The first requirement of full contact sparring is that you must wear full sparring gear, as described in earlier curriculum discussions, at all times. There can be no exceptions. We understand that sparring gear can be hot, heavy, cumbersome, dank, and that it may restrict your vision. We also understand that those without sparring gear run an increased risk of permanent injury. Make us happy; wear the gear.
We cannot stress these safety equipment requirements enough. While safety equipment will not protect you from all possible forms of injury, it will at least lessen the severity of these injuries in most cases. While you may think that an opponent’s gloves will offer sufficient protection if you are struck to the face, his or her gloves will do little to protect you from being struck in your orbital socket with the ball of the his or her foot. A Yoko Geri delivered to your sternum may well leave you with a lifetime of recurring bouts of pain. In extreme cases (which can occur) a Yoko Kekomi Geri might break a rib and puncture a lung. These injuries could be reduced substantial through the prudent use of protective gear.
It is your sparring instructor’s goal to help ensure you are not injured. Help him or her out by being responsible. Wear your safety equipment as it was meant to be worn and wear it every time you will spar, even in impromptu sparring contests that you think will last only a few seconds. These are contests that are quite prone to injury development.
Full Contact Requirements
To achieve your next belt you must demonstrate a reasonable set of sparring skills. You must be proficient at both offensive and defensive skills while sparring. Your test will provide ample opportunity for you to demonstrate a broad range of skills and abilities.
During your ranking examination you will be asked to spar with another experienced instructor or student. If you have been practicing non-contact sparring then you should make this clear to both the person who will function as referee and to your training partner. It is critical that both persons are operating under the same set of assumptions.
During your ranking examination we will want to see the following skills and abilities demonstrated:
- Maintenance of an effective guard throughout the evaluation
- Adequate overall conditioning to last through the evaluation
- Utilization of a good variety of kicks and hand strikes while not overly reliant on a very limited set of skills.
- Utilization of sound defensive strategies and tactics when required.
- Utilization of sound offensive strategies and tactics as opportunities become available.
- An awareness of your surroundings so you do not allow yourself to repeatedly become trapped in corners or pressed into unfavorable situations.
- You remain aware of essential conceptual elements such as centering, weightlessness, and fundamental movement patterns.
- You do not habitually demonstrate poor positioning or posturing behaviors such as turning your back on your partner, cowering or covering excessively, attempting to maintain a consistently large distance between yourself and your partner, or seeking cover behind training equipment or examination observers.
- An ability to utilize countering effectively.
The person with whom you will spar is likely to have a different level of abilities than yourself. That should not be a source of concern. The person with whom you spar will not be interested in “winning”, or dominating you, or causing you any form of injury. They are there to provide a forum in which you can demonstrate your skills and abilities.
This does not mean they will be purely defensive. We want to see the effectiveness of your defensive skills as well as your offensive skills, so you will given opportunities to demonstrate both. The sparring you do in a ranking examination is a skills demonstration and not a contest for dominance. You are not expected nor required to “win.” Failure to appreciate the difference could result in failing this portion of your ranking examination.
When sparring with a partner it is important to maintain proper perspective. It is not uncommon to see two sparring partners engaged in a friendly match who suddenly become agitated, angry, and belligerent toward one another. What had been a friendly contest becomes an earnest quest for domination and opportunities to inflict pain and injury. This is when your instructor will step in and call a halt to the contest. If an instructor is not present, then you must notice what is happening and end the match yourself (and no, not by knocking the other person senseless).
When two people spar it is not unusual for one person to strike the other person in a location that might be considered a cheap shot. It is also not unusual for one person to strike the other person harder than was intended or expected. These things are endemic to sparring. Usually one person is not intent on harming the other. Yet an overly powerful strike that lands on your arm or face might make you feel disrespected. This could give rise to anger, which will result in the type of behavior we described earlier. If you are struck with what you believe to be unnecessary force then you should simply ignore it. You should assume it was unintentional and let it pass.
If, however, you feel this type of striking is all too common from your training partner then you should inquire as to his or her intent. This behavior can be common in people with limited sparring experience. You might suggest that your partner ease up a bit and practice skills rather than intensity of striking. If you feel your admonishments are being ignored then spar with someone else. This will avoid your temptation to demonstrate to your opponent that he or she yet has much to learn.
None of the above applies if you are in a contest rather than a training situation. If you are in a tournament or similar sparring match then you will want to, within the rules of the tournament, be as subtle, cleaver, devious, intense, and dominant as possible. The goal in this situation is not to learn, but to prevail. Most of the sparring you do will not be of this type. Usually you are working with your partner on timing, distancing, skills, strategy, and movement. This requires that you challenge your training partners, but not attempt to destroy them. The goal is usually to provide an environment in which your opponent can learn or practice relevant skills. It is incumbent upon both parties to ensure a safe and equitable environment in which both individuals have an opportunity to practice sparring essentials.
As you begin full contact sparring there are several things you may wish to consider. Here is an initial list of things you may want to keep in mind.
- Full contact sparring gear is heavier than Kumite safety equipment. As a result you will tire and build up additional heat more quickly. You will want to focus on staying more relaxed and avoid expending unnecessary energies. We understand that this may be difficult at first, but you will want to be as relaxed as possible while sparring.
- Keep a sound guard that can readily protect your head, thorax, vital organs, and key muscle groups.
- Expect the unexpected. You will be dealing with training partners who are attempting to outwit you. They will try any number of things to accomplish this goal. You can expect to see unusual situations develop right before your eyes, and right before you are struck. Pay attention to these unexpected situations so you can better learn to anticipate them in the future.
- Sparring is primarily about learning. Every failure is an opportunity to learn. Carefully study situations and events to understand how they have developed and how you can identify and utilize them to your benefit in the future. This is the primary mechanism through which your sparring skills improve. Appreciating that from the beginning will help you achieve improved abilities much earlier.
- Work to be unpredictable.
- Eliminate any bad habits as soon as possible. If an instructor or training partner points out that you exhibit a repetitive behavior, have developed a bad habit (e.g. lowering your guard while striking or sticking out your tongue), or fail to notice an advantageous condition then immediately set to work to overcome these tendencies.
- Sparring gear can be easily dislodged during contact. For example it is common for headgear to twist about the head, obscuring some or all of your vision. You will naturally want to fix any sparring gear problems quickly, but don’t attempt to fix these issues while you stand toe-to-toe with a training partner. They may not notice your issue and could see your attempt to fix your gear as an opportunity. Push away and fix your gear when you have created some distance. In most cases your training partner will allow you to reposition or fix your equipment before continuing. You should extend the same courtesy.
- Stamina is a major underlying element in sparring. It is a demanding and draining activity that requires substantial conditioning. Keep in mind that on your ranking examination your sparring demonstration will happen near the end of all other skill demonstrations (i.e. after kicks, Kata, and other strenuous activities). You will need to be accustomed to this level of activity.
- Keep yourself hydrated when sparring. You will generate copious amounts of heat and perspiration while sparring. Replace those fluids frequently so you do not suffer from severe dehydration.
- Try new skills and strategies often. Some will work and some may fail. Skills that work may still benefit from some refinement. Those that fail may work with a bit more experimentation. Those that seldom or never work should be carefully reconsidered. They may work if you think about their use differently, or they may prove completely ineffective while sparring. But you will never know any of this if you do not experiment with new strategies and abilities.
- While sparring remain aware of your surroundings and avoid intruding into another student’s lesson, running into walls or glass surfaces, colliding with equipment, or running over others practicing or milling about the Dojo.
- Clearly enunciate “Stop!” or “Yame!” or tap out when conditions require that sparring activities cease.