I've been coming back to the idea of "playing technique" in Muay Thai a lot lately. People have the idea that Muay Thai training necessarily involves a lot of hard, heavy sparring. If you look at the way the Thai actually train, you see that isn't the case. Hard bag work? Sure. Hard pad work? Absolutely. Hard sparring? Not so much. A lot of play time. Focus on timing, distancing, technical skill. These are people who may fight on a weekly basis, and have to be ready to fight at a moment's notice. They can't be banged up from sparring.
During one discussion on this subject, a woman in the class put her hand up and asked
"But what if you do if your partner is sparring to hard? What if they aren't playing soft?"
I found myself in one of those awkward moments where I had to preface my answer by saying "I don't want to sound like a smart-ass, so I apologize if I do". Because the answer is blindingly obvious, and yet, it clearly isn't.
Use your adult voice.
Seriously. Assuming we're talking about two adults training together (which I was in this case, and which I usually am), the idea that the process of communicating boundaries should be more complicated than saying "please, slow down" or "please, I'm not comfortable sparring that hard" is patently absurd.
Yes, there are other ways. Beat them up (this is a pretty classic method, though it only works if you CAN beat them up). Feign an injury. Throw a temper tantrum. Vow to never spar with that person again. Complain to the coach. Some combo of the above.
But how did "just talk to them" fall of the list of options?
Of course, I know the answer even as I type it. As I think of it, there's two main reasons.
Macho Ego Bullshit
This is the mindset that thinks that talking is somehow weak, unmanly, or not in keeping with the "spirit of the martial arts" (whatever that is, exactly). This is the mindset that says that the way to get someone to stop going hard is to "teach them a lesson." Really, all it's teaching is that might makes right and that if you can beat the crap out of someone, you can dictate what how you treat them. I can't say I've never been guilty of this behavior, but I'm happy to chalk it up to the mistakes of youth. Occasionally it works, but very often, it just drives people out of the gym.
Of course, the flip side of this is that there is a fear of confrontation. A fear of being perceived as weak, or incompetent. A fear that the person will say "no" or "suck it up", placing the person who asked in the position of either having to quit or stay in a sparring situation where they aren't comfortable. People in this situation often stay stuck in the fear loop and either don't advance, and ultimately, quit.
Neither method brings very good results.
If you can't put your ego aside enough to attempt negotiation in a sparring setting, how are you going to put it aside when it matters? If you can't muster up the courage to confront someone about their behavior inside the gym, how will you find the courage to say "no" to the bad guy in the real world?
And most importantly--how the hell did we manage to create a culture where the idea that two adults would settle an issue by talking about it like, well, adults, was not only not acceptable, it wasn't EVEN ON THE TABLE.
I am not critiquing the question, or the questioner. I'm critiquing the idea that we have a culture where the simplest solution to the question was one that wasn't even considered. The idea never registered.
Maybe it's time martial artists stopped asking questions about how to make their students fight better, and started asking questions about the kind of culture their creating in their gym and their students.