Spend enough time with different martial arts instructors and you’ll end up having some interesting conversations. One I had recently was on the topic of when a student should begin to spar. This might, at first blush, seem like a strange question (it did for me, anyway). But let’s stop to consider the rationale behind the opinions.
(Note: For simplicity we’ll focus on the two general camps that either students should spar from nearly day one, or that students should be forbidden from contact sparring until they are a little higher ranked – such as 5th kyu).
First we’ll tackle the idea that a student should start sparring almost right away. What are some of the primary benefits?
- Student gains fighting experience at an early stage.
- Many younger students don’t have the patience to wait until they’ve advanced a few belts before they try out their skills.
- Impractical habits of kihon (basics) will not become ingrained – such as throwing punches from the hip during kumite (sparring) or taking deep stances in a real fight.
So, then, what are the benefits of preventing a student from sparring too early?
- There is a truism that states “A white belt is more dangerous than a black belt”. This means that the measures of control that come from well practiced techniques do not develop until later on. This was a lesson made very clear to me.
- Proper application of technique generally only comes after much repetition. This way you wont see two white belts flailing and wailing on each other.
- There is more to the martial arts than fighting and this is a good way to weed out those who are only looking to fight and aren’t interested in “The Way”.
In the end, I think that delaying the point at which a student begins to fight is a disservice. The mechanics of fighting are physical skills and it is these mechanics that are hindered when early sparring is forbidden. Further, for those of us who train in part because we desire the skills to keep us from harm are being placed at risk because they only have a theoretical grasp of a fight with no practical experience.
Drop a comment and add to this dialogue; especially those of you who are of opposite opinion. Am I missing some key factor? Can’t see the forest for the trees?