When I was a little girl my mother was always telling me, "Karrie, you don't know your own strength." This response was given whenever I beat up on my little sister and brother, who would often gang up on me leaving me no choice but to rough them up a bit. I'm the oldest; they are just over a year apart. This closeness often led them to stick together. The reality was my brother followed my sister's every whim, at least until he was old enough to know better. Don't get me wrong, I love them dearly, it's just that when we were kids we didn't often get along, and my sister spent a lot of time yelling, "Mom, Karrie's going to hit me!"
Why do I tell that story? Well, I still don't know my own strength, be it too much or too little. Last week was spent sparring and sparring. This was due to our dojo having a shiai, specifically a shodan shiai. When it was my turn to spar the testee I felt so weak and ragged and my form was awful. I was wearing 12 oz gloves, which I absolutely detest. They are bulky and I have had difficulty hitting with them accurately. I feel like a clown, and when I get hit in the head, which happens way too often (okay, I'm barely 5 feet tall and I spar with people much taller than me, which results in my head being directly at the end of their punch. Yeah, yeah, evade, I know!), I want to scream! Needless to say I got some good hits to my face. On the other hand, I gave some great shots to the body. One of the important things we work on in sparring is to get used to taking a shot. Specifically, take a shot, give a shot. It works wonders. Practice it enough and it really happens.
Strength. There's a lot to that word. My strengths in karate lie in kata, kicking and ippons. Sparring is my weakness. Two weeks ago I took a class at the mother ship, where we sparred for the first 30 min. of class with absolutely no gloves. I shined. With no gloves I was strong. It was a defining moment: there I was, using mushimi to keep contact, taking people to the ground, all without gloves. It was so effortless and I was in the zone. I was also sparring with people who I didn't really know, which would normally make me incredibly nervous, incredibly doubtful of my technique. Sensei Moe, one of Sensei Morallo's senior instructors (he trained with my Sensei back in the day), said this excellent thing: you have to find what you don't like about karate and practice it until you love it. I took that to heart, and decided then and there that I would spar as much as I could with as many people as I could.
So last week....taking that mentality I went into the sparring with gusto. Even though I felt sloppy at the shodan shiai I still felt happy about it. It was the next day where I faltered. I was "shark bait" at the end of class, a class where we spent most of our time "working the meat", meaning really getting into how horse stance is performed, moving the muscles around to the correct positions. It hurts, a lot. After all of that work I sparred for one minute with 8 different students. At first everything was fine, and even though I had on the 12 ouncers I was able to keep my form. The levels varied from expert to the very, very new, which gave me a wide range of technique to work with. The very last person had on the biggest, bulkiest gloves I had ever seen. Whenever they hit my head it was like being bonked with a pillow. I have never been as frustrated in karate as I was at that moment. When Sensei came back into the dojo (he had left while I was sparring) I was ready to scream. He saw I was flailing and stepped in to spar with me. At that point I was done, the tears were already falling down my cheeks. I bowed as quickly as I could and ran over to the door, where I knelt down to collect myself. It was very difficult to control sobbing that wanted to come out of my chest.
Why was my reaction so strong? It goes back to strength. Last week was a very difficult week for me. There has been a lot of processing going on inside of me that has to do with moving. The day I lost it was the day I was done. I didn't have much left to give. It was also the best thing that happened to me. After I collected myself I went back to sparring with Sensei and I had a clearer head. Of course I wasn't done crying, but I was able to keep it together for the rest of class. If there's one thing I take from my training, it's how well I've come to know myself through karate.