Monday, February 16, 2009

Enthusiasm or Experience

I recently started playing racquetball on a Sunday with my brother. I have never held a racquet in my hand until three weeks ago. I have not played a game yet because I am still working on the basics. My brother used to play years ago. My niece Nik (his daughter) started playing at college a few weeks ago. Since she was coming home this past weekend, my brother challenged her to a game of racquetball.

Nik is athletic, strong, fast, young and enthusiastic. My brother, who turned fifty this year, calmly told her that he was going to beat her. This banter went back and forth all week. If there were bets placed on this match, Nik would have been the favorite. Everyone thought she would win. We were wrong. It was not even close (sorry Nik). After the game, she was lying down catching her breath. She sat up, tapped her forehead and said, “You beat me here.”


The same is true with sparring. Anyone who has been around a dojo for a while has experienced the enthusiastic student who cannot wait to spar. Often they are young, fast and strong. They are definitely eager. They enter the ring facing a more experienced fighter and find themselves ineffective. The enthusiastic student just cannot seem to land their techniques.

Case in point: A young student came to the dojo eager to fight. His first match was against my husband. (We have new students fight the black belts for safety reasons.) The young man was thrilled to be sparring. He was trying fancy moves. At one point during the fight, the student dropped down in to a split and punch towards the groin. (I think Van Damme performed this technique in a movie). My husband was at least two feet away from his punch. My husband walked over, placed his foot on the student’s chest and lightly pushed.

In racquetball, my brother knows the game. He has the experience. He can more accurately predict the movement of the ball. He quickly realized that Nik was unable to return a ball hit to the back wall. He used this to his advantage. However, he is going to have to watch out because I predict that when she comes home for the summer...she is going to be a formidable competitor! :)

What do you think about sparring? Can enthusiasm alone defeat experience?


Noah said...

I'm only 20, and only a brown belt in karate and green belt in judo, but I have fought some very enthusiastic white belts in both arts. One young karateka, who is a good friend of mine now, had studied taekwondo for two years when he was younger, and so he was pretty eager to spar. Well, in our dojo (the primary dojo has black belts to spar) I was the highest rank to spar, and I once I hit green belt, I didn't lose to people under brown belt, so I don't think I did too poorly. He tried spinning and jumping kicks from taekwondo that gave me plenty of time for the straight-line, quick strikes of karate. We had a good time, and he learned how not to spar me :P. I had a similar thing happen in judo with a 16 year old kid who looked like a bodybuilder that ended up in an armbar. I would say that as long as the body is able, experience will always beat enthusiasm, and it will be a learning experience for both parties :)

Michele said...

Noah: Thank you for your comments. "A learning experience for both parties" ... you are right. Each time I spar, I try to learn from the exchange. Thanks.

child in bloom said...

I think the only time enthusiasm overcomes experience is when racing out to the ice cream truck applies...

Perpetual Beginner said...

"Old age and treachery shall overcome youth and skill" is a saying I think applies here.

Enthusiasm in sparring is mostly valuable in helping students make the most of the experience they get. It won't actually substitute for it.

That said, enthusiasm is valuable for the lack of fear it allows. Enthusiastic students tend to learn faster - but they still need that learning time to stand against those more experienced.

Michele said...

Child in Bloom: The ice cream might be right.

PB: You raise good points regarding the value of enthusiasm. Thanks.

Steve said...

I love to watch the kids grapple. They don't have any concept of what they are supposed to be able to do and what they aren't supposed to be able to do. They will execute technique with abandon. More relevant to this discussion, they will often attempt to do something so completely unorthodox that it takes everyone by surprise. "Did he really just do that???"

Sometimes, sparring with an inexperienced person will put you in a position that is... well, outside of your experience. Maybe this happens more in grappling.

I appreciate when this happens. It's a fresh look that makes me better, too.

I do agree, however, that experience and technique beat enthusiasm and raw athleticism in most cases.

Michele said...

Steve: Thank you for your comments.

Sparring a new, enthusiastic beginner can present a challenge to the more experienced. It is an unknown because you do not know what they are going to do or how much control they are going to have. You make a good point..."it is a fresh look".

Kids are fun. When kids spar...they are all in! Every ounce of their ability/strength goes into each technique.