Can sparring be used to accurately evaluate your combat skills in a real violent encounter?

That is the question, here are my thoughts.

There are a few things that must be understood in order to evaluate any drill or exercise. And that is exactly what sparring is! It is a form of training common to many combat sports and martial arts.

The main difference between training and an actual violent encounter is: In an encounter, someone is likely to get seriously hurt, the skills that are being developed can seriously injure an opponent. But in a gym or dojo, we have safeguards in place to prevent seriously injuring our training partners.

Sparring is no different.

  1. Contact is measured: There is usually some form of restraint against full contact blows.
  2. Safety equipment: Depending on the amount of contact permitted, the athletes/martial artists may use safety equipment in the form of a mouth guard, head gear, groin cup, gloves, shin guards etc…
  3. Athletes/martial artists conditioning: Combat sport athletes/martial artists are conditioned to withstand the amount of contact that is permissible in the event/environment they train for.
  4. Restricted targets: There is usually some form of target restriction during sparring, areas like throat, eyes, knees, groin, ears are off limits while sparring. These areas can all have potentially fight ending results if struck with significant force and are high value targets during a violent encounter.
  5. Familiar fighting style: It is more than likely that sparring whether it be in preparation for an event or as regular practice, will be against an opponent of familiar skills. This will not likely be the case in a civilian combat encounter with a violent offender.

Don’t get me wrong, sparring definitely has value outside the sporting arena. It’s just that certain realizations need to be understood.

Sparring in itself is an irreplaceable form of exercise. But sparring can’t be looked to for total validation of effectiveness. It has limitations. Just like any other exercise that make up our training repertoire.

No one exercise is the end all and be all of any system of martial arts education.

They all have a part to play!

Robert Teske

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