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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Notes on Sparring, One: What Is Sparring?

A while ago, I started working on some material for a seminar based around teaching people how to spar better, because I discovered that I was getting a lot of questions about how to do that. I don't know if I'll ever teach that seminar, but I'm putting my notes up for people who are interested.


1. Some of this material is mine, some of it is not. Much of what is not is stuff learned at Sityodtong or from Coach Blauer. Wherever possible, I have tried to notate where things came from. If I’ve failed to credit anyone properly, I apologize. Any errors in expressing other people's ideas are my own.

2. This is a way to approach sparring. It's not necessarily unique, nor do I have a monopoly on it. If you have a way that works for you and your students, great. If you don't, maybe this will help.

“’The theory determines the experience.’ I always use this maxim to illustrate to people how we color our experience. Decide in advance what you want to experience and your ‘thesis’ statement will support your effort and the experience will always be positive. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.” – T. Blauer, Be Your Own Bodyguard manual, P. 18

What is Sparring?

Sparring is one of those weird things where everyone knows what it is until you ask them to define it.

Many people will tell you that sparring is a simulated fight. I don’t think that’s productive (it's arguably not entirely accurate either).

It’s unproductive because it raises the stakes in a way that impedes performance. Viewing sparring as a fight makes sparring more stressful, and discourages the participants from using sparring as an opportunity to learn.

Sparring is a drill. That's it. I often use the analogy of a laboratory--sparring is the place where you try out new ideas. Sometimes you'll discover those ideas are good ones, sometimes you'll discover they aren't. Very often, you'll discover that the idea you had doesn't work quite the way you thought it would, but that if you adjust a bit, you can make it work.

Sparring should ultimately be a vehicle for improving performance, not measuring performance.

That’s it. It’s a drill.

As a drill, sparring is defined by a few key characteristics.

1. The movement and timing are not pre-determined. Within the confines of the drill (more on this later), the participants are free to act when they want, how they want.

2.  Sparring takes place in a field of resistance. Which is to say that both students are free to act as they want, and they are usually trying to stop the other person from doing what that person wants to do while they try to do their thing.

(In other words, they want to hit and not get hit. But so does the other guy.)

An inevitable aside:

The whole “resistance” thing has produced enough internet argument to fill several bookcases. Here is my very short contribution.

Sparring allows your students to try and use the skills they've learned against a resisting opponent. It 100% resistance, or only 72.34 Watts of resistance? I have no idea. I don’t even know if resistance is measured in Watts. Maybe it’s measured in Ohms? Namastes?

I really don’t care. There is some level of resistance. You can dial that up and down, just like a lot of things. More on that later.

Does that resistance make sparring the perfect training tool? No. You can’t just spar all the time and learn anything.

Does that mean you never have to spar? Well, you never have to in the sense that many people have lived amazing lives without doing rounds, but sparring can be a valuable tool.

Is it perfect? No. But the fact that it is imperfect does not mean it lacks value.

That’s all I have to say on that front.

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