There are a number of little specifics that you’ll see in different schools of martial arts, depending on how they train, how they operate and what philosophies they follow. Sparring is one of those things that different styles will approach differently. For example, one school I trained with rarely focuses on sparring and rather focuses on kumite. Alright, good for you but kumite is a structured, pre-planned sparring exercise to practice very specific techniques. Another school I trained with does SOME sparring but does so without any protection , which is concerning since they use little to no control methods to ensure their safety. Which is where today’s post comes in…
Proper equipment use and safety is integral to good martial arts training. Growing up, we used to spar at minimum, once a week and our style focuses on striking behind our intended target. This means that we strike hard with the intention of landing several inches behind the surface of what we want to strike, to avoid pulling our punches or potentially falling short of our target. We practice control, where we develop the ability to stop on a dime but there’s no denying that “in the heat of the moment,” accidents can happen and sparring partners can get struck. An obvious example of this would be last April when a very experienced black belt managed to get in under my defences and fractured my ribs.
First and foremost, the wearing of protective gloves is an important step. I’ve lots count of the number of times a training partner has struck me in the face, ribs or elsewhere and the only thing that has prevented serious injury is the fact that their fists were padded. If you look at the photo above, these are fingerless sparring gloves that I had the opportunity to purchase at Shureido in Okinawa, when I was there in 2001. Fingerless sparring gloves have become more of a norm outside of martial arts, thanks to sports such as MMA. But they have significant benefits that closed gloves won’t have.
The open-handed nature of these gloves allows me to grab and grapple with my opponent much easier than I would if my gloves were closed at the palm. Although other gloves may have more padding and be better for striking, the ability to use a better variety of techniques, such as finger jabbing, thrusting and knife hands, is integral to karate. At least in my style. For the most part, I believe that my rib fracture likely would have been avoided, had my opponent been wearing sparring gloves as opposed to being bare-knuckled.
The next important aspect is wearing a protective cup. The last dojo I trained with never bothered to include it in their training unless they actively WERE sparring. This is a mistake and it can, in fact, be a painful one if you happens to get accidentally struck by a stray technique, even while practicing outside the sparring ring. And contrary to popular opinion, this doesn’t only apply to guys; there are protective cups for women, as well as chest guards to prevent painful impacts to sensitive points on the body.
Martial arts is not a knitting circle; one needs to expect that at some point in training, they’ll be struck and potentially even suffer some injuries. It’s part of the learning process. You don’t want to get hit, go join a chess club. But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be precautions, both physical and instructional, that students should take to avoid injury. Respect and care for your fellow practitioners are important first steps. If you’re intentionally trying to “win” or injure your sparring partner, you may want to reconsider your presence in the dojo. But taking some reasonable, physical precautions can also go a long way towards preventing injuries that can debilitate you for weeks and even months. Food for thought… ☯️