In the world of RBSD and Bunkai etc, the ‘drill’ has become increasing popular. Phrases like ‘pressure testing’ have become part of the every day conversation.
Largely people have taken a step sideways and replaced sparring with drilling. Whereas I can see the reasoning behind this there are a few problems with this approach.
What often happens in self defense classes now is a technique is taught and practiced, the technique is practiced harder against a stronger attack, the technique is then practiced in a bad situation which could be multiple opponents, attacked while exhausted, attacked in poor lighting and so on.
Generally at some point there is an argument about how the partner didn’t do what he or she was meant to. In most cases this involves not letting go of a hold or reacting to the defense in an unscripted way. It is then discussed that the attacker shouldn’t respond to the defense since in ‘the street’ the attacker wouldn’t know what was coming, or something like that (The problem with this, of course, is that attacker generally do react in someway when you try to defend yourself.)
So the drill continues with each partner having an unspoken agreement that the defense will be ultimately successful not matter how hard the initial attack is.
It can also happen that the ‘attacker’ is so bought into the defense that they themselves just won’t let the defense fail. To do so would be to bring into question their own training and even the art which they study. So again we have an internal governor of sorts that will give in to the defense once they feel that they partner has put in enough effort.
These things happen not matter how hard the pressure test is. Only is a small number of schools do they test to failure and then look at what the problems were and where they could be fixed.
Now, this sort of training is good and should be included in someone’s training. However, it falls short of actual sparring. In well planned and thought out sparring each person has a different mindset. They are not doing anything fixed but are using the techniques in a live situation. They learn how the techniques fit into non standard attacks. Students also learn what to do when the techniques fail, something very seldom covered in drills.
I have written about sparring and sparring drills in the past. These remain some of the most popular articles on this blog. I believe that no matter what system you are studying there should be an element of sparring in it. Patterns, pad work, drills, and sparring all have their place. To properly develop ourselves we need to understand the purpose and limitations of each.