A couple months back, I discussed all the benefits of forms. This month, I’m going to expand my discussion of martial arts benefits and reveal the benefits of sparring. You see, sparring boasts tons of benefits and adds depth to your martial arts training. And like forms, sparring is a required, tested element on the path to becoming a black belt. In many ways, sparring is the centerpiece of our martial arts programs. Keep reading to discover all the benefits sparring offers!
Benefit #1: Helps Overcome Fears and Develops Your Instincts
From a self-defense standpoint, your goal in the martial arts is to be able to defend yourself in any situation. Sparring helps that goal because it brings the realism of a real-world confrontation into a safe, controlled environment. With sparring, you can make mistakes safely and learn what works (and what doesn’t) in a fluid, changing situation. In that way, sparring prepares you for a real-life self-defense situation, teaches you how to protect yourself and helps prevent injury. Physically, sparring refines your "instinctive responses". This enables you to throw kicks, punches and combinations reflexively…without conscious thought. Sparring helps "program" your muscle memory and that pays dividends in a real self-defense situation. But sparring also prepares you mentally. How? Because sparring training takes the edge off your fears. It teaches you to calm your mind in a threatening situation, tame your adrenaline rush and stay relaxed (and confident) in a confrontation. The result? You’re able to shrug off fear, keep your cool and stay composed when a bully tries to attack you. Nothing does a better job than sparring at creating confidence and peace of mind. You’ll know how to handle any situation that comes your way. Here’s the next big way sparring helps you:
Benefit #2: Enhances Your Footwork
Punching comes naturally to most people. But not kicking – that takes time for most people to develop. However, kicking can be far more effective than punches. Why? Because kicks pack more power and extend your "reach". Think about it: Your legs are your longest and strongest weapons. One of our goals in Taekwondo is for you to use your feet as well as your hands. Remember: Taekwondo literally means "way of the fist and foot". Proper sparring brings your footwork up to par with your punches. One of the ways sparring helps do this is through the balance required to throw various kicks in a dynamic sparring situation. Sparring requires you to shift your weight and center of gravity from leg to leg and throw combinations from new and unusual angles. This gives you better footwork and makes throwing kicks (and combinations) just as effective as your punches…and sometimes even more so!
Benefit #3: Coordination and Timing
Want to sharpen your timing? How about your coordination? Then sparring is the answer! When you spar, you increase your overall coordination because you’re constantly in motion and targeting a live, moving opponent. It takes lightning-fast reflexes and excellent coordination to score points. You also have to think "defense" as well as "offense". This builds your coordination, too. Likewise, sparring improves your timing because to score, you need to time your strikes and kicks effectively. Believe me; this is more difficult than you might think! Most students who are new to sparring are amazed at how quickly their timing improves. Benefit #4: Boosts Your Speed and Focus Sparring also develops your speed and explosiveness. How? Because to score, you have to be faster than your opponent. Sparring trains you to anticipate your opponent’s moves and forces you to respond in milliseconds! It’s for this reason many martial arts students say sparring training helps them in other sports, too! Their reflexes on the court, on the field and in the gym are heightened because sparring enhances their speed so much. Sparring also sharpens your focus and concentration. If you lose focus for just a second, your partner scores. Sparring requires you to funnel your focus and maintain your concentration to win the point...and not be scored upon yourself! Yes, sparring delivers the twin benefits of speed and focus to you.
Benefit #5: Teaches Targeting
Here’s another big benefit of sparring: it boosts your accuracy. To earn points, you have to pinpoint your target and score a clean punch or kick. Sparring is no place for sloppiness. Watch black belts spar and you’ll see how controlled and accurate they are. They hone in on their opponent and pick their targets carefully. This creates "kinetic efficiency" in your strikes and kicks. Why waste time and energy throwing four or five kicks when one carefully-placed side-kick does the job? Effective targeting is one of the hallmarks of a great martial artist and sparring helps you improve your accuracy.
Benefit #6: Teaches Respect
Another often-overlooked aspect of sparring is that it teaches you respect. You always want to treat your training partner with the same respect you demand for yourself. Sparring provides an opportunity to do just that. First, when you "bow in" before and after a round, you’re showing your opponent respect. Second, when you spar with self-control and restraint, you’re also showing respect for your training partner. Finally, when you say, "thank you, sir" or "thank you ma'am" when your partner scores on you during practice lessons, it demonstrates respect for their skills and abilities.
Benefit #7: It’s Just Plain Fun!
Let’s cap things off with one of the greatest things about sparring: it’s a ton of FUN! There’s nothing like donning your sparring gear and mixing it up with an opponent. Sparring provides a great workout (it’s intense!) and at the same time develops all the skills I just talked about. Also, sparring opens up a brand new world to you: tournaments! Participating in tournaments gives you a chance to get ranked, go for state champ and make a name for yourself in the martial arts world! There’s nothing like finishing a tough match at a tournament, having the judge raise YOUR hand and shouting, "First place!" as the crowd cheers! Sparring lets you wow a crowd, showcase your sparring skills and prove how you stack up against others.
-- Mr. Tony Page