Monday, August 29, 2005

How I got owned in a sparring match

Yesterday I went for a martial arts competition with the Melbourne University Karate Club (MUKC).

The competition was organised by the Lion Bushido Karate Academy, and subject to their rules. A few remarkable points about their sparring rules:
Light contact
Minimal contact to head
Kicks must not follow through (basically a fast, light tap instead of a friendly bang)
No axe/chopping kicks [wtf...]
No spinning kicks (reverse swing/ hook kick/ spinning hook) [WTF!!!]

I woke up at 7.45 on a Sunday morning, took a long tram ride to St Kilda, met with other team members and went in one of the guy’s car. The venue was a long way away from Melbourne city centre.


At about 12 or 1pm, the chief instructor from MUKC (who was also helping with refereeing and judging) approached me and asked me into the officials (and competitors) only area. It seems they were short on referees and would need me to be the corner judge for a sparring event. Something like they were temporarily short of black belts to judge. What he probably meant was that most of the black belt holders floating about the venue have not had their uniform on yet, and I’m the only one he knows that looked presentable.

Like a fish suddenly yanked out of the water, I was quite surprise at the abrupt turn of events.

“Huh? Corner judge?”
“Don’t worry, it’s not difficult.”
“But I don’t any have experience in this.”
“You just subjectively judge which competitor fights better. And give the winner 10, and the loser 8 or 9. If they are evenly matched give them both 10s”

I know it’s damn easy to judge. I could just give the Red competitor the win by a 10-9 margin every time, and no one would know. It’s just an ethics problem. 3 judges give a score, and the numbers are tallied to determine the winner. What if it is so evenly matched that my vote will be the swing vote? Then my pseudo-random function will determine the outcome of the competition. Which is not all that good, really. When they say ‘may the best (wo)man win’ (cliché), it actually means that the best person wins. This is a competition, not a casino.

Attempting to judge fairly is not easy. If the mind strays, one must yell at it to get back here. Also, a conscious attempt must be made to pay equal attention to both competitors. I sort of learned the mental approaches to judging along the way, so I can only hope that I did not swing the vote unfairly in the first couple of matches.

Much later in the day, at about 3.30pm, I was due for my sparring event. I lost so badly that the magnitude of the loss itself was an eye-opener. Cliché: you learn something new everyday.

From past experience, if anyone got too near for comfort and started punching, I can simply unwind with a back-thrust. The resulting momentum transfer would ensure that they no longer remain near, and probably think twice about coming near again.

Unfortunately, this is a ‘friendly’, no-contact sparring. It’s impossible to impart any momentum without decent contact, so I was flooded with punches. It was not funny.

There were a few satisfying turning kick head shots, but I was mostly submerged in punches anyway. The punches don’t really hurt, but they are scored. So they do hurt a lot actually, in a different way.

And then reverse swing and chopping kicks allowed. That was a major avenue of technical tricks closed off.

In hindsight (cliché: hindsight has 20/20 vision), it should have been ok to tackle. If the short range attacks kept coming, it would have been possible to slide backwards with a turning kick, another 2 steps back, a side kick to stop progress, advance forward to counter attack.

Hindsight...I can only blame my lack of composure and quick thinking. That’s inexperience for you.