My First Sparring

“So, stand like this, punch with your front hand, kick with your front leg, and don’t turn towards your opponent or he’ll kick you in the groin.” This ominous warning fell upon compliant ears, since I was a young, unmarried man who thought having a family some day would be a good thing.

If you can envision us, having the hand position of the Universal block, standing in a side horse and using only the front side, you might have a chuckle. But after a time, we were allowed to bring the back leg and hand around to add to our repertoire of weapons, though the power was a bit suspect.

Having been taken to the local Y.M.C.A. as a youngster, and being enrolled in the boxing program, I had a big problem with putting my right hand back, seemingly behind my back. But the boxing program didn’t allow for groin kicks or punches, well, not visibly anyway, so I heeded the warning from my classmates.

One night at sparring, after a poorly executed front leg wheel kick, which was slapped off to the side, rather easily if the truth be told, by my classmate Paul Olivas, I made a discovery. With my back turned to the much faster opponent, I landed on my kicking leg, rapidly looked over my opposite shoulder and shot a rear kick in Paul’s direction, which caught him mid-belly with a thump. I thought I had just invented a secret and deadly weapon that would bring me much acclaim. Now, after many years of being kicked with the same kick many times, and finding out to my great dismay that the kick had been around about one thousand years, I retreated into obscurity with my kick between my legs.

Al Tracy wanted us to improve our sparring. He didn’t feel it was up to the type of fighting he had been raised on in Pasadena. We had a visitor from Southern California named Dion Steckler (forgive spelling if incorrect) Dion was a Brown Belt under the SGM and came up to fight us. There we learned the rear leg wheel kick, side kick, spin kick, scoop kick (at a time when most wore no protection), and subsequent hand follow-ups off these kicks. We learned a series of blocks with the fighting lesson: the face block, testicle block, caved-in rib cage block, bent-shins sweep, and so on. But, our teachers told us the best way to get good is fight someone better than your self.

Then Al Tracy arranged a workout with a local Kyokushinkai and Ju-Jutsu teacher named Duke Moore who had a school on Market Street in San Francisco. Ah! our first encounter with another style. We were ready to defend the system and unleash our new-found prowess. Problem was, the Japanese Karateka felt the same way and had one direction: forward and with great speed and power. They also mostly used front kick, reverse punch and, once in close, swept. Having come from a Judo background, I could handle the sweeps. But it was at that time I abandoned the side horse, universal-block stance. I raised my hands and jabbed and crossed every time they moved. My rib cage was stoved in and black and blue for several weeks, but I learned a valuable lesson in the martial arts. NEVER think you have the “secret” stuff. It doesn’t exist.

I look at the tremendous talent out there today, fighters, forms persons, weapons persons and so on. We’ve come a long way since ’62 but it was in the “iron mill” of that time that my spirit was developed. Nowadays, the practitioners have added athleticism and multiple strikes. If they seek out the “iron worker” teachers, they will be some of the most well-developed and formidable warriors out there. Some are already there and are raising up a new breed of men and women Kenpoists. I’m just thankful I can see it all happening…

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