Fight Lab: One Student’s Reflections

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson

Sundays are Fight Lab days at Maelstrom. For those of you who have not been to a Sunday class, I’d describe them as “similar to any other class day”, which means they have much in common, but are not the same. Much of the class would seem quite familiar: we bow in, warm up, the instructor chooses a few techniques to focus on, the students pair up to practice while the instructor circulates to offer suggestions, answer questions, or offer a different viewpoint when a student is struggling with something. We practice technique until class ends, we bow out and bid our farewells until the next class.

What sets Sundays apart is how students practice. On a Sunday, practice is less about repetition and more about responding to a dynamic situation. Static drills are an excellent way of starting to ingrain muscle memory and build what some people refer to as a “good vocabulary” for specific circumstances, but what it does not prepare one for is dynamism: there is a much different “feel” to blocking a punch, stab, kick, or elbow when partnered with a fellow student who is helping you learn, than when trying to do the same with someone who really wants to land that punch, stab, kick, or elbow. Intent matters, and intent changes the whole equation.

So for the last bit of class, we don our protective gear and start implementing techniques against someone who isn’t “playing along”. Incidental contact — those little dings, pops, taps, slaps, and bumps that are a necessary fact of life in the other classes — becomes intended contact: students swing to connect. Of course this is not done at full steam, but anyone who has caught those little dings, pops or taps on a knuckle or elbow has an idea how they’d feel moving at a much faster rate, even through the padding of a glove. Then it’s two minutes of testing with the results immediately available.

This is the closest I can get to what goes through my head during these bouts:

“Can I hit her from here? Nope, too quick. OK, she’s circles to her left when pressed. So what if I step to my right and — ow! WOW, that was fast.”
“What if I — ow, no. OK, so what about if — ow. No, not that either.”
“Hey, his shoulder drops a little bit before he swings a #2.”
“OK, how did he hit me on my left hand?”
“OK, work her toward a corner where she can’t back up or turn — GAH! BLOCK! Wow, that worked. Cool!”
“Swing and a miss! But I didn’t miss by much. So if I rotate just a bit more — connect! Yes! Hmm, I wonder if I can turn that into a tactic…”
“He’s rushing me, but I can’t read if he’s going high or low! I’ll choose high and — ow. Wrong choice.”

I find this kind of practice — try it, find what works, feel what it’s like to actually get hit, gauge your responses to stress and the shock of impact — extremely useful. There is nothing quite like seeing (feeling!) what happens when I do something wrong to help me remember to do something properly.

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