Sparring: what is and what is its purpose
Sparring is the most realistic simulation of a real struggle but it happens in a safe, respectful and controlled way (read Dojo (guan): rules, respect and etiquette).
In 6 Dragons Kung Fu we have 2 choices:
- If we (legitimately) want to practice for health, fitness, wellness, cultural reasons (etc.), the practice of fight can be avoided
- If we want to learn how to fight, we must consistently focus on the practice of combat
The choice is ours but we must rationally understand that, without facing a free and uncooperative partner, it is impossible to:
- To learn how to manage a real self-defense situation (read Why martial arts do not work: 5 reasons)
- To deeply understand the techniques we study (read A scheme to quickly learn any kind of technique)
- To be able to compete in sportive contexts (read The 6 types of martial clash)
In 6DKF we have several types of sparring and each of them is related to different purposes. before showing them, we want to rapidly list the fundamental conditions to start:
- Respect – Respect and consideration for the safety of our partners must replace the desire to prevail; to cause harm to those who train with us is a serious defeat of our martial dignity (it’s a lack of physical and mental control, read Revenge and resentment, knives taken from the blade side)
- Sharing – In sparring, we are all on the same team, there are neither winners nor losers; there are only precious errors, lessons and experiences to which we must give meaning (to evolve and understand ourselves, read Measure ourselves with errors)
- Friendship – Before and after the fight we exchange a gesture of respect and friendship (soon we will see how this happens in 6DKF); this should not be seen as a meaningless ritual but as a voluntary mental conditioning (read Fighting and mind control: the anchors) that reminds that between us and those we are facing there is (and should not be) no other cause or end different from the study
How to safely perform sparring
- Basic technical preparation – In our school, sparring is not allowed in the first phase of learning (read The fundamental concepts of the fallings), to keep the guard up (read ), to execute basic striking techniques (etc. read ) cannot participate ); in addition to this, those who are not able to practice controlled fallings (breakfalls, read
- Basic physical shape – Who has a large balance deficit (read How to improve balance: tricks and exercises), a too bad physical shape (read Physical conditioning: how it works), recent / chronical injuries or a too delicate structure cannot do sparring; it is not a matter of sex, age (read The right age to start practice) or constitution, we simply need to reach a basic acceptable condition
- Mental requirements – Who is not able to maintain a basic level of concentration, to resist to low-level pain (read Acceptance and prevention of pain), to control anger, competitivity or who has something against his partners cannot practice sparring; until our mind has become clean, quiet, humble and disposed to learn we cannot participate
- When to stop – At the first sign of discomfort, pain, extreme fatigue or excessive tension, sparring must be immediately interrupted; the goal is always to preserve our safety (both in a real battle, both among teammates) and quality; sparring in meant to be performed to grow our martial level but if we hurt ourselves we will not be able to continue training regularly, if we fight without energies we risk to waste our time (it’s always a bad idea to get used to express low-level performances during a combat, there are a lot of other exercises to work on psychophysical resistance)
- How often practice sparring – If sparring is done in a very light way by conditioned practitioners, there are potentially no limits (even daily in extremis); if the type of contact is heavier (or the contenders are beginners) we can do it once a week, every 2 weeks or even once a month
- How to prepare the body for sparring – In order to avoid unnecessary risks, sparring can be done only after a good warm-up (read How to correctly perform warm-up) and a correct stretching (read How to correctly perform stretching), preferably at the end of a complete training session (with few forces at disposal and under the stress of fatigue, as it did in Shaolin temples)
- The level of technical application – The techniques that we can perform must stop where their complete application would mean to end the sparring with damages; the idea is to (try to) avoid everything that will not disappear (in terms of physical limitations) within a few hours after the end of the session (eg. some bruises are not a big problem, an overextended arm, yes)
- 3 persons – Do not do sparring without a third person who can help properly or stop the ongoing of the confrontation (there are a lot of unexpected things that can happen); the third person (normally the instructor) is the chief and decides when the fight starts and when it stops, without any possible discussion (our ears must always listen and immediately obey his orders)
- In which cases sparring can be interrupted – While we do sparring, we only are us, our opponents, the supervisor and the scenario, nothing more, nothing less (we do not stop and we have not to be distracted); the fight freezes when one of these 3 entities asks for a break (tapping on the floor, on our body or by voice)
- Protections – In general, we do not use too much protections but their eventual presence must not alter in any way the attention to our body and to the opponent’s one (defense is the same whether we are protected whether we are not); depending on the level of contact and on the type of sparring we evaluate the right protections
- Who cannot do sparring – Never do sparring with people who we do not know (it does not matter what they say); they could be physically unprepared, very violent, with pathologies that we do not know (etc.); more generally, can participate in martial training, only those who have demonstrated that they have the right requirements
How to obtain the best results from sparring
To obtain the highest results from this practice it is important to:
- Give sense to the struggle – In each sparring session, we must ensure that our companion always has a chance to learn something, no matter who is better and who is not (it’s not being passive, egoists or superficial that we can grow); the constant research of improvement is the key to learn something
- Change as much as possible the partners – We should not train always with the same partner (if it’s possible); we have to try with those who are stronger than us, those who are like us and those who are less prepared (in all three cases there is ample opportunity for learning)
- Imagine the combat as real – Being sure not to risk our lives should not put ourselves in a fictitious state of tranquility; we have to defend at the most all the vulnerable parts of our own bodies as if we were fighting for life
- Work both on quality and quantity – Less power more speed, more softness less rigidity, more mobility less economy of energy, more tactics / strategy less instinct, more precision less randomness, more testing less linearity; this is not a real combat, it’s a training to it
- Let the adversary feel the techniques – The blows have to come to their target, at the same time they should not be caresses but without being too harmful; we must learn to retain the strength and not the attack onrush; the same things happen for levers (read Chin Na), we gradually and slowly increase the tension, without dangerous explosive movements
A few final notes and ideas:
- At the end of the sparring (with respect, patience and a constructive mindset), it’s a good practice to discuss what, in terms of effectiveness, happened of positive and negative (let’s be humble, friendly and let’s try to stress our limits / faults and not the ones of the others)
- If our opponents are not able to apply any technique / blow, let’s stop, let’s (humbly) give them some useful advice and let’s start again (but without lowering our level of struggle, this, unfortunately, would damage us and them)
- Sparring is a group-study, is neither a sports competition nor a real fight (the sooner we understand this the sooner we will become real practitioners); in martial arts, as everyone should know, the real enemy is within us and not outside
In the next article of this series, we will start to see the first type of sparring (read Sparring type 1: slow motion fighting).
- The fighter and the warrior – What is the difference between a fighter and a warrior?
- When a belt becomes a blindfold – Why is so wrong to connect the martial preparation to the achieved degree
Reply in the comments and share your experience:
- Based on what you read, do you feel like practicing sparring?
Author: Master Kongling
Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.
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