Sparring is for the Mind


It should come as no surprise that – by and large – most people who do Tae Kwon-Do will tell you that their favorite thing about it is kicking and punching. 

Now while I do love kicking and punching, my favorite thing to do in Tae Kwon-Do is sparring. 

“But, Master Sharratt! Isn’t that the same thing?” 

That’s an easy mistake to make. To the untrained eye, sparring might just look like kicking and punching practice. In fact, when I asked a recent class of mine why they thought that sparring was my favorite, the most popular answer was, not surprisingly, kicking and punching. 

But one student’s response in particular warmed my heart and brought it home in a way I hadn’t thought of before. He said that he thought the reason I love sparring the most was because I love combat. He couldn’t have been more right. 

My favorite thing to do in Tae Kwon-Do is sparring, because I love combat. And that’s not to say that I am a combative person, or enjoy being combative toward people. Combat goes beyond merely punching and kicking, or even fighting. It requires a number of skills: problem solving, critical thinking, movement, physical dynamics, and the element of surprise.

Let’s think of it from a more general perspective of war. The “Martial” in “Martial Arts” is a term applied to anything warlike or military in nature. In fact, the word “Martial” comes from Mars, the Roman God of War.

I think about combat as “what I have to do to beat my opponent.” And as you get better, move higher in rank, and start to see different opponents, the combat becomes more difficult. But at that point, the skill sets that develop inside of you as an individual are mostly mental. 

You have to have the physical skill, of course. But by the time you reach black belt, most of the students can execute the same techniques at a very high level. So what is the difference? For me, every piece of it is mental.

I have seen people who are much bigger than me, those who don’t have as good of a physique, are older than me, smaller than me, you name it, be better than opponents who I would consider to have more of a traditional Martial Arts physique. That is because it is less about the physicality itself, and more about knowing how to use physicality to win. 

I am a woman and I am 5’2” tall. I have sparred in tournaments with men who were over 6ft tall and/or close to 300lbs, and won the match. That wasn’t because I was physically better than them. I had tools in my toolbox that were similar to theirs. 

The difference is that I knew how to use mine better.

It comes down to critical thinking, which is the ability to use your mind to troubleshoot and solve problems. I have developed a knack for that because of Tae Kwon-Do and, more specifically, sparring. 

I started sparring when I was nine years old; maybe even earlier. I remember not having much luck in sparring until I turned ten or so. It was around then when I started thinking differently about it, for two reasons. One, because my toolbox was starting to grow, and two, I began thinking about Tae Kwon-Do as a whole differently. I started to use critical thinking skills (that I learned from Tae Kwon-Do) to understand how I could use those tools to beat my opponent. 

My tools are my speed, my jumping ability, my quick feet, and my blocking ability. But the tool that I developed that makes any of those others useful is my ability to spot opportunities to use them in real time. That, paired with my blocking ability, protected me. That, paired with my speed, improved my timing, and so on.

Without sparring, I wouldn’t have been able to develop any of those tools or, more importantly, the ability to know when and how to use them. Without sparring, I wouldn’t be able to overcome my opponent.

Master Gorino’s Tae Kwon-Do offers a trial program for individuals and families in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding areas that allows you to get a feel for the different classes, meet our instructors, and experience our dojang. It’s a great way to see if Tae Kwon-Do is right for you. To learn more or to sign up, visit the Contact Us page or call (716) 836-KICK (5425) and a member of our team will follow up with you on next steps. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals. Pil-Sung!


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