Sleepwalking Through Your Sparring

Back in my early teens, when I was infatuated with Kung Fu, I read a book purporting to describe about 50 supernatural abilities that Kung Fu masters could develop. Skills like levitation, or making your body impervious to weapons, or killing people with a poke of your fingertips…

Crazy stuff, I know! Even as a youngster I was fairly skeptical that any of this was true. The funny thing is that at least one of the skills in that book is actually quite feasible: the ability to defend yourself blindfolded. The magical Kung Fu book explained that blindfolded combat skills were the result of being able to sense your opponent’s energy at a distance, and know exactly where he was and what he was going to do.

Doing this at a distance is far-fetched, but most good grapplers would be completely capable of continuing to spar if all the lights suddenly went out. And it’s not anything mysterious.

It’s simply that years on the mat create a high-level of touch-based sensitivity to your opponent’s movements and positioning. Do this long enought and eventually you’ll be able to close your eyes, hang onto an opponent’s arm and have a pretty good idea what the rest of his body is doing.

Sparring with your eyes shut is actually a pretty good training method, especially if you’re sparring with someone who is a lot less experienced than you. If you could completely dominate and crush your partner then neither of you will learn very much.

So what can you do instead? Some solutions to keep things interesting include limiting the techniques you’re allowed to use, and also always starting in bad positions.

But you can also try keeping your eyes closed and just rolling. Flow through as many different positions and transitions as possible, trying to ‘see’ with your arms, your legs, and your body.

This gives your sparring partner a bit of an advantage, and simultaneously forces you to work on your sensitivity and body awareness.

Plus it impresses the heck out newbies…

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