Contact Training Overview

Learning to spar will teach you a great deal about the dynamics of a conflict.  Seldom do things pan out as you might imagine in your mind.  Sparring is extremely tiring and you will quickly come to understand why you never give an opponent time to think.  Sparring also teachings you a great deal about such things as maintaining a proper guard, using combination movements, moving off center, distancing, and timing.  These are skills that are difficult to acquire without having done some form of sparring.  Whenever possible spar with a training partner to help sharpen your skills in this area.  You need not subject yourself to hard contact to learn a great deal.

In order to attain the Blue Belt you must demonstrate a reasonable proficiency at sparring.  We are not asking you to be a professional fighter (though you can if you wish), but we think knowing how to spar is of great benefit to students for a variety of reasons.

We do not require anyone to engage in sparring with another person if they wish to avoid being struck or potentially injured.  Kumite and full contact sparring are entirely voluntary.  Students who do not wish to engage in these activities will be required to demonstrate essential sparring skills via extensive shadow boxing exercises.

Sparring provides you with the skills, timing, and experience you may need in an actual fight.  Sparring, at least to some significant degree, simulates the pace, excitement, maneuvering, and striking that takes place in a fight.  Having experience with these conditions can be invaluable should you find yourself in a confrontation with someone who thinks of fighting in terms of sparring.  It provides you with a good sense for how this person will move, the likely tactics they will use, and what they will not expect from you.

Sparring also is of great benefit for your stamina and conditioning.  You will be quite tired after just a short period of sparring.  The more you can spar the more fit you will become.

We understand that not everyone looks forward to the prospects of sparring.  For some this is the most dreaded part of their training.  But we make sparring as reasonable and as adaptable as possible for people so they can obtain some valuable training without feeling overwhelmed.  We will not pit you against a world class sparring champion and ask the two of you to go at it full speed.  That would be rude.  We take things slowly and allow a student to advance with their sparring skills at a pace that is comfortable to them.  All we ask is that students keep an open mind and understand that the primary reason for sparring is so you gain the experience you may need in the event you are confronted by someone who thinks they are good at sparring.

We teach several different types of sparring over time.  Students have a good degree of latitude in what they wish to do in the area of sparring.  In this and other relevant blog entries we will discuss the types of sparring we provide, the equipment required, and some fundamental strategic skills you should consider.  We want sparring to be a safe and educational experience for all students.

Shadow Boxing

Shadow boxing is the exercise of boxing without an actual training partner.  The name is, of course, derived from the idea that when you spar alone then the only training partner you have is your own shadow.  Of course, if you have mirrors in your Dojo then you have another way in which you can view your “opponent”.  If you have no mirrors and a brightly lit room with no perceptible shadows, then your imagination will have to suffice.

Shadow boxing has two main benefits.  The first is that it provides a very good form of conditioning.  In a single minute you will be quite fatigued.  Sparring for three minute rounds, with a two minute break between rounds will make you pretty tired, especially when you are first starting.  But even someone who has great skill can be very winded after such an exercise because they will naturally put more into the exercise than someone who is just starting out.

The second primary benefit of shadow boxing is it provides you a way to work on fundamental skills such as legwork, combination strikes, entering and exiting strategies, and multi-level drills without having to deal with the complexities of another thinking mind.  Shadow boxing gives you a great way to practice skills in isolation so that only those skills are addressed.  This provides the focus you may need to better refine a specific skill.

In a related vein shadow boxing can also be used as part of an effort to eliminate bad habits.  If you perpetually lower your guard after thirty seconds or so then shadow boxing may be useful as a way of conditioning yourself to maintain a proper guard.  If you have a habit of bending forward as you prepare to advance then shadow boxing may help you focus on eliminating this habit.  If you notice that others seem to be able to predict when you strike then shadow boxing will provide you with a venue for learning to better mask your strikes or mislead your opponent.

We often use shadow boxing as a conditioning, coordination, and striking exercise even for students who have not yet begun to spar.  It is a great way for students to learn to keep their guard up, practice combination movements, avoid moving in a predicable manner, and work on timing.

