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4070 Flynn Street
Berea, OH 44017
United States
440-826-1627 *******
I often get asked by other people who study martial arts if my school, style, etc. spars full contact. When I tell them "no" they often get concerned telling me that full contact sparring is the only way to make sure our techniques "work". They then ask me what kind of sparing we do engage in and I tell them we don't spar at all... and suddenly in their eyes I have become the biggest fraud on the planet, a disgusting creature so low I should be so ashamed of myself that if I had any integrity at all I should give my black belts back, return every dime I've ever made from teaching martial arts, advise my students to burn any belts and certificates I've given them, issue a public apology, and walk away from the martial arts world in disgrace. It's a good thing I didn't tell them that I'm also not a Bruce Lee fan or they'd probably shoot me on the spot.
First of all I find it funny that some people think you need to get all padded up and spar in order to see if techniques "work". If you want to know what "works" then study sports medicine, that will tell you more about what "works" (damages the human body) then sparing ever will.
The art that I practice and teach is called "Choy Li Ho Kenpo" and while we do engage in controlled supervised drills that mimick the randomness of sparring, we don't put on pads and spar, ever, and there is a very good reason that we don't. However, for the sake of argument let's look at what you would have to do if you did decide to spar as part of your training.
When you decide that you're going to spar the first thing that you need are rules so no one will get hurt. So you decide that attacking certain areas is forbidden; namely the eyes, ears, throat, neck, groin, kidneys, fingers, top of the foot, and front of the knee. You might even go as far as to decide that only certain areas of the body are fair game, such as only allowing strikes to the front of the torso, the head, and the side of the legs.
After that you decide to exclude certain techniques for safety purposes, so you decide not to allow biting, clawing, gouging, and maybe even punching to the head. Some systems exclude roundhouse kicking with the ball of the foot in favor of the much safer roundhouse kicking with the instep. Depending on the type of martial art and whether you have decent mats you probably disallow joint locks/leverages, takedowns, throws, chokes, and grabbing each other all together. So now the only techniques you can use are punches and kicks.
The last thing you need to do is to protect yourself so you put on padding such as gloves, foot-gear, head-gear, a cup, and a mouth piece. So now you're all padded up and are throwing fairly soft punches and kicks at each other making sure to use only "safe" approved techniques and restrict your strikes to approved areas of the body. But... how is this practicing your martial art? Its not, its kickboxing.
Martial arts and kickboxing are two different things. Kickboxing is everything described above and it is a sport. Martial arts, especially those that focus on self-defense and not sporting applications, are largely made up of everything you just took out in order to spar. So if you decide to spar you're deciding to do one of two things: 1.) spar with your martial art and risk seriously injuring or killing yourself or your partner, or 2.) engage in a kickboxing session in which case you're not doing your martial art anymore.
There really isn't any reason to do kickboxing if you study the martial arts. You most likely will learn bad habits and get an unreal view of what criminal violence actually looks like. If you are assaulted by a violent criminal it won't resemble a kickboxing match; they won't tell you that they are going to assault you beforehand and let you get into a fighting stance while they do the same. You're not going to dance around on your toes with the violent criminal trading jabs. That is nonsense but that is what most martial arts schools and wrestleboxers (people who do "ultimate fighting") would have you believe.
There is little to no benefit to doing kickboxing in the martial arts and you don't really learn anything when you do. To really learn how to apply the actual techniques of martial arts you need to work with a cooperative partner and take turns slowly performing techniques while under instructor supervision. After time you will start to learn and you can go a little faster and a little harder with your partner, but it is a step-by-step process and the goal is to learn something and not to compete. All the supposed benefits of sparing can be achieved under controlled drills with your partner. What I find is that often people who do spar get so busy focused on sparing that they don't really learn to much during class.
Lastly, originally (over a hundred years ago) most martial arts used various controlled methods of "free-fighting" to help students learn but actual sparing was very very rare because people would get hurt. They realized that martial arts techniques were too dangerous to carelessly spar with. In Karate classes in Sacramento they had "kumite" which was various forms of controlled sparring-like activities, but "jiyu kumite" (free sparring like we think of it today) was very rare.
Today some people scoff at styles that don't spar and think those styles are ridiculous in their belief that their techniques are "too dangerous to spar with". However, if you were to tell them that you suddenly changed your mind and now you agree with them, and then climb into the ring with them and announce that you'd be happy to spar with your techniques so in addition to throwing punches and kicks you will be doing eye gouges, throat strikes, groin strikes, ear slaps, clawing, striking the neck and the front of the knee, joint breaking, neck breaking, and you just might throw in a bite or two... suddenly they act like you're crazy... after all if you did that someone could get hurt!