Last Saturday I competed in a sparring tournament down in Tacoma. It was an open, cross-discipline martial arts "classic" that featured contact sparring.
I've been doing the karate thing with my family for a little over four years now. We practice Tang Soo Do, which is a Korean form of karate that emphasizes art over sport. It's closely related to Tae Kwon Do, which is the Korean national sport. Both disciplines involve forms, self-defense basics, and sparring. While sparring seems to be the primary focus of Tae Kwon Do, it's not emphasized much in our discipline.
In the rare times that we do spar, it's light-contact sparring. No touching the head. Kicks and punches can only come close to the body or barely touch it. Kicks to the head cannot make contact. It still requires athleticism, skill, and mental acuity, and there's even an occasional injury. Still, it's not particularly combative or dangerous. It's like touch nerf football.
Our studio master teaches the light style of sparring used in our competitions, but he also wants to teach us how to defend ourselves. In our style of sparring, we don't have to worry too much about protecting the head, and we don't attack the head either. He's been trying to introduce more advanced sparring techniques, but they don't make sense in our no-contact sparring world. So he decided to pick a few students like me who enjoy sparring and could probably handle a more rough-and-tumble competition.
This being a martial arts tournament, we also competed in forms. I finished in second place in the non-black belt division, and got a nice big trophy for my efforts. Question: What does a 50-something-year-old man do with a trophy? I would have traded it for a fresh donut.
A couple hours later, the sparring started. Competitors were there from all kinds of disciplines—Korean, Japanese, Chinese. I was sore and stiff from having sat in the bleachers all day. I tried to warm up quickly. In the quarterfinals, I went against an opponent who didn't seem particularly experienced or athletic, but he was oddly sneaky. It took me a while to get used to him, but I figured out a couple ways to get points off of him and won.
Here's how the scoring works. You get one point for a kick or punch to the body and one point for a punch to the head gear (not the face, unless, you know, you do and there's no blood). You get two points for a kick to the head and three points for a jump-spinning kick to the head.
In the semi-final, I went up against a white guy who wore a Chinese uniform with no belt. Kung Fu? In his previous bout, he wailed on his opponent, physically overwhelming him. I noticed that he left his side open during attacks, so at the start of our match, I did a sliding side kick to the ribs for a point. Then I did the exact same move, and no point. Too boring for the judges? We went back and forth for a while. He kept coming after me, which is great for my style. I like to counter. I kept kicking him in the ribs, sometimes getting points, sometimes not. He received warnings for a couple of low kicks that I didn't feel at the time but have me limping a couple days later. One bruise is the size of an orange. I had a small lead for most of the match and then I pulled away when I remembered a back-fist-to-the-head attack that our master had been trying to teach us. I did that a few times, and then the towel flew in to indicate the two minutes were up. I made it to the finals.