Many martial arts are measured by their sparring, and possibly quite rightly as it is the end goal of many systems. Whether it is no holds barred, full contact, semi contact, light contact or maybe the art someone studies has no sparring; they all attract a different kind of person. In this article I will be examining TKD sparring and looking at the pros and cons of the rules and sparring system.
Certainly the way that we spar is a safe and enjoyable way to experience something approaching a fight. The damaging heavy blows and strikes to vital areas have been taken away in an effort to make an inherently dangerous pursuit, that would be fighting, as safe as possible. But in doing so have we also accidently softened the art?
The gap between practical self defence and sparring is getting wider and wider with sparring taking on the dominant role in how we engage with people, and self defence being added with a handful of techniques that we do with a compliant partner. Therefore when we are in a violent confrontation there is only one of these that will come to the fore front. Your brain will immediately try to match the situation you are in with the closest thing you have experienced. In short you will probably go into sparring mode up, on your toes, looking for an opening, dodging and weaving, etc.
If the situation you are in is not serious and/or you are very good at sparring in that manner then maybe you’ll be ok. TKD forums are full of people recounting stories of when they took someone down by kicking them in the head or dropped someone with a spinning back kick. I believe their stories but I also believe that maybe they weren’t against the most serious of opponents.
No matter true or not, the issue still exists that for more serious situations or older slower people standard sparring is not an effective solution for self defence. Training a young 20 something who is working on their competition career is a world away from training a middle aged person who spends most of their working day sitting in front of a computer.
Competitions, however, are not going away anytime soon and the current rules of sparring fit the competitions that we have perfectly. We don’t prepare on one or two big fights a year but possibly anything between 5-10 fights in a single afternoon. For this reason I think we should keep the current sparring rules, but we should stop trying to find ways of fitting sport fighting in to real life situations. We should accept that they are different and instead create club level sparring systems that allow students to better prepare themselves for self defence.
In my opinion there should be a whole host of ‘sparring’ formats practiced at club level. These should cover a wide range of skills and abilities. Ground fighting, multiple opponents, ambush attacks, and weapons should all be included in our sparring training. Through this we can better emulate what real fights might be like and better equip our students to deal with real life situations.
In doing this, I feel we would be better serving all are students. Not just the ones who want to compete but all levels and ages groups. In my next article I am going to introduce some of the sparring formats I practice with my students.
Thank you for reading