Friday, October 17, 2008

Evening up

In sports a constant problem is the mismatch. One competitor is stronger, bigger, faster, or more skillful than the other. To make things interesting sex, weight, and/or age and experience categories are often used, and sometimes a handicapping system is introduced.

In competitive training in the martial arts the mismatch is also a problem, for identical reasons, but it can also be an asset. In competitive practice -- such as judo's groundwork randori -- you can gain much more if your main objective is to learn rather than to win at all costs.

Let's say that you are big and strong, and your opponent is not. You have the option of using all your strength and weight to literally crush your opponent. That is the short road to victory, but a very long road to learning. So don't do it! Put away that advantage; wind it back to the same level (or just above) that of your partner and work on other aspects: Movement, technique, sensitivity.

In this way, when you go up against someone bigger and stronger than you (for example), you will have developed other sides to your game. The size and strength will still be there, but overall you will be more even.

The same advice applies to mis-matches in knowledge. If your arsenal of techniques is vastly greater than your opponent's, you should limit your repertoire of techniques. Concentrate on delivering a few techniques with finesse (for example), rather than relying heavily on the surprise factor of a technique that your opponent has never seen.

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Even when I have the opportunity to evenly match students I still like to mix things up, creating mis-matches as well as even matches between partners. Why? Because having experienced people work with beginners is safer than beginner v. beginner, provides better learning for the beginner, and gives the more experienced partner freedom to experiment; smaller people should be exposed to larger partners as preparation for self-defence; brutes need to learn to be gentler, etc. And we all should practice with lots of different people.

In actual self-defence don't hold anything back, but in training learn today so that you can win (or survive) tomorrow.

To summarize: In competitive practice we need to even things up, and by doing so in a creative we can create opportunities for significant learning and development.