“The martial arts is like Christmas,” I often say when my training partners and I put on our pads before we begin sparring. “It is better to give than it is to receive.” It works best when you say it with your mouthguard in and your gloves on.
When I say that, it’s out of sheer enthusiasm for the sparring session to come, but it’s also to pump up my training partners. Most times, when folks put on their headgear and step onto the mat for actual training combat, even it’s under tightly controlled circumstances, even if it’s with full protective gear on, even if it’s after many months of intense training, they completely freak out. I know I did. So I like to remind folks that just because they’re focused on not getting their bell rung, it doesn’t mean that they’re not an aggressor, too. Sometimes, the best defense really is a good offense. You just need to keep your head clear enough to know when to attack and when not to. It is, as with all things in the martial arts — and in life itself — a constant learning opportunity, no matter who you are or how far along you have come.
My family and I all earned our black belts last December, and one of the new developments in my training is to help instruct the odd class or two. This is something totally new to me, and while I’m not bad at the fighting techniques in which I have been training, knowing how best to teach them is another matter.
Recently, I was asked to oversee two pairs of students as they trained in kickboxing. One pair were new students — we get a lot of those in the spring and summer — and the other pair had both been attending class regularly for months and struck me as serious students. So, I focused on the new students. But in doing so, I actually had my back to the veterans for much of the time. Afterward, my instructor noted that the best thing to do would have been to stand back so I could easily view both pairs, and make neither one feel like they had been excluded. “Every time a student attends class, they are making a decision,” my instructor told me. “They are deciding whether they are one step closer to black belt, or one step closer to quitting.”