Shadow boxing can be a practical way for students who have health issues or who are reticent to try Kumite and/or full contact sparring, to obtain an introduction to sparring.  You will miss some of the benefits of sparring such as dealing with strikes, working on defenses, and adapting to the movements of an adversary, but it is the best alternative for those who wish to avoid contact.  You will still need to demonstrate sparring skills for the belt ranking examination, but you will not need to directly spar with someone else if you elect this alternative.


Kumite, or Point Fighting as it is commonly called, is more like a game of chess than it is sparring.  Two participants use their skills to see who can strike cleanly on the other person first.  The individual successfully striking the other person is awarded a point.  Typically the first person who achieves three or five points wins the match.

In most situations Kumite matches do not allow any contact to the head.  You may strike toward the other persons’ head to show that you could have landed a blow there, but you may not actually make contact.  If you demonstrate that you could have struck the opposing participant but did not make contact, then you may be awarded a point.  If you made contact then you will probably be warned that head contact is not allowed.  If you make head contact again you will likely lose a point.  If you make head contact a third time you will almost certainly be disqualified and lose the match.

Strikes to the body are allowed but need to be demonstrated as clean and unambiguous strikes.  A glancing blow or innocuous contact will usually not be recognized as a viable strike.  A very clear strike to the torso will usually score a point, provided your opponent did not strike you with a clean hit at the same moment.  Such simultaneous strikes are referred to as a clash and the result is that no point is scored by either party.

Strikes to the legs, buttocks, and sometimes the back are usually considered to be incidental strikes and seldom result in an awarded point, even if the strike is very clean and precise.  The primary goal in Kumite is to see if you can get past a person’s guard to score a point in the torso area or demonstrate a clean but non-contact strike toward the head.

This is the form of sparring used in most martial arts tournaments.  The non-head contact rule is often very strictly enforced.  There are some Kumite tournaments that will allow head contact, but these are fairly rare and usually very clearly indicate that head contact will be allowed.

Kumite has its detractors.  Often people say that it is not real fighting so it has little value.  It clearly is not real fighting, but neither is full contact sparring, Randori, Ad Hoc fighting, Mixed Martial Arts contests, or professional boxing for that matter.  The only thing like a real fight is a real fight.  Everything else involves various simulation levels of true fighting conditions and a host of rules and regulations.

There are several advantages to Kumite.  First of all, aside from shadow boxing it may be the safest of all sparring options.  Secondly, it helps you work on strategy and timing since your goal is to get in and deliver a strike and then get away before a counter strike might score a point for the opponent.  Thirdly, it pits you against someone with similar goals who will challenge you to do well.

All students must demonstrate a general proficiency in Kumite before they can participate in full contact sparring.

Full Contact

Full Contact sparring involves a striking and kicking contest between two standing opponents.  Striking to any part of the body except the groin, throat, joints, and other delicate locations such as the eyes, is allowed.  In a tournament the goal is usually to score a knockout blow or to overcome and overwhelm your opponent.  It is common in sparring tournaments to have either one or three rounds.  When a single round is used the person who has demonstrated the most skills is usually awarded the victory.  When three rounds are used the person who has won the most rounds will usually be awarded the victory.  These are not hard and fast rules as different tournaments may score sparring matches somewhat differently.

When practicing sparring in a Dojo there may be further limitations put in place during practices.  There may be limitations on how you can strike to the head or on the types of blows you can land on the body or the extremities.  These limitations are almost always designed to limit the possibility of injuries and to keep tempers in check.

We do not require any student to participate in full contact sparring.  Some students enjoy this type of contest and skills-development so we make it available to them where it is legal and can be conducted in a safe and prudent manner.


Students who do not wish to participate in Full Contact Sparring may practice Non-Contact Sparring.  This involves all of the skills and movements required of full contact sparring, but all of the strikes are pulled or made to come up short of actual contact.  Head contact is specifically avoided.  Strikes are thrown toward the head, but they are designed to avoid direct contact.

This type of sparring offers the same elements of timing, distancing, strategy, and exhaustion that are common in full contact sparring.  The main difference is the lack of substantial contact.  Incidental or accidental contact remains a distinct possibility, but the contact, if it occurs, is generally less significant.  But accidents do occur, so you must work to keep an effective guard and to use the Octagon to your advantage.  Because accidents will occur, you must also ensure you wear the same safety equipment that is required for full contact sparring.

