We believe that sparring is an important training tool in our development, both as martial artists and as people. Sparring gives us an opportunity to put our technical skills to the test against an uncooperative opponent; but it also forces us to improve our courage and bravery, our self-control and self-discipline, and our awareness of what is happening around us.
However, it is not necessarily the ultimate expression of our martial art. There are always artefacts of modern practice that will twist and alter the way that we do our sparring: the fact that we wear protective equipment and do not fear a thrust to the face, the fact that we use blunt and safe training swords and do not fear a cut to the arms, the fact that we want to look after each other in the club and are not actually trying to do real damage. Therefore sparring can never be a good example of the “real fight”, but instead can only be an approximation.
We use sparring from time to time as a training exercise as part of our holistic training programme. By including solo drills, test cutting, pair exercises, games with rules and parameters, and sparring under varying conditions and intensities, we can train the full extent of our martial arts abilities in a variety of situations.
Sparring rules and etiquette
When we do sparring at the club, everyone must wear the appropriate protective gear: at the very least, a fencing mask and padded gloves, and further protective equipment if you want to take the intensity higher. If you are not wearing the necessary protective gear for sparring, you will not be able to participate in the sparring. We do have a small amount of equipment that you can borrow until you can acquire your own.
Sparring begins with a salute to your training partner, to show respect, and to indicate that the bout is going to begin. Likewise, sparring finishes with a salute to your training partner, to show respect, and to thank him or her for the training opportunity and for the care they have shown.
During the bout, you want to avoid being hit. “Being hit is bad” is a good rule of thumb! That means focusing on your own defence and security, and not taking silly risks.
While keeping yourself safe, you should try and use the techniques and sequences that you have learned during your training. Landing good quality hits is more important than landing a higher number of hits. It is better to land only a single good quality hit in the entire bout than it is to land several rubbish hits that have little to do with what you have trained.
The focus of the sparring is NOT:
- to score points
- to hit more than your opponent
- to “win”
- to show what you have learned in other martial arts
Our goal with sparring is:
- to test what we have learned and make it work against a les co-operative partner
- to improve at doing the techniques and concepts of the system that we study
- to keep yourself safe
- to keep your partners safe, because they are training partners and not opponents
- to perform your techniques as correctly as possible
Overall, sparring should be a fun and enjoyable activity, in a perfectly safe environment even when the intensity goes up. Protective gear and safe training tools are a mitigation to the risks of sparring, but the main thing that keeps both participants safe is the control, restraint, and mindset of both participants.
Some thoughts about sparring as a training tool
Here is a video interview with Keith Farrell from early 2016, on the subject of using sparring as a training tool.