What’s the Purpose of Free Sparring?

Boy in sparing gear ready to spar

Sparring in Taekwondo

Some students love sparring and some don’t.  Regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on, sparring in martial arts serves an important purpose.

Before we get to what that is, it is important to know what we practice in the classroom so that you can have a better perspective into this subject matter.  In class, we learn many things.  Here are the core of what we learn:

  • Tenets of Tae Kwon Do:  courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, and victory
  • Martial arts knowledge as it pertains to our style of the art
  • Breaking techniques:  a board breaking part of the curriculum to practice accuracy, balance, power, and speed using specified techniques
  • Step sparring:  a prearranged set of attack and defensive techniques which allows the student to discover and learn timing, distance, and technique execution in a safe way
  • Forms or Poomsae:  a set of combinations placed in a sequence creating a routine pattern; it promotes balance, power, combination technique execution accuracy, as well as a means to perpetuate technique knowledge commensurate with the students’ skill level
  • Self-Defense (for teens and adults):  students learn how to defend against certain types of common attacks
  • Free Sparring:  following a set of rules, students are allowed to free spar; students wear protective gear and are generally allowed to only hit a certain part of their protective torso, and occasionally for mature black belts, contact to certain parts of the head; in most cases, the former is where contact is allowed for safety reason.

Free sparring is the most unique in all of the physical activities above.  What makes it unique is unpredictability.  Compare that to breaking techniques, step sparring, forms, and self-defense.  In all of these activities, except free sparring, the situation is predetermined–no surprise.

Free sparring provides an ever changing situation, that is, your opponent is moving constantly whereas in other activities, the situation is pretty much static.  This isn’t to say that the other things don’t serve a purpose–the all do.  All aspects of our training provide a purpose.  However, this article is here to identify to the reader why sparring is important.

It is in free sparring that the student is able to put into practice everything they have learned in a more chaotic situation.  This is where the repetitive nature of practice comes into play.  The repetitive practice is what is infused into the students’ instincts.  In free sparring, things happen fast.  There is no time to think.  It is the students’ instincts that take over.  You see, when a student starts to think about what they are going to do in sparring, their reaction time slows down.  It is the instinctive student who has properly learned techniques who will triumph in a free sparring match.  It is the instinct that will help the student defend themselves should the need arise.

So you see, free sparring helps the students hone their defensive instincts.

If you have any thoughts about sparring and the ideas presented above, please feel free to share by commenting below.


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