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Dancing in and out, judging distance, feeling the rhythm of your opponent, making contact, taking a punch, vying for position, working a submission.
This is what sparring is all about.
Most people believe that sparring is the closest you can get to actual fighting and the best way to condition yourself for the real thing. It’s exciting for the participants and the crowd. Martial artists, boxers, wrestlers, and MMA fighters all have some form of sparring they use to test their skills against their peers. It increases your strength, speed, endurance, and gives you a chance to use the material you have learned against a live and uncooperative opponent. Most of this is true.
But, does sparring it have a place in Self Defense training?
Threatening situations such as muggings, assaults, rapes, stabbings, or shootings more often than not happen with little to no warning from the aggressor(s). These people set to their work with no appreciation for sportsman like conduct; they will not allow you to tap out, they will not play tag with you, and no buzzer will sound. They will use every tool they have to finish what they set out to do.
As such, it seems only logical that self defense training should step out of the realm of rules as well. Self defense should not be about a fair fight. The most effective techniques in any self defense program will, in the very least, seriously injure an attacker. Does this sound safe to test out in a friendly sparring match?
We have all heard the adage, “practice makes perfect”; it has always been a driving point in training. In the ring you cannot eye gouge, strike to the back of the head, break bones, use small joint manipulation, bite, or attack the groin, and all for good reason. The results of their use have been deemed too dangerous. It is true that in self defense training you cannot poke someone’s eye out, or break someone’s arm anymore than you can in a sparring match, but the mental aspects of the training are quite different.
In self defense you practice without target restrictions as safely as possible. When you train with an “anything goes” attitude it will be reflected in the event of its actual use. It would not do well for you to hesitate to take an open shot to the groin in a life threatening situation, only because you have spent years training yourself not to do that very thing (like when you are sparring with your partners).
Sports are about fairness. They match people of similar skill, and weight class to make the fights entertaining and not leave one fighter with an advantage.
However, on the street or in that lonely parking garage there is no guarantee that an attacker won’t outweigh you, be tougher than you, or use any weapon available to him.
If the purpose of your training is self defense, then you cannot afford to have sport fighting restrictions ingrained into your self defense mechanism.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to use your self defense training, you need to be in a mental place to be able to do what needs to be done and make it home safely. Sparring, by its very nature, actually trains out of you the very instinct to do the needful and necessary things that a true self defense system would otherwise require of you.
So, when considering a self defense course, ask yourself this question: Am I being taught to spar… or to fight.
If the time ever comes when you need to defend yourself, trust me when I tell you… you won’t want to spar… you will need to FIGHT!
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