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Simple Steps to Sparring Success

by Christopher Rappold


I have often said that I could learn the most advanced form of math provided I had access to a teacher who possessed the ability to meet me where my clear understanding of math comes to an end and build my knowledge from that point. In fact, I’m quite sure that most people, given a strong desire and a great teacher, would experience similar success.

If you follow this line of thinking, you know that your success as a martial arts instructor lies in your ability to break down concepts into small incremental-learning modules that build on each other.

When I was introduced to martial arts, the start of the journey was a rite of passage to see if I was tough enough to stick out the training. I learned how to spar by sparring. I remember my instructor telling us to find some boxing gloves in the closet, then grab a partner and start sparring. Simple as that. While there’s no denying that this can work, the percentage of people who are able to learn this way is small. It needlessly eliminates students who, with a more strategic approach, could grow to become great martial artists.

What is the solution? Like the previous example about learning advanced math, learning a martial art requires a teacher who can isolate one technique and one concept at a time. The teacher then must provide a sensible level of “progressive resistance” that fits the skills and abilities of the student.

Let’s use the example of learning how to defend against a side kick. If you don’t have a system in place for teaching it, this is a painful lesson for a beginner because failure to perform the defense correctly inevitably results in a kick to the ribs. To properly convey the technique to a beginner, you should start by teaching correct distance for the person executing the kick and the person defending against it. Ensure control by having the kicker execute the move with 30-percent speed and power.

In step No. 2, the student measures the distance the kicker covers when performing the technique. This demonstrates to the defender exactly how far he or she needs to move backward or to the side to stay safe. The knowledge boosts the defender’s confidence because the person now knows that as long as the correct distance is traversed, contact will be avoided. This is precisely why I always teach students that their primary defense is mastery of distance.

Step No. 3: After the distance has been gauged, the student learns to add a secondary level of defense by effecting a parry or block. This increases the likelihood that the student can execute an effective counterattack.

Once these steps can be performed comfortably, all that’s left is to add the progressive resistance. Gradually increase that resistance until the skill being practiced is world-class. There’s no magic and no mystery, just a well-defined approach to learning. Follow that approach, and step by step your students will improve their skills as your school builds a reputation for quality instruction.


To contact Chris Rappold, send an email to [email protected].


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