The Hidden Lesson of Sparring
Updated: Jan 5
Step into any martial arts school and you’re likely to see what’s commonly known as sparring, otherwise known as Kumite. What is sparring? It’s a consensual training session or match between two practitioners as a method to test what they’ve been learning. Ordinarily there is a point system involved in order to determine a winner after a score limit has been reached or time has expired.
The benefits to sparring can be seen as a short list of very important attributes; such as coordination, timing, self-esteem and confidence.
When we have a punching bag in front of us it’s much easier to hit but when we spar things change, the target is now moving and can strike back. It’s a lot to take in including the fact you don’t want to accidently hurt your training partner.
Respect is gained during a match because we understand the challenges we face as individuals and recognize them in the practitioners we spar against. We gain this understanding through empathy of our fellow class mates because we all seek to improve ourselves.
Mixed in all of this is our testing of technique. Practicing to react faster and be lighter on our feet as we go through the motions. However, discussing a sparring match and the buildup of confidence, there’s one more attribute that can cause us to go astray.
In a competition setting and in a real fight it’s necessary. We’d never hope to achieve our goals without a bit of ego, however there is such a thing as too much. In a point based sparring match we want to win. Imagine a match were you need 7 points to win. It’s been a long bout so far but both fighters are at 6 points. There’s a danger here, both want to win and egos are inflating. Therefore we tend to shy away from rational behavior and take greater risks where we might get hurt or accidentally hurt our partner.
This is where traditional karate differs from sports karate. In true combat we must always keep a clear head and think outside ourselves because with a sparring match our world is in the ring, everything outside of it is life where true karate is found. The outcome of a real or otherwise known as a “street fight” affects the lives of all that are involved and there is no room for big headed mistakes.
Fortunately at Kaze-Kai we developed a method of sparring that helps us gain the attributes of point sparring with the addition of an ego check. We call it Timing Sparring. Once a match begins movements are slow between practitioners but it builds up speed over time. As long as the referee is still seeing clean technique and no inflated egos they can continue. By now you must be thinking “This sounds like regular point sparring.” But in timing sparring there are no points, there is no winner because it’s about training. The goal is to help your partner practice blocking you as they do the same for you.
Timing sparring is continues non-stop movement, more techniques are actually thrown in this type of training than point sparring. Another benefit is improving your stamina and breathing, it’s not a match where one waits for the opening.
From training like this we discipline the mind as much as the body to be smarter about physical conflicts. This is what Sensei Goral wants us to be, scholar warriors.