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Kicked In The Head
By Anne Marie Goslak

I was in a standard fighting stance. My hands were up, to protect my face, as I executed the perfect round house kick to my attacker's ribs. She stepped back, surprised by the force. And then she kicked me in the head, twice!

No, this was not a bar fight. It was my first Tae Kwon Do sparring match. The instructor tried his best to match us up according to weight and then belt ranking. Somehow, I drew the short straw and had to face a 14 year old, second degree black belt, who had made the Junior Olympic Team. I was a lowly green belt, but I held my own right up until the time that she rang my bell.

The instructor reminded her to save the Olympic moves for a more advanced opponent. This was supposed to be a fun sparring opportunity for the lower ranked martial artists. No one was hurt, but it did teach me a valuable lesson.

I knew three different blocks, any of which would have protected my head. But in the heat of the battle, when my brain screamed, "Outside Block!" the delay in reaction time was simply too great.

The speed of an elite boxer's punch is 25-32 mph. The speed of a golf club can exceed 100 mph. Think about that for a moment. That means if your goal is to square up the club face at impact, with the hope of hitting the ball straight, there simply isn't enough time for your brain to communicate to your forearms. You cannot think your way thru a golf swing. It just happens too fast.

So how did an Olympic athlete train to be fast and precise? I had to find out.

After the competition, I had the chance to talk to the young girl, to ask about how she trained. She shared three keys concepts with me:

  1. Practice precise positions, in slow motion, paying attention to every detail of the movement. Confirm it is correct by looking in the mirror.
  2. Once the motions are 80% proficient, add weight and then gradually add speed.
  3. In competition, trust your training. Just visualize and let your body react.

That seems opposite of how many people play golf. They hit range balls, rapid fire, with no way to monitor the quality of their body and club positioning. In the heat of competition, they make the incorrect assumption that they can bark out a command and have the body respond within the blink of an eye. In most cases, the golfer over reacts or they make the correct move, but just too late. That's what happened to me, when I failed to get my hands up in time.

The little girl taught me a lot that day. I learned never to enter the ring with a second degree black belt. I also learned that although martial arts and golf are very different sports, the connection between the brain and the body are the same. You cannot talk your way through a multiple set process and expect to execute it with any speed or accuracy. The only way to be proficient is to practice is the right way, until it becomes an automatic reaction.

My martial arts career came to an end a year later. In my final match, I faced the now 15 year old girl again. This time, I had a year's worth of precise practice behind me. Did I win? Not even close. But I did kick her in the head.twice. And I am not going to lie. It felt good!

-Anne Marie Goslak