Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sparring Within Your Comfort Level

Sparring is a great tool that allows students to learn to apply martial arts principles like distance, timing, attack, and defense. It is used in dojos as one of the methods of practicing live training against a non-compliant partner. The problem with sparring, however, is that without the proper amount of control, it can lead to injuries.

To improve skill development and prevent injuries, I’ve developed a graduated approach that eases students into unpredictability and spontaneity of sparring.

Beginner: Punching only. Intensity level 1 only.
Intermediate I: Punching and kicking. Intensity level 1 or 2.
Intermediate II: Punching, kicking, and throws/takedowns. Intensity level 1 or 2.
Advanced: Punching, kicking, throws/takedowns, and ground grappling. Intensity level 1, 2 or 3.

The 3 intensity levels are as follows:

Level 1: Low speed. The body is kept very relaxed, especially the arms when performing a punch. Strikes should have no follow-through. Minimal contact is allowed, but if a blow lands on an unprotected target, it is light enough that it causes no discomfort. The focus is on learning control, improving specific manoeuvres, and increasing overall confidence levels.

Level 2: Moderate speed. The body is kept relaxed, but a little follow-through on strikes is acceptable. Light contact is allowed; if a blow lands on an unprotected target, there may be some minor discomfort, but no lasting injury. The focus is improving reaction speed and integrating sparring strategy.

Level 3:
Fast speed, while maintaining the same level of body relaxation, strike follow-through, and contact level as level 2. The focus is the same as level 2, but there is an added emphasis on control due to the higher speed.

In our classes, everyone wears protective equipment including, mouth guards, 16-oz boxing gloves, and shin guards. When two people spar, if they are at the same level, they agree to an intensity level that at which they'll work. If one person wants a lower level of intensity, the other person will default to that level. If a person who is more advanced is sparring with a person at a lower level, they must default to both the sparring technique level and intensity level at which the less advanced student wants to work.

In my opinion, sparring should only be introduced after a minimum of several months of regular training. A complete beginner should not engage in sparring as they are still learning basic skills and developing the necessary control. Introducing sparring at too early a level can create anxiety in the student, hamper their improvement of their technique (they're too afraid of getting hit to work on technique!), damage their confidence, and can even cause injury. Instructors should also exercise caution and keep track of their students when sparring, paying special attention to beginners.

No comments: