Sparring with Friends

Some random thoughts today…

I have made the case often with my martial arts friends, that while sparring with friends and training mates is good–nothing beats the old fashioned fighting competition, regardless of what type of fighting you do.

Few martial artists will agree with me. Most who do agree with me, are already competition fighters or have been in their past and they already enjoy the benefits of doing so. There are several reasons why some loathe competition fighting, and why some prefer to stick to dojos and back yards and garages.

  • You almost never fight a stranger with the same intensity level that you would a friend/training mate. Sure, there are some who can mix it up in garages and back yards a la “Fight Club” style. But most of you who are searching for the truth simply won’t do it. Maybe you might hit hard, but there is the absence of aggression and intent that you would have with a stranger. Plus, you already know that at the end of the fight–you go home as friends. <— And that does not exist when you’re fighting 100 miles away from home.
  • You need variety. Your partner fights one way. If you’re lucky enough to have 10 opponents in your private circle, that’s good, but then you are only exposed to those ten types of fighting styles, strengths and weaknesses. If you meet with the same guys week after week, you will eventually adapt and improve based on the limited access to learning you have. There are an infinite number of fighting styles out there to learn from and experience–and you will never gain that learning if you don’t venture out from your backyard to encounter them.
  • There are too many rules. You betcha there are. And I’m willing to bet you’re not eye-gouging, kicking nuts, ripping arms out the socket in your backyard either, are you? Those rules are for safety, and although it isn’t a real streetfight–neither are those pillow fights you’re having in the garage. Let’s be real… “Too many rules” is a cop-out for guys who don’t fight on the street. I have known many streetfighters, and they don’t turn down fights under any circumstances.
  • I can’t use all my techniques. No you can’t. And that’s one of the great things about it–you can focus on a few skills and ability with those things to a high degree. You will learn to use those few skills that are legal against a high number of opponents and their skills, and really develop your knowledge of those limited techniques to a high degree. In the back yard, your hand isn’t forced–and limited like they’d be with a referee between you.
  • I’m afraid. <— Said no martial artist, ever. This is perhaps the number one reason that keeps martial artists from fighting. If you never face that nervousness, you’d never be able to focus in a real fight. Competition fighting gives you the ability to harness your fear of fighting and confrontation, and manhandle it, and ram your foot up its behind. We all know that butterflies accompany fighting in front of a crowd. They may never really go away. But as you face it more, it won’t paralyze you like it will for the inexperienced guy. I don’t care how long you’ve been training in the martial arts–if you haven’t fought many opponents (by “many”, I mean 50+), you aren’t very experienced. See what I’ve said already about having a variety of opponents and its benefits…
  • Fighting smart. What does that mean, you ask? “Fighting smart” refers to thinking quickly, the ability to size up an opponent right away and choose the right strategy and techniques to beat him–even if you don’t have many techniques in your arsenal. Boxing doesn’t always lose to jiu jitsu, Muay Thai doesn’t always beat Tae Kwon Do… There are skills and strategies within every style and every opponent that will enable him to defeat an opponent–regardless of skill level and type of art you study. Fighting many opponents will give you the ability to figure out within a few seconds what can be done to accomplish this. It isn’t a matter of knowing every art under the sun; it is knowing how your art and skill set can be applied and adapted to the situation in front of you, and to do it quickly. Few in the art can do this.
  • Speaking of quickly… The ability to think quick leads to the ability to react quickly. Fighting in competition, when there are only 3 minutes and 3 points to establish superiority, will enable you to do what your mind tells it to do as soon as you need to do it. Your reflexes will be faster. Your counters and evasions will be instantaneous. Your attacks will be nontelegraphic. You will be able to time your opponents to stop him or catch him at will. It’s more than simply “working hard”, as many martial artists like to say. You need more than just working out hard; you need to refine your skills under pressure, under a variety of opponents, under a plethora of circumstances and venues. All of this will give you the ability to appear “fast”, because when most opponents are trying to figure out what you’re doing–and some opponents are thinking about what to do next–you’ve already done it.
  • Who’s the Master?  As the saying goes, a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. Most people skipping the competition element of the martial arts in favor of training with friends often are also skipping classroom time. I have seen mediocre students who were actually good beginners (“good for a beginner”) lead groups and pull students away from their Masters. While this guy’s claim to fame is that he whips on his friends in the backyard, and even teaches them–he has no one teaching him. The result is that you have beginners teaching beginners, or beginners exchanging with each other. Think of novices trying to lead themselves to martial arts expertise. Maybe one or two guys are actually training somewhere. But they are all novices. No one is leading the pack out of their ignorance, and there is no element of win/lose or pass/fail, and they never know if their training is working or it’s in vain. In the competition floor guess who the Master is? The Master is the experience you get, the bitter feeling of losing a fight, the admiration of seeing those who are light years ahead of you skill wise, and the goals you have of one day being the few who go home knowing that he literally licked every man in the room.

Even if you have no teacher–the ring is the best place to learn next to the street; the ring is the university and your opponents are the professors. To those guys, the backyard is nothing more than a playground. Get yourself some training partners to count the reps and touch gloves. But when you’re ready to test yourself and really see where you stand–you have to get out and put your learning on the line against another guy determined to make you look bad.

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Author: thekuntawman

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

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