What are the benefits of sparring?

Sparring is an essential part of training in martial arts. It's done differently in different styles of martial arts and while the techniques can differ substantially, its basic purpose and goals are very similar. Its main purpose is to prepare you for a real fight. You should bear in mind when training that the goal of sparring is not to win, but to improve.

I find it particularly useful to spar against someone who is better than myself. Of course both partners can't be better than each other in every area so there is always some degree of compromise. Consistently sparring someone who is worse than you will hold you back as you won't be pushed to your limits. Sparring people from other martial arts schools and other styles is useful because you can compare your skills against someone who was trained independently.

What are the benefits of sparring?

I will now list some of the benefits of sparring which will hopefully highlight why sparring is so important. There are of course more, but I single out these as the most significant.

  1. Increased spatial awareness. When sparring you will fixate on a point on your opponent, e.g. their eyes or chest. You will also need to be aware of your sparring area and not stray out of it or run into fellow students. Sparring teaches you to be aware of your surroundings. You will find that your ability to judge your distance from your opponent will improve with practise.
  2. Improved timing. You will be able to time your moves better. Both you and your opponent are moving targets and as we all know, hitting a moving target is much more difficult than hitting a static one. You will also find that your reaction time will begin to improve.
  3. Improved fitness. Participating in any sport will help you improve your fitness over time. Regular sparring builds stamina which essentially means that you won't get tired as quickly. You will find that your cardiovascular health is better. You will notice, particularly when you kick, that your balance will be much better. Often forgotten is your mental fitness which will improve as you build confidence.
  4. Good practice for a real fight. Sparring is the closest you can get to a real fight. Regular sparring is a good indication of your performance in a real fight and only from that performance will you learn how to fight better.

Is a punch bag a good substitute for a sparring partner?

Certainly not. Punch bags are good for learning, practising and improving your techniques, but the problem is that punch bags don't move and don't fight back. Sparring is all about blocking and counter striking as that is what a real fight would consist of.

How hard should you spar?

How hard you should spar depends on what you're trying to achieve. Most martial arts schools spar a bit harder than light sparring. Hitting your opponent hard really doesn't achieve that much apart from unnecessary pain. On the other hand a real life fight would be hard. Be aware of the dangers of sparring.

What sparring equipment do I need?

It depends on whether the sparring is light or full contact. You can get away with no protective equipment, but I would recommend sparring gloves at the very least. At the other end of the spectrum you have head guards, gum shields, body padding, shin guards, foot guards, etc.

My martial arts school never spars. Is this a problem?

Yes. A big problem. By not sparring you're not preparing yourself for a real fight. I would watch out for martial arts schools that never spar as quite frankly they're a waste of money. Any experienced martial artist would recognise that sparring is essential. I would be suspicious if your instructor is not letting you do it.

They may not allow sparring because they can get away with doing easier activities. They could even be afraid of the consequences of injury. Who knows. But do yourself a favour. Next time you're there, ask the instructor why they never spar. If you're bombarded with pathetic excuses then perhaps you should look for a better martial arts school. There is no excuse for a lack of regular sparring.

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