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Article Submitted by Blake: I recently had this revelation while I was sitting on the side watching after attending to an injury. I never just watch anymore.
As a new blue belt, I had spent a LARGE majority of my time rolling, sparring, or drilling, and no longer watching my teammates or instructors spar or drill. It was easy as a white belt to sit on the side and watch, as I was constantly trying to catch my breath, waiting for an “approved” sparring partner (our gym doesn’t allow new white belt on new white belt sparring), or was late getting yet another drink of water and everyone was already paired up. I had the luxury of sitting there and watching our brown belts, purple belts, and head instructor roll with others and could actually watch what they do. This was great as I watched them work on their game, and I was able to watch what they did against the people that I was having trouble with. (As anyone who has trained for awhile knows – if you know your opponent’s game, you know how to win – or not lose.) There’s only so much drilling or techniques you can cover in a day, but any sparring session will have ENDLESS possibilities to exhibit what you’ve learned, which as a white belt was extremely limited. I remember watching a purple belt control someone’s leg just because they hooked their ankle with their opponent’s leg and they couldn’t do anything. I remember thinking “I’ve never thought of that,” and “I’ve never even paid attention to what I’m doing with my ankles.” That next session, I realized I usually leave them flat on the ground and completely ineffective. Now I have something to work on.
As I learned more and my cardio started to improve, I didn’t care who I sparred with, how tired I was, or if something was starting to get injured, I wanted my mat time. Even on days of “All Sparring” I would go non-stop, never passing up the opportunity or taking the time to even discuss finer points in the previous session (Which is ALWAYS a mistake if you’re a new white belt. If you get caught in something or completely controlled in some manner – ask your partner RIGHT then! Don’t wait until after the session, they may have already forgot, or weren’t even thinking about it, it just happened. Ask when it’s fresh in your and their minds, and ask often). Partner after partner I was focused on only what I was doing, and not paying attention to my teammates and training partners. Soon it would be months before I’d spar with a particuliar partner only to see how much their game has changed right under my nose.
It wasn’t until very recently I sat out once and just watched. I stopped to attend to a cut, after I quickly bandaged up I scanned the gym for a partner. There wasn’t anyone free. I didn’t know what to do. My day was ruined!! I sat on the edge of the mat now, ‘expertly’ critiquing all of the mistakes that “I would never make”. Then something happened.
I saw two purple belts matched up against each other and starting running through scenarios in my head as to which would win. I can’t touch these purple belts, they beat me easily and it’s mostly just toying with me, but now I had the opportunity to see what it would be like if I wasn’t low on the totem pole. Then it hit me – I haven’t watch ANYONE spar in the past few months. I stood up and started walking around, seeing who was rolling with whom, and finding myself just watching what they did – just as I did when I was the lowly white belt.
The buzzer sounded, and I continued to look around to the next round. This time I watched a fellow blue belt that was promoted the same time as me, go with another purple belt. How are they going to do against them??? I was asked to roll, and I politely declined (heresy, I know!) and told them, “I never just watch anymore.” I watched the two roll, picking up some game plans for my next time I rolled with them, and just stretched and waited until the end of class.
After class I realized two things 1) As a 30+ year old, I wasn’t nearly as sore as I usually am. Taking those few sessions off saved me a lot of pain and recovery that I usually put myself through, but I still had a decent work out. And 2) How can I balance my training with watching and learning those better than me train?
My competitive nature and striving to get better make me want to spar and drill EVERY chance I get. However, I really feel like I was learning something by watching, and I think it may help to take it easier on my body as it gets older.
I’m just curious if other’s have experienced this, or if higher belts have seen success in taking some time off the mat to watch, or do they recommend to roll as much and as often as possible to improve their skills?