What I Learned About Sparring

The subject of sparring culture always comes up whenever I get a new student from the the basics program. I see them making the transition from being a basic learner of martial arts, to a practitioner that wants to include sparring into the highest levels. The major worry I see them exhibit is the fear of getting hurt. Totally natural and reasonable to feel that way. I tell them that it’s important to note that there are degrees of it. In my city, there is a lot of military so I get the folks who have experienced the different gyms they went to from not having sparring at all to those that want hard sparring all the time. This article is going to be on my opinions of sparring culture. And to be clear, I lean more towards the science and evidence based training vice just being tough.

What Can We Do

I’ve spoken to many students that struggle with the balance between learning technique and learning how to fight. They worry about getting hurt or taking away from their training partner so much that an effective training experience would be lost. As a teacher and coach, my question to our profession is always,

“What can we do for them?”

Searching for the right kind of gym AND the right kind of training partner can be frustrating for a student. Since students may have a family to care for, work a full time job or going to university, it is safe to say that less than 5% of the student population across any gym are there to learn and get fit. Well,…there are exceptions like the ones that clearly state that they are only a fight gym. Not many students can be found there.

Building a relationship with a training partner should be founded on trust instead of ambiguity. If you do enough research on the best of the best in the sport of martial arts, you’ll find an abundance of videos that show scientific styled practice. That would be the highest level of practicing. So for those gyms out there that boast they can make a champion out of you, I would recommend to observe their sparring classes. That implies that there is a sparring class in the first place; emphasis on a class…like where you learn.

The Approach

I was chatting with a student today about the culture of sparring at our school here in Virginia Beach. The same worry yet the desire to take training to the next level. I explained that there are tiers of students that have adopted clear communication on the intensities.

For example, a sparring partner that wants to go light, will communicate they want to go light while someone that wants to go hard will communicate that they want to go hard. After more than a decade of being a broken record on this with my classes, the culture has strengthened to a point I don’t have to speak on it very much. The students themselves will enforce the rules. If an agreement is broken thats when people lose trust and the experience just falls apart.

But what about those who want to compete at the highest level? Or maybe those that just want to go hard all the time. That’s a good question. The perspective that I’d like to influence onto those that want to just go hard all the time is based on longevity. Don’t get me wrong, I love to have a good tough spar that tests mettle. It’s that, at the end of the day, I want to go home with the same IQ I came in with, have a straight nose, no missing teeth, have the ability to still walk to my car and still go to school/work the next day. Oh and not having to use my health insurance over a training partner that didn’t want to use self control; which is the point of martial arts in my opinion.

Quality Over Intensity

The idea here is about the quality of time invested in building trust with training partners so that the most intense sparring can happen and still have the benefits of being in tact at the end.

If you came to this article looking to debate its content on a fighter’s toughness and grit, please review the title again.

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