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Types of sparring


Sparring is play fighting. It may be played with no-contact or with full-contact, but either way, it is a game, there is no anger and no intent to injure (or seriously injure, in the case of full-contact sparring) the opponent. After a sparring match, both fighters should consider it to have been an enjoyable and educational experience, even if there was an unintended injury. Sparring may take many different forms, depending on its purpose.

Main types of sparring


This is where two students work together to perform a set of prearranged techniques. Movements may be made using one-step, two-steps, three-steps, etc. Often, students are encouraged to change the timing of the execution of techniques to help each other learn to react to variations. While there is nothing wrong with this, "tricking" the opponent should not be the aim. The primary emphasis in the execution of techniques should be on proper form. The techniques practiced should include those found in the patterns required for the rank or next rank of the students.

Semi-free sparring (free one-step)

This type of sparring usually involves the same techniques as in step-sparring, except the attacker and defender can move around using free-sparring stances until the moment of attack/defense. The completion of the attack and the counter should still be in the same manner as in step-sparring.


In this type of sparring, two students fight each other using all permitted techniques in any combination they choose. In competition, a referee controls a free-sparring match, and the referee and corner judges award points and determine the winner. In training, single pairs or many pairs of students may free-spar simultaneously under the supervision of the instructor and his or her assistants. In this type of sparring is a learning experience, so the sparring students judge themselves and must decide in their own minds whether their opponent was the winner.

Hand/foot sparring

This type of sparring is used to improve techniques by forcing the students to use only the hands or the feet for both attack and defense. By limiting techniques to either hands or feet, students can perfect the use of each since they only concentrate on one area of possible attacks.

Model sparring

This type of sparring is chiefly used for demonstration purposes, but it is also useful for students to see how techniques should be performed, how they should be used, and if the technique is the correct one for the situation. Model sparring is a series of choreographed movements, usually performed once in slow motion and once at normal speed.

Pre-arranged free sparring

This type of sparring is like free-sparring except that all the attacks and defenses are choreographed in advance and, as such, the participants have no fear of injury. It is used during demonstrations to show fighting techniques used against one or more opponents. Since the fighting is choreographed, the techniques used are usually exaggerated, showy, entertaining ones that would never be used in an actual fighting situation.


Contact is the striking force applied to an opponent when sparring. Contact may be no-contact, light-contact, or full-contact, depending on the stated rules for the sparring matches. Control of contact during matches is usually overused by fighters and under enforced by referees. Most students use too much control and thus too little force, and many referees do not closely control the amount of control being used until it becomes excessive.

For no-contact free-sparring or step-sparring, properly controlled attacks and counters should not touch or just barely touch the target so as not to cause any pain, bruises, soreness, or red marks. No-contact does not mean stopping a few inches short of the target; this is just as much poor control as is striking too hard.


Protective equipment is usually worn over designated body target areas during free-sparring and the range of allowable techniques is restricted to allow demanding, challenging, and yet safe, competition. Sparring injuries are few and are usually minor. As sparring skills increase and the body is hardened by training, injuries become rarer.

Beginning students are not allowed to free-spar for their first few months of training, so they may learn to block effectively and learn to control their attacking techniques. When free-sparring, an inexperienced student is more dangerous than an experienced student, due to his or her lack of good control. Therefore, instructors usually pair inexperienced students with experienced students. The experienced students are better able to protect themselves from poorly controlled attacks and they have better control of their own attacks, thus protecting the inexperienced students from injury.

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