Pass the torch – Sparring with the younger guys

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Since I am not a full time instructor and have a job with long hours, I find that I am not able to train as much as I like. I am also getting older so I am not as fast as I was before and at times my endurance is not as strong as it was. I find that the younger guys, 18 to 35, are able to beat me in sparring more than they have been able to in the past. They train more, so their technique is getting better than mine and they have better speed and endurance. I know martial artists my age that won’t spar the younger guys. They think that being beaten makes them a less respected martial artist. I don’t believe that it does.

I try to not let my ego get in the way of a good workout. I will spar, stand up or ground, any time I can. Most times, if I want to spar, I need to spar with the younger guys since there are not many 47-year-old martial artists for me to work with. I hate the phrase “know your limitations” so let me say that I recognize my opponent’s strengths and know what I need to do to be competitive. You can tell by the level of effort the young guy puts forth, his level of experience. Many of the guys, even the advanced belts, feel the need to beat me. They put forth so much energy in a constant stream that they gas out. Since my experience has taught me to conserve energy, I beat them easily. It is when they learn that sparring (standup and ground) is a game of chess not checkers, that I have a problem winning. As they learn discipline, their consistent training and the conditioning of youth puts me at a disadvantage.

This disadvantage in the match is an advantage in teaching. As a teacher, I want the students to get better. Even though I may not have the endurance or the practiced skills of my younger martial arts compatriots, I am no push over. People like to spar with me because I can roll with intensity. My opponents have to work for it. My patience is the teacher. Many times the less experienced young guys attack each other like rams smashing their heads into each other. When they fight me, they learn the value of patience and finding targets. I always smile at the look of surprise when I sweep my opponent after they have gassed themselves trying to get an arm bar or they catch a side kick because I have cut off the ring and cramped their style. As they see what I am doing to them, they start to integrate those skills into their strategies.

As they get better, it is harder for me to win and there are times I lose. From the reception I get from these students, I don’t believe that losing matches reduces their respect for me. They still treat me very respectfully. Having opponents that have the ability to beat me, actually helps me. As my patience forces them to change their tactics. Their new tactics force me to change my strategy and update my tactics. Some advanced martial artists that have updated their strategy and have a lot of tactics in their tool box have become my teachers. I have such an appreciation for martial arts that I don’t mind a 25-year-old teacher. I just want to learn what they know.

My son is one of the advanced students that is developing solid strategies and adding to their tactical toolboxes. Although, I am still superior to him in stand-up sparring, it is a real challenge for me to keep from being tapped out in a grappling session. He has learned patience to counter my patience and he uses his youthful conditioning to keep the pressure on me. He hasn’t been able to tap me yet but that will come in time. He will also beat me in standup eventually and that is okay. That is the progression of things. Older teachers that train full time will delay the inevitable but even for them, the student will get better than the teacher if the student trains hard and long enough.

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