Sparring, in particular continuous free sparring, is often times an uncomfortable, intimidating endeavor. Martial arts, in their purest form, are systems of self-defense or combat. Martial arts are fighting arts and it is important to keep that as the backbone of your training.
With the proper mindset and approach to sparring, you will understand its benefits and welcome it as an important part of your training. Below are some of the key components that will help you develop the sparring mindset.
Know the Importance of Mutual Respect
Continuous free sparring, regardless of the level contact, is based on mutual respect. You and your opponent have to understand that the number one priority is to make sure neither of you get hurt. On the flip of side of the coin, each of you have an obligation to push the limits and better one another.
Understand the Necessity of Sparring
Without sparring, you will not have confidence in your mindset and physical ability. The ability to engage in physical, uncomfortable situations is a skill that will serve you in almost every aspect of life. Sparring is about dealing adversity and developing the mindset to overcome the most uncomfortable of endeavors.
Blocking is Redirecting
The vast majority of “bumps and bruises” I see from sparring are a result of improper blocking. Practitioners have a tendency to “post” blocks and soak up 100% of the impact. Blocking is not using your forearms as a shield and covering them from end-to-end with bruises. Rather, think of blocking as “redirecting” technique as opposed to stopping it. Parrying, the redirection of a technique, is an effective way to defend against a powerful strike with a minimal amount of force.
Willingness to Close
You have to have the mindset and willingness to close on your opponent. Simply put, if you are not on the offense you are on the defense dealing with incoming technique. It is common to be overcome with the anxiety of getting hit to the point of not being able to go on the offense. Learn to mitigate the risk through the use of tactics, combinations, counter-attacks, traps, and pure speed and aggression.
Do not get into the habit of developing a rigid style of sparring. The way in which you spar will be dictated by the dynamics of the situation. Analyze your opponent’s stance, defense, and offense. Adapt your actions in real-time to best deal with the immediate situation.
Accept & Manage Contact
Contact is a reality of sparring. Learn to accept and manage it. Almost without exception, when I observe people getting overwhelmed with what they perceive as contact it is more mental than physical. If you get hit, don’t neglect what you’re doing – keep sparring. Learn to “compartmentalize” the discomfort. Put a lid on it, push it aside and deal with it when the sparring is over. As soon as you start thinking about what happened in the past and lose focus on the sparring, you will become overwhelmed and things will spiral out of control to the point where you have to stop. If this happens, regroup and resume sparring. In time, contact will become a non-issue and you will learn to mitigate it.
Physical Conditioning is Key
If you’re serious about self-defense, sparring and prevailing in difficult, stressful situations you need to be in great shape. Core conditioning is crucial to delivering powerful techniques as well as absorbing them. Physical conditioning will give you the confidence, power and endurance needed to engage your opponent.
Physically speaking, the human body is an awesome machine capable of withstanding much more than most will ever face in a physical confrontation. The mind, however, is often times the limiting factor. With proper training and the willingness to step outside of our comfort zone, our minds can be conditioned to allow our bodies to reach their full potential.