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JKD Sparring – Part 1 (An Exercise in Self-Knowledge)

“To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person…

We learn about ourselves through our interaction with others.”

- Bruce Lee

Sparring has often been referred to as the ‘lifeblood’ of Jeet Kune Do, and is considered a essential ingredient in the overall JKD training process. An artist can learn all the aspects of painting such as the various types of brushes and paints, how use certain types of strokes, how to mix colors, painting composition, etc. but in order to assess how well they can use those skills has to paint pictures – In the same way, you can learn all the martial art techniques and actions we want to, but in order to assess how well you can use those skills you still have to put the material to the test through sparring. One may know HOW and WHEN to execute a specific action, but to actually use it effectively against a real and uncooperative opponent is a different matter. Sparring is the “acid test” for all you’ve learned during training. It shows you what is yours, what you “own”, versus what you can do when you’re doing training drills.

High-quality sparring is the best method to train and develop proficiency in Jeet Kune Do. As I described in my books and several articles, sparring can be considered a like a conversation or exchange of ideas that takes place between two people, only instead of using words you are using combative techniques and actions. And like a regular conversation, the action should flow, with changes in rhythm, pauses, level of intensity, etc. Sparring is like a game of physical “chess” - of action, counteraction, and defensive action taking place between you and your opponent. It’s a sparkling exchange of wits, requiring quick-thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

Sparring is an exercise in relationship with the opponent; relating to speed, timing, distance, actions, as well as the opponent’s mental and emotional state. Sparring is a matter of choices; choosing the right weapon to use, finding the correct distance in relation to the opponent, choosing the right moment to attack, counterattack, or defend.

Sparring is also an exercise in self-knowledge; how well we know ourselves – what we can do physically – our mental and emotional attitudes – our psychological nature (counter-fighter, crasher, etc.) – our ability to fit in. In sparring, you are brought face to face with yourself -- your strengths, your weaknesses, your fears, etc. Each sparring session offers you the opportunity to learn how far you can go, how you respond to pressure, where you need to improve, etc. And when the session is over you can evaluate your experience to see what you did right, what you did wrong, what you need to adjust or change. Ultimately, the competition is not with others, but rather with yourself.

When we engage in high-quality sparring, each experience we have can teach us something about ourselves and offer us the potential for personal growth. Whether that growth is physical, mental, emotional, or even spiritual; it doesn’t matter. Knowing that there’s much to be learned from sparring experiences, you should look forward to them.

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