I have been working with my students to improve their sparring skills this month, it’s a great hot weather activity! Sparring can be a tough skill to perfect since everyone wants to jump in the ring and mix things up. Sparring is a very dynamic activity but it can be broken down to individual skills which can be perfected. A short list of these skills include: technique, stamina, focus, and self-awareness. As with any skill technique is paramount to success. Put on some boxing gloves and get in the ring doesn’t make you a boxer, the same is true for Martial Arts sparring. To often I’ve witnessed students at competitions degrade their technique to wildly slapping and kicking.
Sparring matches are won by staying in control. Control comes from confidence and technique. Confidence is something people have to find within themselves. Technique is somethings an instructor can help you perfect. I won’t delve into technique specifics as they vary from style to style, but form is critical to minimizing your vulnerabilities and maximizing your opportunities. Stamina comes with the practice and perfection of your form and technique. As we get older we need to add additional cardio-conditioning! 😉 With good technique and strong stamina you are well equip to win most matches simply by outlasting your opponent.
Focus is perhaps the more difficult thing to learn, as focus is probably the wrong word to use, since you need a lack of focus when sparring. Say what?!? If we focus on our opponent we forget about our surroundings, this may be OK in a sparring ring, but in a real fight that can be fatal. More importantly though focusing on your opponent can lead to signaling your movements. When I spar I typically spar primarily with my peripheral vision, this allows me to “focus” on movements as they occur not a specific movement. Let me give an example: if someone fakes a move with their left, then follows through with the real attack with their right… If I am focused on the person, then my focus will shift to the left fake, when the right comes in, I will have to realize it, shift my focus and then react. If I am focused on the situation, using my peripheral vision then I can more rapidly react to movements in my “sphere” of focus. Basically it reduces the thought process drag that comes from thinking to much. Relax your mind and your awareness becomes more basic, instinctual and reactionary. Hopefully that makes sense, I’ll be happy to clarify any of that.
Self-awareness is probably the most ignored part of sparring, though it is the direct result of good technique training and peripheral or sphere focus. When we spar it is important to be self-aware of your vulnerabilities. It is the only way you can truly improve your art. When you begin sparring your instructor will tell you what you are doing wrong. You should take this instruction as an opportunity to train yourself to find these corrections before you are told of them. The next step of course is correcting the problem, not always that easy. For example, two of my students where sparring and one would lean her head froward after a particular move. Her opponent realized this and he exploited it, with a downward strike to the head. A very bad way to get hit, a fight-ender. After the first hit, I pulled her aside and told her what she was doing. When she did it again I saw her realize it after it was to late. The third time her realization came a little sooner but still to late. Frustration was her enemy on the last point. She has the first part of self-awareness down and is now struggling with correcting the problem. It is a process, no different then learning your first martial arts technique.
I am including these videos for two reasons, first they are awesome! Secondly, they each demonstrate important aspects of sparring. See if you can figure out the importance of each video and post your conclusions in the comments section… Enjoy and pay attention!
[zdvideo width=”400″ height=”226″]http://karatetraining.org/weblog/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Gorgeous-JackieChanAwesomeFight.flv[/zdvideo]
Looking forward to the discussion…