Most people have had the experience of learning stepping patterns in class, in solo forms, or as part of applications, but when things heat up ... It's all but lost. Start sparring, and all technique wooshes out of peoples brains as fast as you can say 'Monkey Dance'.
But how to fix it?
The classic sparring scenario, which I have written about more than once, is two people facing off in protective gear. They might twirl their weapons, bounce up and down a bit, shuffle in and out on a line, get nervous - And then, one makes a break for it, entering with a quick strike, thus creating an opening which their opponent goes for, and both die either in a clash or on the retraction in a scrum.
There's plenty of examples of this dynamic on line, and as I only like posting good stuff from other people, I will leave you to find them for yourself.
Here however is a clip I do like, and for a very specific reason - It shows something important that needs to be noticed when considering the meaning of 'training for dueling'. And addresses what sparring should be more like.
This is what I see.
I know the guy in the suit is at the top of his system, and though I don't know the reasons for why these two guys are playing, I can tell that black-shirt guy is good too, but perhaps slightly lower skill level. There is of course the possibility that he does not want to embarrass suit guy by showing him up and winning, but let's assume that is not the case.
Suit guy is comfortable and confident, and though black-shirt guy obviously knows the style quite well, and is trying all kinds of stuff, he is not getting many hits (I think he tags an arm twice). Thing is, he's avoiding plenty too. There are very very few double deaths or examples of him entering recklessly to his doom. Each takes their time to assess openings and really spends time watching and looking for gaps.
Black-shirt guy tries to keep range and he plays as though he has an enormous respect for the lethality of the weapon in play. At this point suit guy changes things up by taking his jacket off to change the dynamic.
What I find interesting is that many people find this clip less satisfying than the clashing and the pokey stabby double death interactions you generally see. They say ... It's so slow. Nothing is happening. Boring. Why isn't there more attacking? It's not how it would be if it was real ....
So, sure, that's debatable, and obviously ... if you are outmatched and going to die anyway, then yes, take them with you. But what are you training for if all your test sparring is ending here? We should not be training to die just to take someone out, and we should not be training to pick fights with the highly skilled.
You know what would have been a win here? Not picking the fight in the first place. That would have been the 'real' smart move. But not dying was smart too. Both were going to 'die' in this encounter, both knew it, and neither was willing to do so. That right there is what good training should give you.
But, but, but, you say, you should fight better people than you, to learn stuff. You have to put yourself in danger. Try things. Push yourself.
Yup you do.
And black shirt guy in this clip learned a bunch of stuff he can work on - He knows that his ability to create openings with suit guy is lacking, so he can work on ways to do that. He has to learn to move in different rhythms and with many qualities of movement. About being even more accurate about the edge of range .. and also that maybe he should wear a jacket too ...
Compare this to the double death brigade. Generally their whole game plan revolves around trusting to luck and speed, so what do they learn in comparison?
In all honesty? That they were not fast enough or lucky enough to win.
Add the weirdness of always sparring with apparent psychos with no concern for their own mortality, and the whole point of the training is ... what? Psychos may be 'real' in a self defense scenario, but in my experience, people that handle knives, and who face them, tend to be far more leery about getting cut than most students of the bladed arts I see on youtube.
It may seem more exciting to don the mask and throw yourself into the fray. More intense feels more real, right? But if you think about what you are learning from the experience, perhaps the 'less satisfying', slower, more mannered, clip, is in fact a far more useful training tool for upping skills?
Maybe you should stop looking for technical solutions to fix your problem, perhaps thinking tactically is better?
It will also help your footwork :-)