Beginning Sparring Part One: Problems Encountered
Objectives: I've seen most schools throw their students in the deep end. Sparring skills should be built up in a progressive manner, similar to other skills acquisition they are doing. Pressure testing should come much later. First off is to define what the students are doing and what they should be looking out for. I tell my students they should be focusing on a) recognising strikes and techniques used by their opponents, b) gauge distances, and c) test simple techniques - reaching out to opponents lightly.
Pyung Ahn Cho Dan is a post I did on TMAC forum and is a dialog I have with Mireille Clark, my Shotokan BB friend from Canada. While it is not directly related to sparring objectives, I've included it here because it is a good benchmark relating to how many instructors view the exercise of sparring. Instructors don't place a lot of emphasis on sparring because it really is just part of the entire training program that a practitioner has to undergo - sparring is not the be all and end all of training.
Is the objective of sparring total annihilation? No. Even when I grill my students during sparring training, they get to walk out on their own two feet at the end of class!
The point of sparring is not to injure your opponent, but no one said anything about not hurting the person in front of you.
Sparring allows you to string your techniques together. Beginners should work on movement, cover, and awareness. Don't worry about landing the technique. Just look at what the other person is doing. Cover, block and get out of there. It's intimidating enough facing someone intent on striking you. If you do more than a few things, you'll be totally confused. Not to mention out of breath! Once you figure out how to move and how not to get totally winded, then use only one or two of the most basic techniques to start gauging distances and timing. I would suggest hand strikes first - once you nail the strike you'll find it much easier to calibrate all other techniques. If you use your kicks exclusively to maintain distance you'll find you'll not gain effectiveness in other techniques.
Back to sparring objectives, stringing the techniques together, and learning how to apply them to a person that is intent on striking you is really quite difficult, and is a journey in itself. Once you gain some effectiveness however, sparring can be a real buzz. You'll find yourself gaining better combinations, and learning what you like to use against an opponent. This is when you should start to reflect on your overall training. Check out the following post. It helps you analyze your own ability and how you should modify your approach to sparring. TDA Blog: Handicap Sparring.
At this point, my opinion is that you should balance out your growing sparring skills with continuing studies of traditional martial arts training. Why? There are lots and lots of really good training methods or training objectives with TMA that can benefit the practitioner growing in the arts. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying traditional taekwondo or karate training is the be all and end all. There are modern training aspects all serious students should look into as well. But by and large, no one should get blinkers from a predominantly sparring-oriented training hall.
Keep an open mind folks! And go light. Lightness doesn't mean sloppy technique. It just means pull back on the commitment.