One question sets me off.
The question usually comes up in social situations when someone finds out I teach martial arts.
It comes from guys who sit in bars, drink beer, and watch Conner McGregor while secretly thinking they can beat him.
They also like pro wrestling.
“Do you spar?”
I answer: “Do you?”
“No; but I want to. I’m looking for a new gym”.
- That’s the funny thing about these guys - they are always looking for a NEW gym. Ask them what’s wrong with the old one and they all say the same thing…:
“Because WE didn’t spar enough.”
I say: “What is your favorite technique?”
Answer: “Uhh … err, I’m not sure. When I spar we get broken noses. Do you guys get broken noses?”.
… Welcome to my private hell.
Some days I wished I sold vacuums.
The guys that ask this question are living in a dream.
I’m not saying that injuries don’t happen. But injury is always accidental and rare.
These guys remember a brief time years ago when they trained somewhere. Over time the memory becomes like a snowball rolling down a hill. It picks up more and more detail. They start to remember details that NEVER actually happened.
That’s why they need a NEW gym. No gym is ever good enough for the their fantasy.
But at least I’ve learned to handle the awkwardness. When the question comes I deftly switch subjects.
“So what do you think of Hulk Hogan coming back for a 9th world title?”
...Works every time.
Here's the practical answer to the sparring question.
Yes. You need to spar. It’s essential.
But it’s important to know what sparring is.
Sparring: Any type of training done with a partner where both of your goals are OPPOSING each other in the short term. This includes free rolling, sticky hands, randori, and levels of contact that range from point sparring to heavy contact with special equipment.
Sparring is not the same thing as fighting. Fighting involves personalities and egos.
Sparring is about working against your partner to make you both better long term.
But here’s the important thing.
Sparring is NOT something a dojo does or doesn’t do.
It’s something YOU do.
Sparring is about creating relationships. These relationships are earned. It's the people you create relationships with that will trust you enough to let you choke them out or try and punch them in the face.
Relationships are earned on the mats. Sometimes while training on the them. Sometimes while sweeping them.
Sparring is like staying late to help clean. "We" don't do it. Only a handful of dedicated students do. But it's also usually those people who end up doing most of the sparring.
As a teacher I can I can make sure the mindset is right in the dojo. But I can’t create relationships of respect for you.
You must create them for yourself.
Over time; after you’ve earned the respect of some of the other students, you say: “Hey; do you want to stay after class on Wednesday and spar?”
You stay. They stay. You spar.
Who knows. Maybe these little regular interactions could bloom into a class?
Maybe one night I’ll stay and watch.
Maybe even help.