7 Steps to Superior Sparring
By Lily Gold, LMT
Some schools swear by sparring and other school don't use it as much. We think that sparring can be a very useful part of your training and you can gain lot from it if you approach it in a specific way. Done wrong sparring can be a path to injury and frustration. It can even teach students to flinch and be afraid rather than to fight confidently! Done right, however, sparring is an essential part of learning to use your skills.
Think about why you spar - what is your main purpose for it? While going 'all out' to try to 'make it real' maybe fun at times, we have found that the learning/long term benefits are fewer and people are more prone to getting injured - not cool. If the first thing that happens after you join a club to learn self-defense is you get hurt in training it defeats the purpose of going, right?
We have found that when people have sparring connected to specific key skills that they want to master it becomes an effective tool for development. So, here are some tips to charge up your sparring sessions. Use any one or a combination of ideas. They're all just starting points for further development and are arranged in no particular order.
1. Don't make it overly competitive. Sparring in class is a vehicle for learning to apply skills under pressure and not a win or lose competition for a gold medal. You and your partner will get more out of your sparring sessions if you are both helping each other to learn. This doesn't mean you let the person hit you, but that you are looking to see them develop too. Be sure to discuss your sparring sparring sessions afterwards and tell them when they got a good hit or how you got your hit in - for example "you drop your guard after you try for a hit, so your head was open" "wow I didn't even see that ridge hand strike come in". If you videotape it, watching the sparring together afterwards is a lot of fun and very educational.
2. Have a game plan. What skills are you trying to gain through sparring? These could be non telegraphic movements, better footwork, utilizing a technique such as the backcut or gaining skill with a weapon. For example, "I want to develop evasive footwork, so I'm going to try to stay at range and utilize mobility for defense today"
3. Try to use new techniques you're working on. This works best if you limit yourself to 1 to 3 new techniques so it's not overwhelming, but this way you won't fall back into the habit of using only what works for you already. For example, "Today I'm going to look for the opening to throw my lead round kick and to work stop hits with my lead side hand"
4. Try a new weapon. If you always use knife, try stick, staff or open hand. Use combinations of 2 weapons such as stick and dagger. Remember your hand is a weapon as well, so use your open hand even when you have stick in the other.
5. Mix up the weapons. Have one person with knife and the other with stick. Do a round and switch the weapons around. It may seem that one is the 'better' weapon, but each one has advantages and disadvantages.
6. Use your non-dominate hand for your primary weapon. Switch hands. Switch stances or leads as appropriate.
7. Use reactive training equipment. When you train solo, try treating your equipment like a real live opponent. Move in and out, keep your guard up, block, intercept, use all your tools. The dequerdes (training cross) is a great tool for this. It's easy to put together, only cost a few dollars and is one of the best reactive training devices we have used. It will hit you back! You can't stand there and just hit it like a heavy bag, the dequerdes makes you move fast.
Lily Gold, LMT
Training Cross DVD