I’ve been training in Martial Arts for over 13 years, since I was a teenager. And Throughout my years of training and exposure to martial arts the majority of people that I have come across in the martial arts speak of how having an open mind when it comes to their chosen arts is important. How we should be able to see the positives and negatives of the techniques that we use, the training used and practicality of the techniques. Many of these people are very good martial artists who look at their specific arts, look at the weaknesses and try to find someway of fixing that weakness by bringing in sections from other arts to complete them. A lot of good martial artists have this mentality when it comes to the techniques, but are rigid and unbend-able in certain beliefs when it comes to training. And this has been very evident when I discuss how I train in my Martial Art with other students from different disciplines, whether in person or on forums The martial art I’ve trained in and teach has some differing ideas on how to prepare a student for self defense. We do not perform sparring as most martial arts recognize it. We have a series of drills, with one person attacking, the other defending which allow the student to practice their defensive and counter attacking techniques. There are many reasons why in Choi Kwang-Do we don’t perform free sparring, but most martial artists you speak to seem to think that free sparring is the only way to learn to defend yourself.
The founder of Choi Kwang-Do, Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi, was an ITF TKD master who left the ITF and formed his own, unique art almost 19 years ago. One of the things that he did with his new art was to eliminate competition sparring and free sparring from the syllabus. His reasoning for this was that although free sparring had benefits, there was a more beneficial way to train for self defense. His first reasoning was that with semi contact or light free sparring, the person attacking is repeatedly training their body to pull their punches. This performed over a long period of time can condition the body to pull a technique when in a fighting situation, and that is the last thing you want to be doing when in a self defense situation. You need to be able to hit and counter attack with power in this kind of situation. Also by pulling a technique, the possibility is there that you can cause damage to the joints and ligaments of the limb by accelerating it out fast and then using opposing force to pull the technique. This can put a lot of pressure on the joints and ligaments and if performed repeatedly over a long time, can possible lead to injury.
Full contact free sparring on the other hand isn’t going to condition you to pull your techniques. But this is not seen in CKD as the best way to practice for self defense. While full contact sparring is seen as a necessity by some as it allows a person to get a feel for taking a punch or kick, it’s easy to see that it is far more likely for a student to get injured sparring this way, even when using heavy protective gear.
If you look at free sparring and self defense psychologically, you will also see that the thought processes involved are different. Self defense should be about trying to defuse a situation from escalating, or if attacked by surprise, defend and counter attack with speed and getting out of there as soon as possible. There is an element of surprise in this and the defender is likely to be unprepared. With free sparring you have a good idea of who your partner is, maybe even had a chance to check out their strengths and weaknesses. You are prepared for that person to come in and attack you, or you’re looking to come in to attack them. I’ve also seen that when students start free sparring, they stop looking for ways out. They don’t look at how to get away from the opponent, they simply test each other back and forth looking for openings. This is fine if the attackers are the same size, but do you really want to train your smaller students to try this mentality against someone a lot bigger than them? Staying toe to toe for a long time isn’t an option in my opinion when the person is a lot bigger than you.
Also, psychologically, your attacker in a self defense situation is unlikely to expect you to counter attack them. A lot of the people I have seen get into fights tend to pick on the people that they see as weak and easy pickings. So for you to be able to block and counter the attacker with a good strike or kick can have a strong psychological effect, giving you more time to get away. When you are sparring you don’t get this effect as the ego kicks in and your both fighting to win, knowing its about to occur.
As I said, sparring isn’t without its benefits. You get to work on foot movement. It can sharpen your reflexes. It’s also very good for finding openings and looking to counter strike. But all of those can also be developed in other ways using different drills, as Choi Kwang-Do uses. Instead of free sparring we have one person in the role of attacker, one in the role of defender. To begin with we have the attacker constantly attacking with different punches, kicks and strikes while the defender blocks. This gets the defender practicing defending against a large range of technique and working on their footwork and angling. Then the drills have the attacker throw a technique and the defender blocking and coming straight in with the counter attack, bringing in the element of surprise and getting 2-3 hits before the attacker has had a chance to react giving the defender enough time to get away.
Another trend I’ve noticed over the years is a growing number of people who think that a Martial Art needs a hell of a lot of groundwork to make it effective. Common things I keep hearing is 80-90% of all fights go to the ground. Firstly, of all of the situations I’ve had where I’ve had to fight, none of them have gone to the ground. And a lot of the fights I’ve seen in town on a night out I would say about 50% of them have gone to ground as someone as been pushed or knocked over. Now that is just my experience, but it does seem to go against what a lot of other
Martial Artists are saying.
Personally, I do believe that EVERY martial artist needs to learn a little groundwork. They need to be prepared for the situation where someone has managed to knock you down, or you have gone down due to environmental factors and your opponent has used that to their advantage. I feel that knowing 3-4 simple ways of getting a person (from different positions) off of you is of great benefit. Take the most common ways that someone attacking you would get on top and try to hit you, and learn how to get out of that. Also learn how to get yourself up off of the floor in a way that doesn’t expose you to danger (I.e. NEVER get onto your hands and knees, leaving yourself exposed and your head and ribs undefended).
But you don’t need extensive knowledge. You’re not likely to have a well trained martial artist on top of you attacking you. My experience of those in the martial arts is that we only use what we know when provoked. And if you get into a situation where there might be trouble you’re a lot more likely to be able to talk yourself out with a fellow martial artist. So knowing a few good simple ways that are easy to remember and use under pressure is VERY beneficial. Anything else is great to know, but not essential.
I don’t intend for this article to knock down others opinions, or say that other Martial Artists are wrong in believing that one way or another is more beneficial. But I’m hoping that it gives some of you something different to think about.
Dale Miller is a 4th dan black belt and examiner for Wales in the art of Choi Kwang-Do. For more information about Choi Kwang-Do please check out