The disadvantage of this type of sparring is you do not acquire a sense of what it is like to be truly hit hard.  This is both good and bad, really.  If you have never been hit hard then you will have a more difficult time dealing with an assault from an actual assailant.  If you have been hit many times before then you will likely take such strikes in stride.  However, repetitive strikes during full contact sparring can have negative long-term health consequences as well.  Whether to practice full contact or non-contact sparring is purely a judgement call each student must make for themselves.  There should be no pressure to do one or the other.  It is an individual choice.


Benefits of Being Hit

Few people enjoy being hit.  Nearly everyone has an innate fear of being struck.  Students may dislike the idea of receiving a painful injury, worry that they may lose consciousness, or be concerned about long-term health risks.  These are of course all legitimate concerns.

But, believe it or not, being hit has benefits.  The first benefit is that it teaches you where your protection skills are vulnerable.  You were hit because in some way or another you allowed it to happen.  A strike is a reminder to be vigilant about your defenses.

Another benefit is you learn that being hit is not the end of the world.  It better prepares you for the situation where you are struck in a combative situation.  If you have never been struck before then being hit can be very disorienting and disrupting.  It is such a new and unusual experience that you may realistically be stunned and dazed.  It is particularly disheartening to hear stories of black belts who are attacked and are immediately stunned because they have never experienced being struck before.

Becoming dazed is frequently a mental condition and may not be a medical issue (though a possible resulting concussion or other brain injury can be a major medical consequence).  If you have been struck many times before then a strike that occurs in a conflict is simply another strike (provided it did not impact something that could be crippling or life threatening).  You have the ability to deal with it and move it.  With enough experience the strike may barely be noticed.

When you first begin sparring you will of course notice bruises or abrasions where you have been struck.  These are lessened significantly by the proper use of padding (shin guards, foot pads, etc.), but some bruising may still occur in unprotected areas.  Usually all of this is pretty minor, but some bruises may be sensitive to the touch for a day or two.  But as you gain significant experience with sparring you may begin to notice that you seldom bruise any longer (this effect actually takes a fairly long time to develop).  This may be a combination of improved defensive skills and the body’s adaptive powers.  Unfortunately, not everyone experiences this improvement due to genetics, disease, or nutritional deficiency.


After students have developed significant experience with sparring methods and strategies they begin to explore grappling skills. These studies begin by working on the many drills, exercises, and skills that form the foundation for all grappling activities. Students then move on to study grappling methods, strategies, and techniques that will enable them to function well in a ground based conflict. Additional emphasis is placed on conditioning as it applies to grappling activities, which are much more demanding than the skills employed in the standing arts.


The term Randori means “free practice” and is used for somewhat different purposes in various martial arts.  In Judo and Jujitsu it usually means a contest between two persons who wish to exercise their skills against each other in a random and free-form exercise.  Often the two persons struggle to see which can throw or otherwise overtake the other.  In Aikido the term Randori usually refers to a free form exercise in which multiple attackers randomly engage a single person who then practices various skills against each attacker.

In Tensoku Ryu we use Randori in the same sense as Judo and Jujitsu.  This form of engagement is not practiced until students have undergone some extensive training in grappling.

Ad Hoc

What we refer to as Ad Hoc fighting is similar to what Aikido calls Randori.  One or more attackers engage a single person who then uses whatever methods or skills they wish to escape, thwart, or destroy the attacker.  They may use any skill they have previously learned to accomplish these objectives.

Ad Hoc fighting is done only between experienced practitioners since the risk of accidental injury is high.  Senior practitioners have the skills, timing, and precision of movement necessary to avoid most injuries to their fellow practitioners.  These are not exercises to show dominance or to achieve a knockout or other victory.  These are exercises to allow students to practice and hone the skills they would likely use to escape, thwart, or even destroy a combatant in an actual confrontation.  These are often fast and furious exercises in which nobody knows what will transpire.

You will not participate in Ad Hoc fighting until you have achieved the rank of Brown Belt.


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