As we all know sparring aka freestyle is an integral part of our art. Although many approach it differently, it is still an important process throughout our growth.
I have researched many aspects of the martial arts for years and have come across many interesting viewpoints with validity on both sides of the argument when it comes to sparring.
One interesting argument that several people have stated is that if you don't spar, you can't fight; or, if you don't spar, you will have limited success in street self-defense.
There is a vast difference between fighting and street self-defense. Let me give you my definition of each. Fighting is when you train hard to get into the ring or octagon as a sport. Fighting to me is full-contact--not to disregard point fighting. Street self-defense is a different story. It simply means to stop someone from harming you; escape, not conquer. It should take only a handful of seconds at the most. Lastly you have combat, which is a whole different realm.
You don't have to be a good fighter to be good at self-defense. Just because you are good at street self-defense, or even consider yourself a "street fighter"
that doesn't mean you can fight well in the ring, however. In fact, most people who have been deemed tough street fighters have gotten their butts handed to them against real fighterS in the ring.
My viewpoint is this: It is common sense that if you are going to be a fighter (in the ring), you need to spar all the time. You need to spar as many different people as possible in three categories: 1) those who are better than you, 2) those who are equal to you, and 3) those who aren't as good as you. As Mr. White says, "writers write and fighters fight."
I disagree however that if you don't spar, you can't be successful in street self-defense or actual combat. First of all, we know the whole rule thing--no rules on the street or in combat; well, one rule: survive. I have not found one spec of empirical evidence to support people's argument that if you don't spar you won't be successful on the street.
Look at it this way: do you feel Mr. Parker could fight on the street? I think it is obvious. I have been told, however, that Mr. Parker didn't spar. In fact, from what I gathered he sparred maybe one or two students ever. He also didn't compete in tournaments. I'm not claiming Mr. Parker never did any sparring as a student or any of that. I know he was an amateur boxer and I am sure he did plenty of sparring going through the ranks. I don't know, however, I wasn't there.
Also, I can't think of a single senior who spars. Again, doesn't mean they never did, but I look at it like any sport--just because you sparred many years doesn't mean you are going to stay that good. You get rusty in certain areas if you don't keep up on it. For instance, not to brag, but I was a really good baseball player growing up. I played ten years. I gave it up and then about fifteen years later my family had a little pick up baseball game and I couldn't even hit the damn ball--slow pitch. I went from crushing the ball to swinging and missing more times than I can count. The same goes with anything, in my view. If you don't keep up on it, you lose it--at least some of it.
I would wager that any good black belt in our system will have no problem defending himself whether he spars or not.
I do believe that sparring helps you for street self-defense, but I don't believe that if you don't do it, you will not be able to defend yourself. I feel, however, that you need to do it as your going through the ranks or you shouldn't ever get a black belt.
I would love anybody's thoughts about this. I personally have sparred many times, many ways. I am at a point in my life where I would rather focus on my teaching than sparring like I used to. I am getting older and I train hard in other areas. As for competing, I was an amateur boxer and a wrestler. I never competed in karate tournaments.
Michael Miller, CKF
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