance of the techniques, speed, accuracy and above all good timing.

What could have been needed...

What could have been needed…

But when it comes to sparring, the division between the competitors and the other students can become problematic. Their sparring needs to be at a certain intensity to prepare them for the tournament but recreational students are not ready for that level. Nor should they have to be; they’re in class with other objectives in mind. So that’s one of the reasons why I still spar with my students. As I should be able to handle their techniques given my experience and the weight difference (I’m the heaviest guy on the mat, no comments please…), they can go all out and get plenty of experience that way.

The draw back is that I have to hold back a lot. I outweigh my students so hitting full force could cause them a lot of injuries. I tell them they shouldn’t hold back because they need to get used to delivering full power blows with the proper intent. There is a world of difference between a jab-cross coming at you from a friendly sparring partner and the same combo launched by an opponent who wants to knock your block off. They have to experience as much of that as possible in class instead of being overwhelmed by it on D-day. The balancing act I have to do is give them intense enough sparring sessions without hitting too hard or dominate them completely. A part of that is not taking openings when I see them to  avoid hurting them.

In yesterday’s class, we ended with a couple rounds of sparring. I was pressuring one of the competitors; he needs to be more aggressive so I make him fight his way out of tight spots. Halfway through the round I come in with a punching combination and he half-turns his back to evade. It was more of an “Oh shit!” reaction on his part than a deliberate defensive maneuver. I recognized that but my first instinct was still to launch a low leg kick/sweep to his closest leg. That would have sent him to the floor as his weight distribution was perfect to land that technique and he couldn’t see it coming from the way his head was turned. But it also could have buckled his knees and caused serious damage, so I stopped the kick halfway through.

Right at that moment, he accelerates his turn into what was supposed to be a spinning back fist. Because of the range I was in, I received an elbow to the nose instead of tasting leather. The result was a bloody cut that looked a lot worse than it was, so we continued sparring for a bit longer. As I’m writing this, the cut is fully closed and the swelling is down.

I’m a lucky bastard as his elbow landed on the top part of my nose where it’s still the skull sticking out. Half an inch lower and I would have had a broken nose. So all in all, no harm done but it came close. Considering the chronic problems the surgery for my last broken nose left me, I’d rather not go through it again.


The takeaway is this:

Sometimes it isn’t fighting hard that gets you hurt, but slowing down and holding back.

I’ve had similar things happen throughout the years:

When I don’t hold back and fight at or close to 100%, nothing much happens. The moment I hold back and try to avoid injuring a student or training partner, it’s my blood that flows.

When you pull punches and kicks to avoid hurting your partner, it leaves him free to counter you. Chances are good he’ll do just that, as it probably looks like a feint or a hesitation to him and he is right in exploiting that weakness. The fact that you choose not to hurt him is the only reason he can hit you to begin with, is hard to explain and even harder to demonstrate.

Even if you do manage to show what happened, you still bleed.


Here’s my point:

I don’t enjoy it when my students injure me, but I don’t fault them for it or get angry over it as it’s part of the game. It’s the difference between teaching and (training for) competition:

I don’t have to win when we spar. My students have to learn.

It’s not about me, it’s about them.

I prove nothing by beating up my students when I outweigh them by 50Lbs or more. I don’t learn anything by doing so and neither do they, so nobody gains anything. Instead dominating them, I leave openings for them to exploit, make them work on weak areas, and I also don’t hit them when I risk injuring them. Sometimes, that means I bleed for it. But that’s a small price to pay for seeing them grow and become better fighters.

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