Facing your fear with the right gear

For many martial arts styles, tournament sparring is the pinnacle of the sport. Within a few square metres of mats you have an opportunity to express all of the skills you’ve acquired over years of training, and to pit them against another fighter. It takes courage simply to reach that point, to bow to the judges and step forward into the competition arena.

I’ve been there, in competition, wondering whether my skills would stack up, wondering if I was ready and trying to ignore any worry that I might receive an injury at the hands (or feet) of my opponent. When I’m competing I’ll pace beside the mats watching other team members fight. I’ll adjust my gloves endlessly, fix my headgear, thrown some warm-up kicks to ensure I can still move freely with my groin guard in place, I’ll tighten the straps on my chest guard for the third time. But once my feet are on the mats I leave all of that behind. I breathe, I focus, and I trust my training.

Trusting your martial arts protection

It’s small things when you’re in competition that can turn the tide. Small injuries that can rob you of flexibility, small doubts that can rob you of speed and decisiveness. Any lack of confidence in my equipment is something I can do without. I want to be able to compete hard, and stay fit enough that I can compete again. Injuries rob me of that. By the time your opponent’s round kick is coming at your head it’s too late to choose a new mouthguard. Likewise, their foot thumping into your chest is a bad time to wonder if a better quality chest guard might be on your christmas wish list.

The decision has to happen during training. For one thing, I’ve always found that wearing the same gear in training that I’ll wear in competition helps me build confidence, and also familiarity with, the limits of the equipment. You begin to understand the range of motion, the amount of force the gear will absorb, and whether it will be comfortable when used under pressure. This is far better data for you as a fighter than any online review.

How to evaluate your chest guard, breast guard, or any other protective equipment

Now, instead of competing, I’m training a new generation of martial artists for competition. When evaluating gear for them I look at the following factors:

  • Comfort - is the gear comfortable, so that it won’t distract me while I’m fighting?
  • Freedom of movement - can I still perform all of the techniques I want to use, from kicking, to punching, throwing, and joint locks?
  • Protection - crucially, will it protect me from serious harm? Is it certified safety equipment?
  • Quality - and finally, is the product durable, and will it last a reasonable amount of time in both training & competition?

The best gear is the gear you forget you’re even wearing, the gear that allows you to express your skill and courage without fear, restriction, or distraction.

James McGoram is an instructor in Hapkido under the World Kido Federation, and teaches at Kingsland Martial Arts (kingslandmartialarts.co.nz) in Auckland, New Zealand.

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