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A couple of months ago, I wrote about a tough round I had with one of the blue belts with whom I regularly train. To sum up, he is a very nice guy who went too hard. I came out of the round feeling beat up and demoralized. Unable to mount any kind of offense, or even defense really, I basically just tapped over and over and waited for the round to end. 

It wasn't all bad. There are certainly things to be gained from this type of experience, and many of them I discussed in my previous blog post. But one of the most important things for a more advanced martial arts practitioner to understand is the mind of a beginner.

A few months ago, I had this conversation with one of the women in our karate school:

Me: How was sparring class tonight?
Her: It was good. Except for my round with ___. He is terrible!
Me: Yeah, he is a little spazzy. Just keep your hands up. He will get better.
Her: I hate sparring with him. He hits way too hard! 
Me: Don't be afraid to ask him to go a little lighter. I am sure he has no clue that he is hitting too hard. After all, he has only been sparring for a few months.
Her: I think he got mad when I punched him. That's why he did that.
Me: No, trust me. He has no control over what he is doing. If you told him that he hit you too hard, he would be shocked.

This conversation went on like this for awhile. But no matter what I said, this woman, who was pretty new to sparring herself, would not believe me. She swore that he was hitting her hard on purpose, out of anger or some kind of female-hatred issue. She could not accept the truth, which was that he was just as new to this as she was, and most likely had no idea how hard he was hitting. Why would he? 

In the first few months of sparring, there is a monologue in your head that goes something like this: 

"Ok, here we go, getting ready to spar, ok sensei says to keep my hands up and relax, wow, I am out of breath already, ok throw some punches, oh my god that punch almost killed me, oh yeah we can kick too, ugh kicks take a lot of energy, how long is this round? oh no I have to fight HIM next, I hope I don't die, man I need some water, why am I doing this again?"

And so on. 
Even the ones who are natural athletes are often surprised at how hard it all is in the beginning. Your brain is almost completely taken up with trying to remember the few techniques you have learned (along with all the effort it takes to NOT DIE OUT THERE!) . You can barely control your body. There is certainly no room for conscious thoughts, especially not strategic ones like "go punch that woman in the stomach as hard as I can". 

So, to new my female buddy, no, he most likely did not hit you hard on purpose. Odds are, his hand randomly shot out somewhere near your ribcage while he was trying to distinguish his right foot from his left. It is unlikely he even knew you were there.

Sure, some newbies are assholes. But most of them are just young. Not young in age necessarily, just young in training. They don't know any better yet. Like children, they need time and lots of patience. And I do not in any way mean that as an insult. Its just the truth.

Back to my blue belt guy. I finally got to roll with him again yesterday. He went much lighter than last time. After our round, I was pleased to be able to say this to him:

"That was a great pace. Thank you! The last time we rolled it was a little too hard and I felt like I could not accomplish anything. This was perfect. Thanks for working with me."

His response?
"I am sorry, I had no idea."

What is the moral of this story? If you spar with someone for months and months and every single time they slam you, they are either completely clueless or a big fat jerk who should be avoided. But if you know a guy (or girl) is still pretty new at this, give them a few months. Let them learn how to relax. Let them learn how to slow down. Feel free to tell them to do so, it will benefit everyone.

In other words, give them time to grow up.
Most likely, they will.


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