Thursday, 14 June 2012

Self Defense - An Introduction to Sparring

his is just my opinion – to understand and appreciate real self defense, one has to learn to experience the flow and unpredictability of a self defense situation.

My students do this by practising sparring and randori…and also sparring and randori combined.

Sparring is a huge topic, one that covers everything from solo shadow sparring (where you pretend to defend and attack an imaginary opponent) to actual practise fighting with several armed or unarmed opponents.


Some sparring involves no contact to the body whatsoever; other types of sparring may include hard contact against an opponent wearing protective gear.

The main benefit of any type of sparring is that it takes you beyond the step by step world of basic self defense and helps you adapt those skills to the give and take conditions of real self defense.

But you first have to be comfortable with the idea…or you won’t learn. And you have to feel safe…or you’ll get hurt and back away. Real skill is developed in small steps; real confidence is acquired slowly. First create a strong foundation. Then you have something substantial to build on.

Here are some ideas if you’re first starting out with sparring, especially if you’re not involved in regular martial arts classes but want to learn how to defend yourself.


1.  Start on your own. Stand in front of a mirror. Relax. That’s important. The best martial artists are relaxed when they spar. Breathe in through your nose slowly and out through your mouth very slowly. Doing this helps you to relax and gives you increased energy.

2.  Hold your hands up in front of you. Lower you head slowly and raise your head slowly a few times. Please keep your knees bent. Stiff, straight knees reduce fluidity and provide little of no power behind your strikes.


3.  Next, move your head down and up to the right side then down and up to the left side. It’s as though you were bobbing your head from side to side under a rope tied at head height from one side of the room to the other. (This is actually a boxing exercise).

4.  Now as you move from side to side, begin to strike out in front of you using some of the techniques that I’ve described in past posts – palm heel strikes, claw, elbows and back fists. Start off very slowly…and imagine hitting targets on an attacker’s body in front of you.

Please remember to bend your knees and twist your hips into the attacks.

5.  Of course the imaginary attacker can fight back as well. So as you strike, hold your arms out with your elbows positioned at a perpendicular angle to the floor. Very slightly push an imaginary punch to your head out of the way with one arm while shifting slightly away from the attacker’s punch.

This is your first attempt at “blocking”. Please do not block by throwing your arm out wildly from the shoulder against an imaginary punch. Relax. Rely on a small, minimal and controlled movement from the elbow out.

6.  Practise blocking and attacking, attacking and blocking as you face the mirror. My advice is not to go too fast; baby steps first, slow and sure.

That’s it. How long should such a session last? 5 – 10 minutes. Just become used to moving…and watching yourself in the mirror.

Please don’t worry about speed and power. Post by post we’ll build up your skills so that you can eventually practise spar – with or without weapons – against a group of your friends…in any type of terrain and environment!

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