The Skill of Light Sparring

I would like to introduce you a concept that you might find interesting. It is teaching combat through the skill of light-contact sparring.

This is not to be confused with the “Flow” drills I am so critical of; sparring lightly is very different from drills as there is no format to it and the pieces of two combatants sparring lightly do not fit together the way drill participants do. The purpose of sparring lightly is to help the fighters get a feel for the techniques they have learned and have a “hands-on” understanding of how these techniques apply. Learning the technique through sparring is quite different from practice. In practice, there is no element of resistance and evasion from the technique as you execute your technique. We still must practice the movements to develop dexterity with the complexities of the technique; and the simplest way to do so is through low-resistance practice. However, once this level of basic skill has been achieved, the fighter must then learn to force his technique through his opponents’ defenses. And this knowledge is developed by using them against an unwilling opponent.

The skill of light sparring is also a world apart from heavy contact sparring. There is no hierarchy in these two styles of fighting–both lend to success in true combat, and neither is superior or inferior to the other. In full contact sparring–at the learning level–there is less emphasis on grace and refined movement. If the fighter has only developed his skills with full contact fighting, he will only have developed power, raw speed and the timing of a fully-exerting opponent. Through light sparring, they learn to use their strategy as a chess match, because of the benefit of low stress levels. And due to the absence of stress, fighting becomes a match of using the appropriate or best response to the opponent–rather than the most natural response. In full contact sparring, students are not likely to fight with skills he is less proficient with. He will more likely resort to the skills he has naturally at his disposal. Therefore, he never develops skill with those techniques that require more attention. Coaches and teachers will always give lip service about full contact sparring being a laboratory; I beg to differ with them. The light contact match is where they should experiment with the use of the new skills. It is the full contact match where he tests his developed skills under pressure.

In the full contact match, we are learning to use skills we already have in our tool box against a fully resisting, agressive, and attacking opponent. It is there, that we learn to use our skills while fatigued, in pain and under heavy attack. The full contact match is where the skills of the warrior are proven. The light contact match is where those skills are developed.

I would like to offer a short list of tips for beneficial light contact sparring:

  • Light contact sparring need not be slow. You must use a combination of 50% speed, 75% speed and full speed in conjunction with varied levels of power
  • A good idea is to count points. This will help you track your connect percentage. Failed attacks are to be corrected and improved.
  • Find strangers to fight with. I cannot emphasize this enough. My biggest criticism of drills is that there is too much familiarity:  familiar techniques, predictable attacks/defenses, both participants fitting movements together. When you spar with people you are comfortable with, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to learn to deal with the unfamiliar. Fighters who have grown accustomed to fighting unfamiliar opponents are far superior to those who dare not venture outside their circle.
  • Confine yourselves to a small area to fight in. This is one of the drawbacks of tournament point fighting. The rings are too big, and fighters spend too much time traveling around the ring. In my own personal experience, I have beaten fighters who were superior to me simply because I knew how to use the ring better. In a streetfight, I would have had my ass handed to me, but in the game of fighting–I got the win. The streets rarely give you that luxury. While you can benefit from learning to use it to your advantage, it is important to learn to fight a man toe to toe with little reliance on running.
  • Pad up, and then go padless. There are advantages of each, and you would do your skills a favor by becoming accustomed to both.
  • Try short, 5, 10, and 20 second matches. In these matches, you are to try and land one technique, specific techniques, or techniques to specific targets. I will have a better description of this type of sparring drill in my book. By limiting the amount of time you have to apply a technique, you won’t waste time and you will learn to impose your will on an uncooperative opponent.

Light sparring in itself is a separate skill from full contact fighting, and both are separate skills from real combat. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

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