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Sparring with Big Ron
Contact Training for the Injured Fighter

When Big Ron and I first began meeting to discuss his life in Baltimore, he expressed a desire to rework himself as a fighter. Having broken a leg, his pelvis and his back, he is no longer feeling like he has the spring in his step to leap around beating up more than one guy—which is what any self-defense situation essentially entails, superior mobility. Now, dragging a mostly dead leg behind him how do we address his mobility?

Experimentation is not going to be a problem. A few weeks ago, after driving around with Ron as Mescaline Franklin shot photos of Baltimore’s underside, Ron parked across the street in front of the Hipster Family Mansion, people who cringe when I wave hello. Ron then gave us a tour of his arsenal: laid out the T-square on the sidewalk for a photo, showed us the fish club, the Cold Steel entrenching tool and the dry wall hammer.

Without even looking around to ascertain if he might be frightening skittish negroes or sissy white folk, Ron spied the large oak tree that stands sentinel next to The Hipster Family Mansion and heaved the dry wall hammer [half hatchet] at the tree. Shrugging in disgust that he has been off construction sites for so long that he can no long stick a hammer in a target from 20 feet, Ron picked up the Cold Steel entrenching tool and heaved that, on a Baltimore city street!

After a brief conversation and Ron’s departure, I said to Mescaline, “I got nervous when he went after the Hipster Family Tree,” and Mescaline rejoined, “You didn’t see any hipsters coming out to investigate, did you—my man does not give a shit!”

This gets Ron and I past one major hurdle that most prospective stick-fighters face, the desire to maintain privacy and not be the center of attention at some park or basketball court. Not a problem, of the many people who claim that they do not care what others think about them, Ron is the true article.

On Noon Sunday, June 4, Ron and I met at the Loch Raven Rec Center and walked down to the court where the basketball nets had been removed as a de-dindufication measure, which he immediately took note of.

On Training Injured Fighters

He has a limitation, so seek the least injury-obstructed path.

In our first session, it was obvious that Ron learns best in sparring and actually has learned a lot while fighting. This is unusual. The normal, contact-averse man learns best in a stripped-down setting, with apparatus and coach, then learns to apply that in sparring and rarely learns while fighting, but rather uses that as a reference tool. So sparring, which normally retards the learning process if engaged too early, is Ron’s comfort zone.

-Ron has a mobility injury so we began sparring with him standing in guard, with me moving in an arc in front of him. We then advanced that to me moving around him and him keeping me in front by pivoting and drag-stepping around. This resulted in 40 minutes of sparring with one break after the first half hour.

-Instructional sparring begins with the coach feeding strokes at half speed or less and reminding the fighter to keep his speed down and resist the temptation to speed up in order to achieve a beat [deflecting my stick with his] or score a stroke.

-The coach targets the heavily gloved hand primarily, as no first-time stick-fighter has internalized the hand as a target. The first aspect of remaining armed is to deny access to your weapon hand.

-The roof block is always addressed early in sparring, as it is difficult to drill without that contact reference.

-Ron was tense and fatigued earlier, primarily because of internal performance pressure, which bedevils most fighters until they are conditioned on all levels and can do their sparring half-asleep.

-Relaxation of the fighter is the main goal of the first session, with the technical development of the guard, roof block and stroke secondary.

-Since we were sparing in a semi-static manner, we stressed checking [using the empty hand to check his weapon hand, head, shoulder and elbow]. Ron did very well with the checking hand—as most trained boxers will—and is already at competition level in that crucial aspect. For immediate self-defense function and in the interest of the injured fighter developing a style based on his impairment [Marvin Haggler, Ken Norton and Razor Ruddick all did this] we will focus on using Ron’s checking hand as a crutch for his dead foot, a mobility cue.

There were some small technical points brought up by Ron and myself, but we kept that to a minimum and achieved the goal of easing Ron into an adaptational framework, with the goal to integrate his previous training and experience with the new skill set.

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