Sparring>Fundamentals>No-contact vs. full-contact sparring

↩ Back

No-contact vs. full-contact sparring


There is a lot of controversy about which is better; no-contact sparring or full-contact sparring.


Fighting is an integral part of nature. When not fighting for survival against predators, animals fight each other for dominance, power, and control. When fighting each other, the combat is usually ritual without deadly results. Humans are no different. We fight for survival against rogue humans and other animals and we also participate in ritual combat to determine the best warriors. One type of ritual combat is free-sparring as practiced by taekwondo and other martial arts. Free-sparring has evolved into two main types: no-contact or light-contact and full-contact. Each as its good point and bad points.

No-contact competition emphasizes scoring with little or no contact. There are two-types of no-contact competition.
  • Point-sparring is where the action is stopped at each potential score and the point is judged. 
  • Continuous-sparring is where judges record score as they see them without stopping the action. 
Full-contact sparring generally always uses continuous action much like a boxing competition.


No-contact sparring has its roots in the early kung-fu systems dating back to sixth-century China when Bodhidharma introduced his fighting techniques. As these methodologies spread throughout the Far East, other fighting styles developed. Although full-contact sparring claims an Eastern origin, it incorporates techniques mostly found in Western-style boxing.

Linear vs. Circular

In no-contact sparring, initial attacks are linear and speed, focus, and power are stressed. There are follow up attacks, but the initial attack is given primary consideration, since, if it scores, the action will be stopped. In full-contact sparring, the initial attack is just the first of many attacks. Once they close the gap with a kick or a punch, full-contact fighters follow-up with numerous close-range attacks such as elbows, knees, throws, joint locks, and grabbing techniques. While initial attacks are important, it is the cumulative number of follow-up attacks that usually bring about a win.

Since the emphasis in no-contact sparring is speed, straight-line techniques are preferred. Powerful, potentially lethal techniques are important in full-contact fighting, so it uses more circular techniques, like hook kicks and punches. Although they are slower than the direct, linear techniques of no-contact sparring, they generate much more power. Since a knockout is a goal in full-contact sparring, head punches and head kicks are numerous.  Full-contact sparring techniques are mostly close in and flow easily from one to another, whereas, in no-contact sparring, techniques are fired from the farthest, safest distance possible, and at the first available moment.


In no-contact sparring, you attack specific body targets with fully controlled techniques that do not make contact, but must appear to be powerful, thus pinpoint accuracy is necessary. Competitors train for speed and accuracy. Since matches last only two or three minutes, endurance is not a major concern. Whereas, in full-contact sparring, since the goal is to knock out the opponent, techniques do not have to precise; they only need to be effective, so power is paramount.  Full-contact competitors must use continual power, even when exhausted, so they train to increase endurance and stamina.


Since no-contact competitors use straight-line techniques, they generally attack areas located along the centerline of the frontal portion of the body and head. Full-contact competitors attack the same areas, but, since they use more circular, hooking techniques, they also aim for the jaw, temples, and kidneys.


No-contact sparring is more traditional in its philosophy, history, and etiquette. Since religion plays an important role in Eastern cultures, it affected the development of traditional martial art styles that use no-contact sparring. This may be why traditional no-contact fighters continue training longer on the average than do full-contact practitioners. Traditional students learn how to integrate their style's philosophies into their everyday lives, and enjoy more efficient, harmonious life-styles. On the other hand, full-contact fighters have more of a "nomadic warrior" mentality. Since they spend so much time in intense training and fighting, conditioning is all they think about. Like boxers, they usually have short careers. Since no-contact fighters have fewer injuries in training and competitions, they tend to compete longer and into older ages.

Variety of techniques

No-contact practitioners tend to only follow the generally accepted training methods of their style, which means they miss out on techniques that may be more suited to their body type. And, since avoiding injury is a major concern, their techniques may not be effective against real attackers. Full contact fighters are usually taught a mixture of several fighting concepts and they continually experiment to discover what techniques work best for them. Because they have fought under actual combat conditions and absorbed punishment, they are better prepared for real attackers than are no-contact fighters.

Potential of long-term injury

Hundreds of no-contact tournaments are conducted every year with competitors of all ages and genders. Most injuries are minor, but head trauma is still a concern. Full-contact tournaments are not as popular and most competitors are adult men, although women and some children also compete. Recent research has found there is the potential for permanent brain damage from repeated head strikes, so adults should consider this before venturing into full-contact sparring and probably should not permit their children to engage in it.


Both types of sparring have their place in the martial arts. As a potential martial arts student, you should choose an art and a school within that art that has the level of contact that matches your goals.


Muzila, T. (2002). Traditional Karate vs. Full Contact Karate.

↩ Back

No comments: