Full Contact Sparring Matches

This article provides an overview of the management of a Tensoku Ryu full contact sparring match. It does not cover all aspects of the management process. It does not, for example, define the requirements for the physical area in which the matches will be held, nor does it discuss the need for appropriate medical personnel who must be present at all official matches. These details are provided in the Tensoku Ryu Full Contact Sparring Manual. This article covers the mechanics and general rules about how an individual full contact match is conducted and managed.

While this article provides a general overview of full contact matches, participants should endeavor to understand scoring, behavior, etiquette, and equipment requirements for any individual tournament they plan to attend. There can be subtle regional and cultural differences in tournament practices for matches or tournaments held in different countries or regions of a country.

This article is intended to ensure practitioners have a good understanding of the typical methods and practices that apply to most tournaments. Variations from the material presented in this article will generally be subtle and, while not insignificant, generally fairly limited in scope.


All sparring participants must wear the required full contact sparring equipment or they will not be allowed to spar. All equipment must be in good functioning condition and must not contain dangling cords or any loose, torn, or badly damaged components that may fail to provide the required protection or that may impact or injure either contestant, judges, or spectators.

Contestant Identification

Whenever practical each contestant should be provided with a colored ribbon, arm band, or other easily attached spot of color identifier. Each contestant should be provided with a different color identifier. The identifier must be easy to affix to the contestant’s uniform or belt and must not in any way hinder the movement of the contestant or represent a risk to any person.

If colored identifiers are used then each judge (with the exception of the referee) will be provided with a flag of each color.

If color identifiers are not used (common in informal matches) then contestants may be identified by name, uniform, belt ranking, or by physical characteristics.

The referee will ensure that both contestants are properly recorded on any records or other documentation related to the match. The referee will also verify that the two contestants are those who are expected to be in the contest area.

Start of the Match

At the beginning of each match the following sequence will occur.

  1. The referee will call each contestant to the center of the ring and provide any specific instructions for the match.
  2. The referee will position both contestants so they face one another and are Toma distance apart. The referee will then ask the contestants to adopt Heisoku Dachi and to the perform Ritsu Rei toward one another. The referee will then ask the contestants to turn toward the referee and perform Ritsu Rei toward the referee. Contestants will not be asked to bow to the audience or other judges in the ring.
  3. The referee will then ask each contestant to step forward to touch gloves with the other contestant. The referee will then ask the contestants to return to the former position and to adopt a fighting stance.
  4. The referee will ensure any other judges are prepared to watch the match and that there are no physical obstructions in the contest area. Once this has been confirmed the judge will stand at the center of the ring and raise his or her right open hand to shoulder level while loudly saying, “Fighters Ready.” After a slight pause the referee will quickly drop the right hand to Gedan Level, loudly exclaim, “Fight”, and retreat from the center of the ring. The timekeeper will immediate initiate the round timer. The contest has begun.


Unlike Kumite, Full Contact Sparring does not involve points. At the conclusion of a timed round the judges will be asked to select the winner of the round. Judges make this determination based solely upon their experience, perceptions, and their observations of skills and activities demonstrated by the two contestants. The selection of the winner of a round can be subjective and is not necessarily indicative of the person who landed the most or more effective blows.

When the timekeeper notes that the duration of the round has expired a wrapped towel, bean bag, glove, or other readily identifiable soft object will be thrown into the contest area to a location where it may be immediately noticed by the referee. The timekeeper will also audibly signal the end of the round by loudly proclaiming, “Time!”

At the end of a round the referee will momentarily stop the contest and have each contestant return to their starting positions. The referee will then loudly proclaim either “Judges Call”, or “Judges Present”, at which time all judges will indicate who, if anyone, they believe has won the round. If colors are used then judges will raise the flag associated with their perceived winning contestant aloft, while the flag of the other contestant will be lowered. If colors are not used then judges will use their open hand to unambiguously point to the contestant they believe has won the round. The other hand should be held against the judge’s chest to avoid any confusion.

All judges must indicate a clear winner of the round. Clashes are not allowed. The referee will only indicate his or her call in the event of a tie among the judges.


A contestant will be disqualified and a win will be automatically awarded to his or her opponent if any of the following occurs.

  • The referee believes a contestant has lashed out in anger or in malice in an attempt to deliberately harm or injure the other contestant.
  • The referee believes a contestant has been overtly disrespectful of the referee, any judges or other ringside personnel, any observer of the contest, the event or venue, audience members, or the event sponsors.
  • The referee believes a contestant has deliberately attempted to strike, harm, or injure the referee, any judge, or scoring official.
  • The referee believes a contestant has deliberately or persistently continues to strike at the opponent after the conclusion of a round.
  • A contestant has deliberately removed some safety equipment or intentionally removed some piece of safety equipment from his or her opponent.
  • The referee believes a contestant has feigned an injury to obtain a strategic advantage or to terminate a match early while they have an advantage in the number of rounds won.
  • An instructor, coach, Head Instructor, parent, or other associate of a contestant enters the ring during a round for any purpose other than emergency assistance or upon specific invitation by the referee (perhaps to assist with an equipment malfunction or similar circumstance).
  • An instructor, coach, Head Instructor, parent, or other associate of a contestant badgers, harasses, belittles, attempts to distract, or otherwise tries to interfere with the performance of the contestant’s opponent.
  • A contestant is discovered to have a concealed object, chemical or other substance in or on their gloves, padding, uniform, or other equipment which is intended solely to provide them with an advantage or to cause harm to their opponent.

Awarding a Win

A contestant may be awarded a win in any of the following circumstances:

  • The opponent has been disqualified
  • The opponent voluntarily decides to discontinue the match (forfeiture)
  • The opponent is unable to continue as a result of a legal strike from the contestant.
  • The opponent is unable to sustain a proper uniform or set of functioning safety equipment.
  • The contestant has won the majority of rounds
  • The opponent or the contestant has been injured or suffered a medical emergency and cannot continue, and the contestant is ahead in rounds won.

If a matched is terminated due to medical injuries or other events not related to disqualification or forfeiture and no contestant has yet won a majority of rounds, then the match will be declared a non-match (if no rounds have been won by anyone) or a draw (if both contestants have won an equal number of rounds).

Matches may be of any of the following types:

  • One Round Match
  • Three Round Match
  • Five Round Match

A round is typically three minutes in duration, but can be shorter in some circumstances or for some age groups. Contestants may not spar before a round has begun, and must immediately stop sparring when the remaining time in the round has expired.

A One Round Match is often used in tournaments and for simple sparring practice.  The individual who is judged to have won this single round will win the match.

If a match is a Three Round Match then the first contestant to win two rounds wins the match. If the match is a Five Round Match then the first contestant to win three rounds wins the match.

At the conclusion of a match the referee will clearly indicate the winner of the match, and if appropriate, ensure that the results of the match are properly recorded. The referee will also ensure any colors or other contestant attachments that should remain in the contest area are removed from each contestant.

Stopping a Match

The referee may stop a match for a variety of reasons, including:

  • A winner has been determined by rounds won, disqualification, or other means.
  • A temporary halt is needed to make equipment or uniform adjustments, replace failed equipment, offer additional instructions, conference with judges, offer guidance or instruction to a judge or other ring official, assist a contestant in distress, or ask for medical assistance for a contestant who is expected to be able to continue the match after treatment.
  • A contestant has been injured or has suffered a medical emergency or other condition and is unable to continue.
  • A contestant has decided to withdraw and no longer wishes to continue with the match.
  • A contestant wishes to continue but the referee believes the contestant is no longer able to offer a proper defense and or is at risk of potentially significant harm.
  • An unanticipated event such as fire, flood, earthquake, or other emergency situation has occurred.
  • The safety of either contestant is at risk for any other reason.

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