Kicking a pad, and kicking a person are two completely different things.
A pad does not think, does not feel, and does not move.
A person thinks, plans, and adapts. They fear and they desire. They move and they hit back.
It is a quantum leap in complexity.
A beginner fighter must first learn their techniques. They must understand how to generate force, how to balance and how to strike safely. They must drill the technique into muscle memory, constantly refining. All of this is done on a pad.
Once the fighter can easily hit the pad with proper technique, they can move on to controlled sparring, where only certain moves or even just one technique is allowed. This is done in full protective gear, with a sparring partner.
This is the leap.
"Face your partner, attention, bow, start!"
It is your first time sparring. It is thrilling and it is not easy, even if you are sparring another first timer. They don't stay still, they move, they kick and if they hit you it is hard. Your gear is hot, you are sweaty, the helmet is tight. All this jumping around is tiring, and you just can't seem to hit your opponent.
Then you hit them. You don't know what you did. But you did. Maybe they blocked it, maybe you grazed them, but you hit them. It feels great. Tit for tat. What a rush!
If you observe this phenomenon carefully, you essentially see the desire to hit the other person, offset by the fear of getting hit. Beginner sparring is emotional, revealing, and raw.
The fighter has now had their first fight.
For whatever reason you decide to learn martial arts, this is where the fun starts.
This is the beginning. The start of the journey. We all start here.
Now kicking the pads has a meaning.
Now listening to instruction carefully means something.
Now we start to put the pieces together and begin our journey.