Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Our guys face tough sparring . . .

"Guys always have to be reminded about light to no contact, don't they?" I muse aloud to the people near me at the tournament.

I'm standing at the side of the black belt men 18-34 sparring ring where Justin is sparring. They're really going at it--I can hear the thuds of foot on chest.

"Well, you know the rules are different for black belt men," replies someone from another dojang.

They are? And there's Justin, his first time in this category, with no helmet.

After one match, I trot over to give Justin his water.

"So what's up? Why are they hitting so hard? Are the rules different for black belts?" I ask after determining that he's basically OK.

"I don't know," says Justin. He points out that he's been getting hit pretty hard, even when he blocks. This has never happened at other tournaments.

"Yeah," I say. "And I saw you score lots of points on him--right at his belt--that they didn't call."

I'm puzzled. The rules on the registration form say nothing about hard contact or olympic sparring . . . hmm.

Actually I'd seen a rougher side of the sport earlier that day when I was watching John, who sparred in the 14-17 year old BB category. A couple of times they had to stop the match when boys got the wind knocked out of them.

Justin is called out for another match right away. He pours some of the water on his head and goes out. He's ready--still energetic and tough. Still, being the mom-type, I'm a bit nervous.

This opponent is even rougher. He makes a hooking kick to the head, somehow getting past Justin's block, and, despite falling a couple of times, manages to deliver a killer clout to Justin's midsection. There's a moment for Justin to catch his breath, and I stand there shocked, but they then go on. Eventually, the opponent kicks Justin in the face so hard that he draws blood.

The match is stopped while the judge examines the cut in Justin's mouth. I go over with a washcloth and the water once the match is over. This seems insane!

Justin's taking all this pretty stoically, despite being puzzled by the seeming change in rules. He mentions something about showing his wounds to his buddies this evening! James (who's 11) wants to get in the ring, too! "I wanna go fight that guy," he says. Guys!

Still, I'm wondering if I should have said something. I am the taekwondomom, after all, and, being a mom, I don't want the guys to get hurt unnecessarily. But I'm not a black belt, and this is my first "away" tournament--what could I say?

Did these judges forget the rules? Are there different rules for black belt men? Or was there some sort of eerie testosterone surge that caused brief insanity today?

Later, I tell Ms. Pryor about the match and ask her about the rules for male black belt sparring in traditional Tae Kwon Do.

"Yeah, that happens at some tournaments," she says. "As long as they don't really injure someone, they'll just keep going."

I'm not sure what I think of this. The guys seemed to be OK with it. I'm glad it's not that way with women, though Ms. Pryor had pointed out that even women black belts spar harder.

Any thoughts about this--especially from those of you who do point sparring? It seems like it takes more skill to control kicks than to go all out. But maybe this is some kind of safe fighting place where people (men) can really go at it. Do we (or men) need that? I don't think I do!


Laura B. from Cherokee said...

I have to admit, I'm as disturbed as you are by all of the contact -- and I've seen it (and felt it) in the adult women's color belt ring, too. It's not just the black belts (although I suspect that judges may be a little quicker to warn color belts off).

I've always been taught to follow the rule of no or light contact, and our instructors in Cherokee always insist that the rule for Jung's affiliated schools in general is light-to-no. I, too, was told that the rules can be different for black belts (the presumption being, I imagine, that they should have control enough at advanced rank to avoid doing damage when they make contact). The black belt rings at tournaments can be brutal, especially for the adult men and the teens.

Personally, I prefer the idea of sparring as a demonstration of control. By "control" I don't mean only contact control, though. Even a very good no-contact fighter can tag someone who walks into a kick unexpectedly (says the woman nursing a BIG ugly bruise on her arm from Saturday...). I think that a lot of the brutality I've seen in tournament matches happened when one or both of the combatants got a little too emotionally invested in fighting and winning. Control, in sparring, ought to include the ability to prevent the ol' fightin' spirit from getting out of hand!

Laura B. from Cherokee said...

Oh, one more thing: There were schools at that tournament who do partial/full contact or olympic sparring. The guy Justin's fighting in the second match picture (black uniform, not one of Jung's) may be from one of those schools. The ring judges were already letting black belt fighters go harder than lower ranks; perhaps this is why they were inclined to be a bit less strict about enforcing Jung's sparring contact rules for black belts from other schools. That's just a guess, though -- I could be misreading the whole scene rather badly.

Miss Chris said...

I have seen that too at tournaments and I think it's wrong. Things can be so inconsistent yet nobody seems to want to get a handle on it. Light to medium contact should actually be that. Sometimes I've seen penalties for kicks too hard or to the face but then they aren't consistently enforced. Kind of frustrating.

TKD Rocker said...

At most WTF schools and tournaments , black belt sparring is knock-out, meaning it is legal to knock your opponent out and you win the match if you do. Of course, we wear full sparring gear (head and chest gear, arm and shin guards, mouthpiece, and cups for guys). At our school, the color belts usually go light to medium contact, while adults and black belts are allowed to go medium to full-contact (NOT knock-out). At tournaments, my instructor has only let one black belt spar, because the fighting is ferocious. I'm sure ITF rules are a little different, but black belts usually do go a bit harder in sparring, regardless of the type of tkd.

Anonymous said...

It takes skill and finesse to pull the full power of a kick to the head. Most people don't train that way, or can't be bothered. Black belts have an "I don't care" mentality in tournaments, and the judges - former competitors themselves - tend to let things slide. What's interesting is that more injuries seem to occur in point matches than in full contact.

Justin said...

Each night before I've gone to bed I've thought about how the tournament could have gone differently. Between the gum flying, stepping on the judges foot, breaking the speed break punch, and beating up rather than getting beat up in sparring. It's almost haunting how I think of it the second I slip under the covers. The first sparring match took me by surprise because this is the first time for me sparring in this category of fighters. After getting the wind knocked out of me I expected a call to lower the contact but instead they gave Todd the point. Also, as many spectators saw, their were several times when we both stopped because we thought I scored a point but the judges didnt call it because it was light contact "belt taps." If I would have been knocked off the bracket then, I probably wouldn't be as sore about the tournament though. In the next match, every kick my opponent threw was hard contact. One of them going towards my face, even with my arm blocking it, moved my arm and hit me in the face hard enough to draw blood. John is right, it takes skill and finesse to get a full contact kick to the head, but it takes both of those plus control to go light or no contact to the head. The match continued and my opponent got a double roundhouse kick to both sides of my ribs, only one of them blocked (knockin me to the ground). It still hurts on occasion and there is a large indent where the kick was. It wasn't until after this kick that they stopped the match because of the cut on my face. The "official rules" say that if a person receives cuts, bruises, or other injuries the opponent is disqualified yet they decided to take me out of the bracket because he gave me bruises and cuts. Rather upset, I felt it was time to go home with the rest of our schools group. It was definitly not a pleasurable experience. My wounds still hurt and I am not mentally changed into thinking that if I want to survive in a ring against these competitors that I should go hard contact as well.