This past weekend I attended an event with beginner martial artists. The morning session was on German long sword combat and one of the students asked, “How hard do we hit when we spar?” To be fair, they were given firm, foam fencing swords not live steel, but the question was a necessary one. Our instructor Eddy Louis, laid it out beautifully.
He said: “we are all friends here, don’t hurt your friends. Show them honor and they will honor you. Respect each other and we will all be safe.” No matter how much physical training was taught, that was the most important lesson of the event.
How hard you hit in any type of training is important. Sparring is a time for you to take your training and put it into practical application. I’d like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned throughout my time in martial arts that echo Eddy’s message.
Mitt Work vs Heavy Bags: The saying goes, “Heavy Bags for Heavy Punches.” When training mitt work with a partner, your goal is not to punch or kick their arms off, it is to master footwork, timing, and accuracy. Trust me, even keeping your power down, you can and do get a killer workout in!
Holding Shields: This one goes along the same lines as mitt work. The goal is to practice technique, not to hurt the person holding the shield. However, with a shield, your partner is much more protected and thus can absorb a harder hit. It takes time to trust each other and good communication so that both parties, holder and kicker, can get in the best workouts.
Sparring Hand to Hand: Simply put: don’t punch someone harder than you want to be punched. If you throw a head kick at full speed, your partner is not going to want to spar with you any more. You risk injuring them and its no longer fun for both of you. Control is the most important factor. Again, talk with your partner and learn from each other. Don’t start swinging blind or wild, but use this as a time to practice techniques you’ve learned before.
Sparing with Weapons: Same rules as hand to hand, but now being even more cautious because you are holding something in your hand much more harmful than your bare skin and bones would be. Wear personal protective equipment and respect each other.Same rules as hand to hand, but now being even more cautious because you are holding something in your hand much more harmful than your bare skin and bones would be. Wear personal protective equipment and respect each other.
Grappling/BJJ: In my time grappling and studying BJJ, I’ve felt quite sore after each workout, but never felt in danger for my own well being. The people I train with do not apply locks and chokes in an attempt to hurt you. Once a moved is locked in they put slow pressure on until submitted. My advice, tap out before you pass out. There is no honor in passing out or injuring yourself during training. Tap and start again. Learn from your mistakes and grow. And again, ask the person your rolling with how they did that or even more if there was a way you could have reversed it.
So at the end of the day, hopefully you have found yourself training partners that understand the basic principles of respect and honor; partners that want to help you grow not tear you down. Stay humble and hungry everyone.
Respectfully submitted, Big Cat