After almost 50 years in martial arts I can tell you that I am vehemently against sparring……when you first begin training. Why? Because until you learn to control your flinching and fear reflexes you are not really gaining anything you're just doing everything you can to protect yourself and not get hit. You don’t learn in this situation. I’ve seen many schools start sparring within one or two days of enrolling. This is insane. You don’t start football on the gridiron or swimming by jumping in the ocean. You start in a controlled safe environment as you develop the tools to swim or run the field. If you were put in the ocean the first day you’d be in panic mode from the start. I spend a lot of time with my students when they first begin lessons teaching them to watch an attack with no interception. Hands up in front of them or by their sides and just have someone throw very controlled punches at them slowly. If the student is flinching then he is overwhelmed and fearful. We do this until there’s a comfort level involved. The student learns to watch the punches without fear. After they accomplish that they learn to evade by just moving their body, no blocking. Slipping a punch, moving side to side or tucking back just a few inches to watch the punch miss them. Again, being aware of flinching. When the student is comfortable with this then they start moving about, learning footwork to avoid being hit. Eventually they bring their hands into play to intercept and counter but not until they are able to calmly engage in the play. From here on you can step up the intensity to heavy sparring.
Sparring is absolutely necessary to learn how to fight. Shadow boxing, kata, whatever, do not teach you to fight under pressure. The stamina a real fight takes up is remarkable. You would never attempt to swim in the ocean, like a Navy Seal does, without the rigorous training to prepare for this. You cannot practice tennis against a wall and expect to play against a real competitor. You would not just train batting with a pitching machine and expect to go against a Major League pitcher; it would be suicide. So, you can in no way expect to be able to fight without sparring in real time. There is nothing like being cracked one and trying to continue to fight. Most people when struck become very self-aware and lose sight of their opponent. Then they are prey to their attacker. I was taught years ago that you need to get hit really hard and realize that it didn’t kill you to harden yourself in a fight. I personally thought that was BS when I heard it but reality opened my eyes later. I got hit many times when I first sparred and if it hurt too much I stopped the bout to recover. There was a safety net in it. A year or so into it I was sparring a guy who was a real bully, like something out of a bad movie. He hit me pretty hard and knocked me down and I stopped the match. I was weak, had no stomach for it and somewhat of a coward. Later he was sparring another guy and was pummeling him. You could see the glee in his sadistic eyes as he hit this guy. The other kid wouldn’t quit, had real guts, but was getting creamed. I went into a rage and stepped between them. The bully lit up, ‘back for more? Great!” I didn’t care what happened to me I wanted to crush him for being such a cruel person. We had a bloody bash but I bested him. He was stunned. This happened because I did not care what happened to me, I was fully determined to flatten him at any cost. This was the turning point for me in martial arts. If the first time you face this is in a life and death situation on the street you are most likely doomed. The skill doesn’t magically arise in real life as many schools teach. You have to earn it. As the saying goes ‘it’s not what you do when you get knocked down but what you do when you get up again’. To this day I do not enjoy violence at any level but I know what it takes to win a fight. I am not a fool thinking I am unbeatable; I am not young. I once told Renzo Gracie that I submit to gravity now at my age. I would have never understood what it takes if I had not sparred. RESPECTFUL sparring/training is absolutely necessary to condition the mind and body in a fight. I know nobody really wants to hear that but it’s true, not just for boxing but for all competitive physical endeavors. Practice what is real.
I've been practicing staff in the Dojo for weeks now, this lion is toast!
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