Each week of our taekwondo classes has a theme. Some themes repeat more often than others. About once a month, we have a week in which the theme is Sparring.
I understand that the whole point of martial arts is sparring, I really do. But it's my absolute least favorite part of the whole endeavor. I'm not especially good at it (although I am getting somewhat better over time) and I really don't enjoy it. It's one of the things I do in class because I have to. This past week was a sparring week.
Green belts and up are required to purchase sparring equipment--generally, headgear (a helmetlike contraption), hand, foot, and shin protective gear, all made of a dense foam-like material covered in a thin layer of some sort of flexible plastic (vinyl?) that can be wiped clean. This gear is worn solely to keep us from getting hurt in case there is an errant hit; unlike in some martial arts schools, when we spar it is not for points and it is not with full-on intensity. The idea is that you position yourself correctly during the sparring and actually land the kick or strike, but only with a tap that shows where it would have landed had the attack gone through with full force (this is known as 'pulling' the strike and is intended to keep people from getting hurt.)
Usually that's the case, anyway. Often younger kids have a hard time pulling their strikes, but with increasing age generally comes more intensity control. Unfortunately, there is a middle zone of bigger kids who don't yet have that control, and I had to spar one of those kids today.
The really annoying thing is that I also sparred in class Tuesday and Thursday and did better than usual. I was thinking that I was finally getting somewhere with it, and maybe that I could get to dislike it a little less over time. Should have damned well skipped class today while I was feeling ahead.
The sparring partner in question from today is 17. She's smaller and lighter than me, but still a decent-sized person. She's a higher belt than I, very skilled technically and very strong physically. And she can't pull a fucking strike to save her life. The third or fourth time she clocked me full-on (after several requests from me to dial it back), I lost my temper and began to respond in kind. Still not with full strength--I did manage to maintain some modicum of situational awareness--but there was definitely a tit-for-tat, take-it-if-you're-going-to-insist-on-dishing-it-out kind of thing going on during that round. Against a fricking teenager, FFS. Not one of my prouder moments, to be sure.
At the beginning of each class, we recite the six tenets of taekwondo. One of those is self-control: I blew that one to hell and back today. I often choose not to play games because I am very competitive and I know that. Staying out is generally better than getting too involved. See e.g. today. I will say in my own defense that normally I have no issues with this in sparring, and that in fact I managed to spar five other people today without any problem. Of course, they actually pulled their freaking strikes. (I did mention the problem to the instructor as well, but she really didn't address it.)
In any case, I walked out of class really, REALLY pissed off at myself. Way to act like an adult there, champ. Nice.
Just looked at myself in the mirror after my shower. There's a lovely big bruise developing on the front of my left shoulder (the gear only covers so much square footage of body.) I'll probably find a few others over the next day or two, if I had to guess. Makes me feel slightly better--it's clear from the size of the bruise that I took a serious wallop there--but only slightly. Good thing I don't have class for a few days and that sparring week won't come again for a while, since I clearly need a time-out.