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Challenging the Masters part 6: Should full contact sparring be mandatory?

Updated: May 4

Challenging the Masters part 6: Should full contact sparring be mandatory?

Strap in folks,

I think that I am getting emotional. We are about to jump on one of my favorite topics: Full contact sparring . I am so happy I am like...I cant even finish my....tee-hee!! Okay, I got a grip now. I am a FIRM believer in full contact sparring. I am sick and tired of watching people "play" martial arts. I am tired of watching people leave class with clean and unwrinkled uniforms. I am tired of watching people apologize if a little contact is made. It is called MARTIAL ARTS people. Martial being derived from the Roman god of war, Mars. So martial arts are war arts.

So let us have look at what the traditionalists had to say shall we? Well as far as I can remember, martial arts derived from martial skills. They did not have a choice as to whether or not the training would be full contact. They were not fighting for a cheesy little trophy or for bragging rights. They fought for their lives. They were training for someone who had at least as much martial arts training, and weapons. Whether we are talking about the Okinawan peasants fighting samurai, or shaolin monks fighting members of the royal guard, there was definitely an uphill battle situation happening. So the most intense training was not an option or unreasonable at all. It was a requirement, and an expectation.

So what happens in 80% of dojos today? A pathetic imitation of what real fights actually look like. Now I KNOW that street fights are unpredictable and dangerous, but what we see in dojos today is just pathetic. There is no attempt to address the modern realities of fighting. I see almost no punching in combinations, horrendous footwork, and pitty pat punches that would tickle a kindergarten kid. Now, don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that you hit your training partner as hard as you can. I do NOT believe that full contact means full force. Don't think that I advocate trying to murder your partner. But if you are not practicing full contact, you may be setting yourself up for failure. How many times have you heard someone say" He is a black belt in (insert name here) and he got beat up by that one kid (insert other name here). That is ridiculous. I mean if you are training realistically, an untrained fighter should not pose that much of a problem.

As a general rule, and I know generalities are just that, untrained fighters cannot throw very good straight punches. As you should know by now, if you are training, it takes a certain amount of training to be able to throw a punch without telegraphing. Telegraphing for those who don't know is a movement in the body that clues you in that the punch is coming. For example, dropping your hands before you swing, or maybe pursing your lips, or closing your eyes. A fighter who trains in full contact should be well versed in the nuances of these movements. More importantly, a full contact fighter is able to take a punch and keep fighting. IF you are not sparring full contact style, than you have probably really never been hit. In my experience in martial arts and self-defense training, it is that "freezing up" after a punch that causes most losses in a fight. It is one thing to be able to hit someone, but getting hit is when the reality sinks in. In the fight business, there is a saying. "Everyone has a gameplan, UNTIL they get hit." If you are not training full contact, then you are NOT as prepared as you think you are. I would bet money on it.

Now because I am a caring kind of guy, I am going to tell you why you DON'T practice full contact. It is likely because you just plain out are not willilng to train that hard. Getting hit hurts. I can understand. I am not really happy about being hit either. But it IS part of the training. You don't really think that you can learn to swim without getting water in your mouth, or up your nose do you? You don't think that there is a single carpenter who has never hit his hand with a hammer do you? You KNOW as well as I do that you have rolled your ankle and fallen during a game of soccer, football, baseball or tennis. Do you know what that is? It is called a hazard of the occupation. You expect that it is going to happen. You know that you will just have to deal with it when it does. So not doing full contact because it hurts, or is too hard is NOT an acceptable reason. If you think that training full contact hurts, imagine a fight where someone wants to really hurt you. THAT hurts. It is not a reason at all. In my neck of the woods we call it an excuse. If you didn't know, now you do.

Now I am going to give the other reason that you probably were going to mention. The fact that Americans LOVE to sue. Now legal issues are a real concern these days, but nothing tha you should really be sweating. The only people who get their pants sued off, get sued because of gross negligence. Kind of like in your gym membership. If you are taking the proper steps to make sure that the environment is a safe one, legalities are not your biggest headache. Try looking up the assumed risk laws in sports. Heck, try reading the back of your gym application. You are pretty well protected legally, as long as you run a safe facility. That means matching up equal skill level. Having first aid kits, CPR certifications and the like. As long as you are wearing the proper gear and monitoring the sparring sessions, you are pretty much going to be okay. Fact is, American Football, Soccer, Baseball and Boxing have MUCH higher injury rates. Have you watched football players crash into each other for an hour straight? Have you ever seen someone get pegged in the head with a baseball? Think about those things and then tell me that full contact Karate is too dangerous.

Oh wait!! I have another one. It is the "regular people don't really want to train that way" excuse. I have been teaching martial arts for a long time. In that time I have made it clear to my students that martial arts is about self-defense first, and everything else second. I will not have the quest for greater flexibility/discipline/self-control or whatever blur the focus of our training. In case you were wondering, I have people who's occupations range from housewife to pastor to corporate over-achiever. When I explain my philosophy to them, they have no problem accepting my views, and my reasoning behind them.

As a martial arts teacher, my main job is to make sure that I am preparing my students for real life altercations. It is not all about fighting, but fighting is a part. There is a saying that" violence is rarely the answer. But when it is, it is the ONLY answer." Think about that for a moment okay? Your health is is MY hands, and I will not let you down. I would rather you depend on me knowing that I will not mislead you, than have you in a hospital wishing that you HAD listened to me. Later folks, the Simpson is on, and I NEVER miss an episode.

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