Most people call it sparring. But what exactly is sparring?
Well, first let's establish what it is not. Sparring is not self defense. It's not a real fight.
Instead, it's a competitive sport activity. It has rules, and judges, and specific allowable techniques and targets. The arena has boundaries, and there are time limits, and a set number of opponents. In self defense, there are no rules and nothing can be predicted. In sparring, every possible aspect of the engagement is accounted for and controlled.
In short, it's a game.
So why play the game? Especially if we are training for self defense? What possible use can there be in engaging in this activity if it doesn't match the parameters of our expected combat scenario?
Imagine a tennis player. They play a specific game on a specific size court with specific size racquets and specific rules. But is there anything they can learn from playing table tennis? Or racquetball? Or badminton? Those games are completely different, but they incorporate similar concepts involving ball spin and placement, racquet position, and court awareness.
For us, sparring serves a similar purpose. It isn't a real fight, but it can help us to learn and practice many combat skills which overlap with self defense. We can learn about environmental awareness, and striking combinations, and fighting while moving. We can see, and feel, what it is like to have someone hunting us, trying to hit us, trying to put us down. We can practice our techniques and our basics against a real, resisting opponent, and learn just what it takes to hit someone who doesn't want to be hit and what it takes to keep them from hitting us when they really, really want to.
That's why we spar. Because it may be a game, but it's a useful one. And it's a lot of fun too!
There are dangers associated with sparring as well which we must avoid in order to get the most out of it's practice. First, we must always remember that the rules which apply to sparring do not apply to self defense. In sparring, you can't kick your opponent in the knee, or punch him in the spine. Perhaps more importantly, he can't do those things to you. But in self defense, there are no judges to step in and put a stop to the engagement if you end up on the ground with multiple opponent's kicking you in the head and back. Training only for sparring will leave you unprepared both physically and mentally for self defense.
Second, sparring is alluring. The competitive nature, the accolades and trophies available to the athletic performer, all these things have a natural attraction to some people. And a certain kind of student can reach this point in his training and become lost. For some, competitive sparring is the end of the road. They enjoy the activity so much that they never learn to move beyond it, and in not progressing they miss out on all the glories which follow. Every step of your journey in the martial arts will be filled with wonder. Never doubt that the next lesson is greater and more awesome than the last. Such is the way with sparring. It is fun. It is exciting. Which is what makes it attractive to so many. But it is only a step in the journey, not the end of it.
Sparring is an intermediate drill. It is designed to teach specific skills to the student which are applicable in the wider arena of self defense. It is a testing ground, and a classroom. Learn to value it for what it has to offer. Learn to respect the dangers associated with sparring and to avoid the pitfalls that may slow your progress. Avoid unhealthy comparisons with your classmates and focus on your own journey. Learn to fight like a warrior, with courage and humility.
Because the greatest lesson sparring has to offer is that sometimes, we lose the fight. Sometimes we face bigger, stronger, tougher, more skilled opponents. When that happens in the school, we get a chance to try again. When it happens in the street, we may not.
So train hard. Fight well. And get better every time you step on the floor.
Beginner: Practice two and three hit combinations against pads, shields, and the heavy bag. Try to incorporate linear and circular striking, kicks and punches, and inward and outward motion. One strike is easy to defend, multiple strikes are progressively more likely to succeed.
Intermediate: While sparring, Student A chooses one yellow belt self defense technique. Student B attacks with the specific attack for that technique and two other basic strikes. Each time they receive the appropriate attack Student A responds with their chosen technique, while sparring normally in response to the other two basic strikes. Alternate. Continue with each of your techniques.
Advanced: Carefully incorporate standing grappling techniques, leg kicking, takedowns, and ground fighting into your sparring.