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Have You Tried A Punching Bag, Instead?

, , , , , , , | Learning | November 19, 2021

I took Tae Kwon Do for several years until I left for college, and at the time of this story, I was either a belt away from my black belt or had just gotten my first Dan. I was studying Olympic-style Tae Kwon Do, which is more sport than defensive art. Its sparring rules are designed to encourage interesting fights to watch more than to teach practical defense. Because of this, a number of things that are practical in a real fight, like grappling and punching, are either illegal or unable to score points when sparring.

Recently, we had a new person taking classes: an old friend of the person who ran the dojo who already had a black belt and training in a few different martial arts. He was always trying to get people to agree to bend the sparring rules to allow things he was taught but aren’t legal in our sparring, like grappling or punching to the head. By itself, this wouldn’t be too big a problem, except he wasn’t very good at taking no for an answer and would try to use these techniques even when his sparring partner didn’t agree to change the rules. He only did it with advanced belts and did it infrequently enough that, while annoying, it never quite reached the level of his being properly punished. Being friends with the owner likely helped him, as well.

On the day of this story, more for fun than anything else, we were doing two-on-one sparring matches, with two lower belts against one higher belt. I was going up against our master’s friend and had been paired up with a young girl who had only been sparring for a little while and still had the hesitancy that is often seen in new sparrers. While in a real fight, two on one is a massive advantage given the rules and limits of sparring, and with my partner’s lack of experience or aggression, I didn’t think she would be able to contribute much to the match. That meant the fight would mostly come down to me versus my opponent, who was far more experienced, which meant we would almost certainly lose the match.

I was worried that my new partner would be intermediated if our foe started using illegal moves she wasn’t ready to deal with, so before the match started, I politely reminded him that we wanted to stick to legal moves only without any of the stuff he liked to add.

My opponent seemed to take this as a challenge; the very moment the fight started, he dive-tackled me and grappled me to the floor. Not only was this illegal, but it was also rather foolish, as it put him on the ground and tied up with me while my partner was still free. Rather than trying to break his grapple, I instead did my best to tangle his legs and arms up with me so he couldn’t get up and told my partner to start kicking him while was defenseless. He had just turned an almost guaranteed win if he had just followed the rules into a rather inglorious defeat at the hands (feet?) of someone barely experienced enough to be allowed to spar at all.

Luckily for him, my partner seemed to realize how unfair the situation was, and as I said, she wasn’t remotely aggressive, so her “kicks” were barely more than taps, more demonstrating the damage she could do than really trying to inflict harm. Despite this, I could see our opponent growing increasingly infuriated with every strike.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to keep my opponent tangled on the floor forever. Eventually, he managed to untangle himself and get up, at which point he went at my partner full force. He was clearly angry and not holding back nearly as much as an experienced black belt should against a newbie sparrer. I was honestly worried he would hurt my partner, so I rushed to get up and knock him away from her with a push kick so I could get between the two of them. Luckily, time ran out seconds after I’d knocked him away and the match ended before anyone was hurt.

My partner wasn’t badly hurt; he had landed a few very solid blows on her padding that winded her, but they didn’t cause any lasting harm. She was, however, terrified and upset at having been chased down and so viciously focused on, and I still wonder if he would have harmed her if it wasn’t for my intervention and time running out. As far as I was concerned, he had gone too far this time.

Despite being nothing more than a high school student, I went against my instincts and spoke to my master about his friend and my concerns after class was over that night. He agreed with me that his friend had pushed too far this time and told me he planned to have a “talk” with his friend. I don’t know what that talk entailed, but I noticed that the friend stopped coming to class not long after that.