Last Saturday, I participated in a Sanshou training session for the selection of the Belgian national team. I was asked to come take a look at the new talent and also to consider taking up the post of national trainer again. So I put on my gloves and shinguards and spent an hour or so sparring with a bunch of 20-something young guys (and one girl).
Here are some random thoughts that came out of that session:
- I can still hang with the young bucks. Yay for me! :-) I’m 39 and well past my prime as far as competing is concerned. I never stopped training since I hung up my gloves, so I’m in fairly good shape but it was still nice to see I could hold my own. Also, these guys are not yet at their peak right now as the world championships are still a long way out. And maybe they were taking it easy on me, who knows? But as far as I could tell, I landed a lot more shots than they did and I wasn’t the one counting stars when that happened.
- My timing has improved a lot. Some things never worked for me when I competed, like slipping punches. I saw them coming but always reacted too late. Which is why I usually blocked or parried them. But the last year or so, I noticed that I instinctively started slipping and bobbing my head to make my training partners miss. I first figured it was because we’d been training together for a long time and I could “predict” their moves now. But it turned out this works just as well with fighters I haven’t met before. Cool. But I sure would have liked to have had this skill 15 years ago when I needed it…
- Nothing works better than basic techniques. Pretty much all I did was throw jabs, leg kicks, a cross here and there. Maybe a hook or two and a few trips/sweeps. I did do one spinning heel kick but only because he was wide open for it and my orientation was just right. Other than one more crescent kick, nothing fancy. Those basic techniques worked just fine. Like I said in the previous bullet, my timing seems to have gotten better as I didn’t throw them as fast as I could have but they hit the mark well enough.
- My basic strategy has changed compared to 20 years ago. Just like most fighters, I’ve changed from when I started competing. I was pretty aggressive back then. Not so much nowadays. I’m no longer interested in running after an opponent and much rather have him come to me (when it suits me best.) That way he does all the work for me. As a result, I’ve developed a more defensive and specifically, a countering style of fighting. It seems to work well enough for me at this point in time.
- The basic requirements of full contact-fighting haven’t changed. I teach my students two things when they start training for competitions. IMO, everything else flows from there:
- You have to be able to generate forward pressure.
- you have to be able to absorb the forward pressure of your opponent.
If you mess up either of these two things, I don’t believe you can fight effectively in the ring, cage or on the leitai. You can fake it for a while and if you’re in shape, that can last for a while longer still. But the first time you face serious opposition, you crumble.
- “Safe distance” is still a concept most young fighters don’t understand well enough.It’s pretty basic and everybody knows about it: If your opponent can’t reach you from where he’s standing, you’re at “safe distance”. That means he needs to take at least one step before he can land a shot. That step, however fast it is, gives you advance warning he’s attacking. So you don’t have to look for a specific attack, just him moving closer to know what you have to do. There’s a lot more to it than this, but that’s it in a nutshell. Turns out these young fighters only had a rudimentary grasp of this concept. Because they all repeatedly crossed safe distance without attacking me. I gladly took advantage of that and hit them before they could hit me. Which brings me to my next point:
- When you have crossed the safe distance, you’re either attacking or moving away from your opponent. Anything else is advanced strategy and less applicable as a general rule. Those things are the exceptions and they take a lot more training to work. Also, once you get tired, they tend to fail you. So the aforementioned rule stands, IMO. Every single one of my sparring partners that day made the mistake of not respecting this rule. As a result, they got to eat my punches and kicks.
- I’m slowly getting too old for this shit. Contrary to Mel Gibson and Danny Glover who keep on going, there will come a day (and that day may be closer than I’d like to admit) when some hot-shot young fighter will nail me good while sparring. And I mean the lights-out-take-a-nap kind of good. That’s just the nature of the sport. Competing is a young man’s game and there comes a point where experience and timing won’t be enough to bridge the gap caused by diminished physical skills. I’ve given myself ten more years and then I’ll take stock, see where I’m at and decide if I’ll keep on sparring full-contact or not. Getting punch-drunk or developing Alzheimer isn’t my idea of growing old in style…
Just some ramblings after a training session I thoroughly enjoyed. Not sure my sparring partners had as much fun but they did come up to me afterwards and thanked me for the lesson. So I hope it was worthwhile for them too. Of course, they might have been stroking my ego too… But that doesn’t change the fact that I had fun. :-)