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JKD Sparring – Part 3 (Taking It Out Onto the Floor)

“The best way to learn how to swim is to actually get into the water and swim;

the best way to learn Jeet Kune Do is to spar.”

- Bruce Lee

Only through sparring is it possible for you to develop your full ability to work to the fullest advantage against an opponent, to learn to exhaust your strength and energy reserves with maximum economy and sense of purpose, to develop mental balance under pressure, and to “surpass” yourself.

While sparring is important, it’s also important to maintain the proper perspective and attitude towards it. When it comes to sparring, winning is not the central issue. The idea is not about who beat who or who. Some practitioners think if they kick their opponent’s ass they’ve shown how good or how tough they are. They use sparring not as a means to test themselves, but instead to prove themselves. The question is what are you trying to prove, and why? When this happens, an ego check is in order for that individual. If you completely dominate the opponent you’re sparring, that may be all fine and well, but what have you learned about yourself? How has it been a constructive experience? How have you helped your training partner grow? In sparring the focus should be on learning rather than on winning.

Let’s face it, it would be impossible to train ‘all-out’ and without any rules whatsoever (unless the only rule is that there are no rules). Sparring is, for wont of a better term, “practice fighting,” with the aim of training your skills and fitness. The idea of sparring is to approach reality as closely as possible without sustaining injuries that would inhibit or prevent us from continuing training.

You could divide sparring into three basic levels of intensity; light sparring, medium sparring, and hard sparring. Each has benefits and is of value in one’s overall training. Light sparring is sparring that is done at a controlled pace putting light power behind your strikes. When you land a blow on your opponent, they should recognize that they’ve been hit but shouldn’t feel any real pain from the blow. It should sting but not hurt. Light sparring is the best way to improve your technical skills and timing.

As you progress and become more comfortable sparring, you can move to medium sparring, in which you increase the intensity level. As with light sparring, medium sparring is still controlled. However, you start to add speed to your strikes and increase the power a bit.

As you continue to progress in your training, you can move to hard sparring. First, let’s get one thing clear. Hard sparring is not about trying to hurt your sparring partner. It does not give you the green light to go nuts and attempt to knock your training partner out. When you are hard-sparring you increase the intensity of strikes to around seventy percent of your power for most of your techniques. Certain techniques that can hurt your sparring partners like head kicks should be thrown with less force (especially if you are wearing shoes while sparring). Body kicks, leg kicks, and body punches can be thrown with more power. Spar hard, but spar inteligently.

Sparring should always be performed with the use of proper safety equipment. Keep in mind that while sometimes accidents can happen, you should strive to minimize the possibility of them. Sparring should be a time for experimentation and exploration with certain parameters, not win-at-all-costs, beat-the-opponent type of mentality. Your sparring partner is just that, your partner. Working together you will both improve and grow as martial artists. As the saying goes, “A high tide lifts all ships.”

The following are a few examples of tool variations that can be used when sparring (for a list of 20 variations you can refer to my book -- Jun Fan/Jeet Kune Do – The Textbook):

• Lead hand only

• Both hands

• Lead hand – Lead foot

• Both Hands – Both feet

• Hands vs. Feet

• Add knees and elbows

• Adding takedowns, sweeps and throws

• Adding grappling

Finally, keep in mind that although sparring is an important and essential part of your overall training, it is only one facet of it. Sparring may reveal your strengths and weaknesses, but it is very difficult to correct a weakness while sparring because you can’t stop the action. You can only correct flaws in your performance after the sparring, in self-training. So it's important to combine sparring training with performance development and performance enhancement training. As I stated in Part 2 of this series, view sparring as a wonderful opportunity to learn about yourself. Make it about learning. Make it physically and mentally gratifying. Make it challenging. And have fun with it.