In many traditional self-defense schools, the instructors are against sparring, they put forward that sparring is the sport side of martial arts and has no place in a self-defense situation. Whereas there is a small grain of truth in what they are saying I can’t help think that they are interpreting information for their own purposes. The purposes, as I see it, would be to have an excuse to not have sparring in their gyms so that students feel more comfortable and feel that just learning techniques will be enough.
This of course is not true and maybe a knee jerk reaction (or flinch response) to the amount that sport sparring has been propagated as real martial arts or real self-defense in the past. However, the idea that we should never spar is at least as misguided as the idea that sparring is the same as self defense.
So where do the 2 training systems fit?
If we look at the techniques contained with in the patterns, they all end (or should end) with either you are striking the opponent or putting them in a position where you have an advantage. As an example, we can look at the palm pressing block in Jhoong Gun. As I see it, it is a defense to an untrained tackle, quite a common attack for someone to drop down and charge at mid-level. With the palm pressing block, we take a lower and more stable stance and ‘press’ up and down with our palms on the shoulders of the attacker. The following movement on Moa Sogi, I see as I arm lock and a hair grab. This puts us in a strong position but as yet we haven’t started a counter attack. If we only use the patterns as they are, then at this point we have nothing left. At this point we drop back to our fighting skills and start delivering strikes.
Another example of this is the arm bar in Chon Ji. Generally represented by the low block, we are putting someone one into an arm bar and then step forward and punching them in the head. If we don’t get a good grip on the arm or if the opponent moves awkwardly or effects a release, then we have to fall back on our fighting to find target areas and deliver strikes or kicks and maybe re-establish a dominant position. Even if we do the technique perfectly the final strike in the technique will have to be followed up with more attacks, the attacks that you use will be dependent on the movement or reaction of the opponent.
Now, it is important to say here that when I say fighting skills, I don’t mean gain distance get up on your toes and start scoring points. I mean, getting in close, controlling limbs and then looking for an escape. The fighting skills are also informed by our pattern practice. If the above example from Chon Ji, if the opponent breaks free, they may very well bring their hands up for protection as they restart their attack. So here you switch from Chon Ji, to the knife hand guarding block from Dan Gun to clear the hands and strike the head.
To put it another way, the techniques in the patterns are snapshots of a violent situation, to move from one technique to another we need fighting skills. Through fighting skills we can connect the snapshots and make them a ‘movie’.