The sparring is super-controlled. We wear head gear, 16 oz gloves, chest guard, feet and shin pads, and a cup. We only hit above the waist, never the face and we "tap-tap but never rap". Still, it's a contact sport. And that's what makes it fun.
For a view of what really good sparring in our school looks like, check out the second half of this youtube video of Edward Mercer on this 3rd degree black belt test. I think I can make out Jonathan Weeks, Raul, & Gavin as his partners. For a less impressive sparing display (ie, it's by me), look at the video on the bottom of the Black Belt Testing 2 article.
What makes sparring so enthralling is that there are so many details and strategies that need to be done at the same time. It's about getting the basics right while being quick and creative and reactive. and having great endurance (Cardio is king!). And the feedback on mistakes is immediate and direct....
My Guidelines to Better Sparring - Only Four Things to Focus On (Sept 07)
1. Keep my hands up. Specifically, my left lead hand falls and my head is wide open. I've been sparring for 3 years and still, I can't seem to keep my guard up. I would feel stupid except I see other high reds (rarely blacks) who can't keep their left hand in guard. So I'm not too deliquent on this one. But it's my highest priority. This is so important.
2. Keep my hands up and do NOT take them down to parry kicks or body shots. My partners have commented that it's simple for them to kick, watch me drop my hand to parry, and leave my head wide open. Ideally, I should parry quickly and get them back up. I've been told that better yet is when a front kick is coming in, I should turn my body or hips slightly to deflect it and avoid routinely downblocking or parrying low. It was fine against lesser competitors but against the blackbelts, it's inviting them to practice combinations on my head. As Jonathan Weeks explained; "When I kick or body punch, you usually shouldn't parry. You need to learn to move not just your shoulders but the body and hips so that the front kicks slide by. When it's that easy to get you to drop your hands, you're just lucky that I'm not supposed to hit you".
3. Pace Myself. I need to be quick and on my toes with my hands up in guard the entire match. This means that I need to pace myself. Kicks are surprisingly exhausting. a Even though I'm in good shape, I need to pace myself to perform for a full 120 seconds. I find this amazing but it's true. My goal is to be t my most intense in the last 30 seconds and so far, that is rarely the case. Sometimes, especially on the candidate classes, I'm just out-of-steam before the end of the match.
4. Stay on my toes and circle to my right (or, if I'm playing with a leftie, towards their jab, away from their cross). I hear this week after week, match after match. Still, I tend to circle towards their power side.
Those are the most vital lessons for me. If I can keep my left hand 100% in guard, and circle right while on my toes while keeping an even or accelerating pace thru a match, I've moved up a level.
Of course there are many more lessons (many many many more lessons!) but I need to make sure that I stay focused on those top four. Hands up, hands up, dancing, and pacing.
5. Combinations, not single shots. I've learned this and in over-emphasizing it, I'm failing to go in and out. Still, my list of effective combinations is too short. So far:
- jab, cross, semijab while stepping right and front round house
- semijab then left hook as they parry
- front kick, jab jab
- jab low, jab high, cross
- several kicking combos with the left such as round, side, side or front, side, round
6. In and out. Angle out. Don't charge in against the taller guys (ie Gavin). There will be a place where I am within reach of them but can't counter. My approach to charging thru that vulnerable spot created more problems than it solved. Stay balanced and shuffle thru.
7. Get out. I used to be leery of staying inside and boxing, always relying on my reach, kicks, and wheels. Since the spring, I'm coming inside comfortably. This past week, too comfortably and I'm letting it become a slugfest. As KC put it: "Don't be staying inside with Jonathan. If you keep hitting him from inside, you're not going to like where that goes."
8. Learn to bob & weave. Before I can stay inside, I need to have much better defense including ducking and bobbing which so far, I ain't got. Angel is amazing at this. Despite my reach, he could hang inside with me and I mostly miss his head. I parried some of his punches effectively and I can back-out really fast, I haven't figured out how dodge, duck, and bob. So, tap, tap, tap.
9. Keep my elbows in. I seem to have been blocking some kicks with elbows. Oops. Big oops. I'm mortified. Sorry.
10. My blocking of front roundhouses is still not right. Jonathan was showing me that I've been leaning into them including with my head which is not right. I should just tuck my head forward (chin into the chest), protect with my hand, and step in while crossing. The good news is that I've stopped turning so I'm not taking the kick in the back anymore.
Have I made any progress? Sometimes, I need to remind myself that I have....
- I don't signal my kicks by first dropping my hands anymore.
- I don't signal my head jabs by glancing upward prior to punching anymore
- My hands are probably in guard close to 85% of a match now
- I'm not throwing punches without intent and into space
- I'm using my cross (not enough)
- I have a repertoire (small) of combinations
- Some of my kick combinations are good
- My front kick is a great defense
- My balance is much better. It's been six months since I fell overbackwards while connecting on a front kick (which I used to do regularly)
- I think I've been on my toes 100% of the time over the last month
- I sometimes angle out, I sometimes circle right. Mostly against lesser partners, I tent not to when it most matters.
- I'm usually aware of blatant openings from partner's dropped guards and I take advantage of it.
- I'm not popping my head way up so much anymore (but I still do).
- I've starting punching to the body although it still feels like it pulls my hands too far down.
- I've increased my hand speed so that feeling of not even being in the game is gone.
- I've learned to breath and not hold my breath although I sometimes relapse.
- I've finally learned to throw a hook (left hook headshot mostly)
- Sometimes, I remember to change rhythms and to show some explosive speed after a slower period.
- Any ideas?
- Sparring Strategy
- Sparring Hints
- Sparring Tips (my favorite)
PS - A note on the term bugo kum ite - Is it bugo kum ta? Bugokumite? bugokumtai?bugokumatai? bugokumathai? bu go ku matai? bugo kuma thai? Bugo kuma tae? Bugo kumatae? bugo kumatae? bugokumatae? boogo cuma tae? boogokumatai? boog go ku matai? boogo koom tae, bugo koom a tai? bugo koom tae, boog koom tai, buggo kum tae. boogo kuma tai, boog go kum tai. Why this long list? I've told people they could find this site by googling "bugo kuma tai" but sadly, no two people seem to have the same idea of how to spell it. So if I add enough permutations, I'll cover the possibilities. bugg okum atai? boogg ocuma tai? bugokumite bugo kumite? bugo khom ite?
"Bugo" seems to be used to refer to a type of martial art, generically for fighting, or to be used sometimes as a term for your "fighting name". While bugo shows up in google, bugo does not show up in American dictionaries. Kumite seems to have to do with "armor" so bugo kumit is "fighting with armor" or perhaps "with amour" which would translate as fighting with love. Go figure.