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JKD Sparring – Part 2 (Attuned Adaptation)

“When the opponent expands, I contract…

And when he contracts, I expand…

And when there is an opportunity to hit,

I do not hit, ‘it’ hits all by itself.”

- Bruce Lee

Sparring is all about relationship. When you’re sparring against an opponent, there is a co-existing relationship between the two of you. But it’s an active, ‘alive’ relationship. There’s no “pre-arranged” patterns of movement or “pre-set” responses such as, “If the opponent does this, I’ll do this.” Rather, it’s you being aware of your own movements, observing the other person’s movements, scanning the opponent for weaknesses or openings, registering shifts and lapses in their attention, and fitting in with that person’s movements or energy using whatever technique or action is most appropriate for the moment. In order for you to be able to adapt and fit in with an opponent you must relate to them effectively.

One of the most important elements in being able to relate effectively with an opponent is the ability to recognize or “feel” the various kinds of energy you may encounter both before and after you make contact with them. For example, when you’re facing an opponent but have not yet made contact with them, pay close attention to what sort of energy you feel emanating from them. Is it one of cool calmness and control, or nervousness and agitation? Do you sense tenseness, anger, etc.? What you perceive or sense will help determine how you deal with the opponent. When you close and make contact with the opponent’s arms or body the energy you feel might be soft and flaccid or rigid and hard. It might be passive and yielding, or it might be a forceful forward energy. In each case it will help determine your follow-up actions.

“Combat, as is, has no boundaries and is alive, fluid,

unpredictable and constantly changing.”

- Bruce Lee

Freelance sparring is alive and fluid, unpredictable and constantly changing. When you are moving about the training floor, engaged in a sparring session with an opponent, a lot of different things might happen. Whatever is happening, whatever the situation is you have to see it or sense it and respond accordingly. While you may have an overall strategy and general plan of battle going into the session or round, if you go into it with a rigid, fixed approach or some sort of pre-formulated game plan, you will lack the flexibility necessary to adapt to the fluidity and unpredictability of the situation.

In sparring you need to be able to adapt to the opponent and whatever situation or circumstance you find yourself in. You need to be able to fit in with the opponent’s movements, their techniques, and their energy in order to deal effectively with them. You need to respond – instantly – “like echo to sound” as they say, to any movement or attack the opponent initiates without any deliberation – doing what the situation at that moment dictates. Sparring demands moment-by-moment “attuned adaptation.”

Adaptive attunement means both being attuned and adaptively acting. When you’re attuned you are “in tune” or “in sync” with the opponent. You’re engaged and fully present. Adaptively acting means that you change your actions, tactics, or attitude in accord with a change in the situation. This is done by virtue of perception, intuition, anticipation, and bodily sensing and know-how.” When you are in a state of attuned adaptation you are attuning not simply with your brain and eyes, but with your whole body, through a kind of bodily sensing. Synced in with the opponent, your entire body is engaged and ready to go, responding spontaneously as required.

In order for you to be able to adaptively attune, you have to immerse yourself fully in the moment; you have to be in the NOW. You have to see, feel, or sense whatever is happening and you cannot do that if you’re not fully present in the moment. If you allow extraneous or irrelevant thoughts to enter your mind while you are sparring an opponent, your mind will become divided, your focus will be split and as a result you will not be ready to act or respond, immediately, at the right time, in the right way.

Attuned adaptation can move you away from any form of rigid, pre-determined or patternized responses and reactions and lead you to a more “intuitive” way of knowing how to sense and adapt to a new moment or situation. It can help you problem-solve and deal effectively with unfamiliar situations, lead you to freedom in action, and allow you the fullest expression of flowing and fitting in with an opponent. If you want to expand your sparring capacities and cultivate your ability to flow, cultivate attuned adaptation.