This full day of sparring was open to members of all levels of skill and experience. The workshop was designed to make us approach sparring more creatively by exploiting the richness of the Tiger Crane style. We began the day by reflecting on the kind of fighters we thought we were. The purpose of this exercise was not to beat ourselves up over what we were or were not like but to encourage us to compensate for our weaknesses and to take advantage of our strengths. It soon became clear that we all fitted pretty neatly in to five categories.
There were the brawlers (the largest group!) who have trouble keeping their cool in a fight but are unafraid to pile in when under pressure. At the opposite end of the scale were the defensive fighters who prefer to keep the opponent at arm or leg's length and tended to be disoriented by closer contact. The impatient types revealed that they were prone to losing the advantage of their skill by their desire to get the action going. The cream of the bunch were the playful or thoughtful fighters who could keep their cool, using their brains as well as their bodies to manipulate their opponent. Finally, there were those who did not want to fight at all. This was a small group all of whom had transformed into brawlers by the end of the day!
We began with exercises designed to make us keep our cool and stay in control when under pressure. Our opponent slapped us while we had our backs to the wall and could only block their attack. This was excellent for getting used to being hit at close quarters and at speed, while retaining calm under pressure. The theme of staying cool under fire was continued in the next phase where we were up against instructors wielding sparring pads and mitts. Our strength and confidence grew as we learnt to keep moving, to pull back and go back in at the right time and to use both sides of the body while being pushed and whacked. After a foolishly large Nepalese lunch, we got to the sparring itself.
Here the emphasis was on being creative and thoughtful with our fighting style. When instructed to consciously change styles over three bouts, we all failed miserably; resorting to changes only of pace or force. When Dennis Ngo demonstrated what changing styles really meant, it became clear that we are all reluctant to employ in sparring, the techniques we learn in training. The clarity of Dennis's switch between the various aspects of our style; swapping the Tiger for the Crane style, was an inspiration for us to exploit the breadth of our style and to enjoy the skills we learn in everyday training. The need to be flexible and able to adapt our fighting style was best understood by sparring continuously with every other individual, one after the other. There was no choice but to adapt the technique to the opponent. By the end of the day, there was a unanimous sense that we had gained a much clearer understanding of the mental and physical aspects of sparring, with only a few minor injuries along the way.