Sparring is a form of training common to many martial arts. Although the precise form varies, it is essentially relatively ‘free-form’ fighting, with enough rules, customs, or agreements to make injuries unlikely.
Sparring is sometimes described as a new addition to martial arts, non traditional and even more of a sport in itself. But sparring and martial arts go back together to the beginning of history, to the first time man came home after a fight and decided to be ready for the next one.
To understand sparring, first we need to understand this:
"Getting hit" is not always as big of a deal as we tend to make it.
Getting hit is an emotional experience. It is the emotional impact that makes you stop and go rigid. Fear of getting hit may come partly from the physical, but it usually relates to the emotional underpinning. That’s why it’s so hard for some people to loosen up while sparring. They know they will get hit, and even know they are less likely to get hurt if they are loose. But some old fear, often more of domination or dislike, rises to keep them rigid and tight. Oddly, this means that every hit they do take will be more damaging.
Sparring is used in martial arts to refine self-defense skills, among other things. Stopping when you get hit isn’t a good self-defense technique. Neither is getting angry or competitive.
Occasional, accidental blows happen, and they are an opportunity to grow. It may hurt, it may be a good time to see if you’re really damaged. You can even say ouch if you absolutely have to. You can certainly adjust your tactics a little, to avoid getting hit the same way again. But you don’t need to react as if the world has just ended.
The reality of martial arts is that they are intended to be there for you in a bad situation, be it self-defense or combat or just controlling your drunk relative or friend at a party. If you lose all your skills when you get hit, as happens in these situations, then you haven’t really mastered that art.
Sparring is a great way to test techniques you are learning in the Do Jang. Some things that seem to work well when standing still, suddenly won’t when facing a moving opponent. Some things work well on tall people but have little effect on someone who is compact. Sparring is a way to experiment and grow confident in certain techniques.
Sparring is designed to be safe and fun. Violence isn’t safe, isn’t fun, and training to be ready for violence will always be somewhat limited.
However, sparring will teach you many things that might save your life. It will teach you how to time your kicks against an aggressor, how to move, how to attack and follow up when the first attack doesn’t work. Perhaps more importantly, sparring will teach you to keep going after you’ve been jumped, rushed, or even hit. Many trained martial artists will still freeze after being hit in the face. Sparring on a regular basis teaches the body to accept hits, to move in ways that minimizes the impact, and to keep going. You will also learn to relax. Tension slows the body, yet when faced with an aggressive opponent, we all do it at first. But experience in sparring allows us to stay loose, to breathe, to move and fight.
Finally, sparring is a lot of fun. Aside from testing our martial techniques, sparring is the kind of sport that challenges us physically and mentally. As good as you become, there is always more to improve upon. There are always new opponents, there are the same opponents coming back after they’ve learned your weaknesses. Every sparring class is a new, different, transforming event. A new chance to learn some little piece, technique, or over-arching principle. We have many reasons we spar, but ultimately, sparring is like dancing or singing. You do it because you love to do it.