My recent life has been inundated with all things martial arts as I prepare for my testing. I figure since my mind is naturally wandering through this jungle, I will offer some tidbits of information that may be useful to others.
Today I am going to cover the original rules I was taught about sparring. I’m not talking about rules designed to keep people safe such as no eye gouges, groin shots, or biting, but rather some simple concepts to improve your sparring and quite possibly your ability to defend yourself should the need ever arrive.
Finally, if time permits and I have a personal opinion on the concept, I may try to offer -what I believe- an improved version of the rule.
Rule#1 – Don’t Get Hit
Seems pretty simple, no? Yes, this rule is quite laughable at first glance, but anyone who’s been to a dojo and watched beginners spar know exactly why we have this rule.
The new students are so overwhelmed by all the techniques and options available to them, they suffer from a form of analysis paralysis and remain stationary. Yes, they’ll throw some kicks and punches here and there, but they’ll freeze and take any strikes coming their way.
The fix? Don’t get hit!
I’ve instructed students who didn’t even realize they were being kicked or punched after a sparring match because they were so focused on what they were doing that what their sparring partner was doing didn’t even register.
Over time this rule morphed into a new phrase “Don’t get touched.” This was deemed necessary as we had many students thinking they were clever by claiming they weren’t hit because they had either blocked an attack or positioned themselves so the strike hit a non-scoring area like the shoulder or forearm.
I’m sure most of you can see the simple problem with this…
They’re still being hit!
Blocking a strike or taking the hit on another part of your body is still being hit. It’s going to damage your body although possibly less so than if you took the attack square to the face, hence the changing of the rule to “Don’t get touched.”
It is my humble opinion that both rules are a bit too simplistic, thus forcing a mindset that may not be suitable in the long run. Yes, these rules are good for beginners because it hammers in the concept of evasion, but as it is in most things, too many people take this lesson as Gospel and never think outside the boundaries of this rule.
To that end, my “improved” version of this rule is:
You decide when, where, and how contact will be initiated.
Rule#2 – Move!
Going back to Rule#1: How do you not get hit? You move!
Mobility in both sparring and self-defense is king. If you are mobile, you are able to evade strikes or simply run from the fight to safety.
Coming from a Taekwondo background, we highly prize speed and footwork. Mobility comes more naturally to us than say, a BJJ fighter. That being said, this is something every person should work on, regardless of what style they study.
Focus on your stance as you spar. Can you move quickly in any direction? Are you standing on the balls of your feet? Can you throw strikes from either foot or hand without the need for repositioning your stance beforehand?
I don’t really have a suggested revision for this rule. I like the meaning behind it and the lessons it imparts.
Rule#3 – Keep Your Options Open
This rule is the king of the 3 basic rules. It simply means, do not put yourself in a stance, position, or situation where all but one option is cut off to you.
This is a large reason why I take issue with BJJ fighters and their willingness to take all their fights to the ground as quickly as possible. Yes, I understand you operate best on the ground. I won’t dispute that.
What I will dispute is the fact that you’ve cut off ALL options except to grapple with the other person. This may seem all well and good until that guy’s buddy jumps in. Suddenly the situation has changed and you cannot adapt with it because you’re all tangled up on the ground (See how that also ties into Rule#2?).
Another example of this rule being applied is not to take deep stances that limit the strikes you can perform or decrease your mobility. Stay upright, stay relaxed, and stay mobile. Be able to adapt to the situation.
These are the 3 basic rules of sparring. By no means are they meant to be comprehensive or the end-all-be-all of sparring, but if followed, they will provide some great value to martial artists of nearly every level in improving their sparring and self-defense training.