After a few months of training in Taekwondo, you will be encouraged to attend a sparring class. I know there are those of you out there that can't wait to get into your gear and get out on the floor but sparring can be an intimidating event for many people. There is good reason for that. You are going out on the floor, all padded up, to try and kick or hit someone else. Also, you are fully aware that there is a good chance you will get kicked or hit as well. There are those out there with a warrior spirit that would happily engage in the activity, solely for the reason of going into "battle," but others can be petrified of the experience. Believe it or not, it is these intimidated individuals that need to get out on that floor the most.
Whether you are jumping at the opportunity or dragging your feet into sparring class, you will learn valuable skills that may save your life one day. Through your months of practice, you have learned how far away from your target you need to be to accurately strike it but you need to practice this on an individual. Practicing with a partner gives you an entirely new perspective on your situational awareness. You will understand that you have to be actively moving, dodging and then judging the correct distance to land your technique.
Practicing sparring with a partner also requires you to develop a higher level of self control. Have you ever been hit in the head? The first time you receive a good knock to your head it may cause you to feel very angry or disappointment in yourself. As an individual you will have to reach down deep inside yourself and deal with these feelings. You can't deliver your techniques properly if your emotions aren't under control.
Sparring is key if you hope to put your martial arts skills to work in a self-defense situation. Remember all the anxiety you felt walking into a controlled environment and putting on pads to fight? Now imagine that, times a million, when you are attacked with no pads, on a concrete parking lot. Your adrenaline level is going to blast through the ceiling. If you have never practiced fighting with heightened levels of adrenaline coursing through your body, you will be completely unprepared to defend yourself.
Now that you are all excited to get into class and start sparring, lets take a realistic look at the risks involved. There is a reason that you put on all that padding when you practice spar, you are going to get hit. Sometimes you'll collide with your partner because you both went to through the same technique. Whether on purpose or not, you are going to get hit. These impacts are going to give you some bruises. Learning how to handle these impacts to your body is critical to your training. You will begin to understand that your body is strong and those little impacts don't hurt that bad. Remember that self-defense benefit? God forbid you are ever in a self-defense situation, but if you ever are, you will have a firm understanding that your body can take a lot of impact before you are severely injured.
Non-incidental injuries happen too. These injuries aren't caused by your partner. Sometimes you are going to tear ligaments, muscles or break joints. Athletes are injured participating in various sports everyday and that is one risk you have to face whenever you participate in a sporting event. Taekwondo is setup to minimize those risks through proper warm-ups and stretching but sometimes stuff happens.
Incidental injuries should be avoided at all costs but sometimes they happen too. These are injuries caused directly by your sparring partner. When you participate in sparring, it is to develop your martial arts skills not to hurt your opponent. It is imperative to maintain the ABCs, (Accuracy, Balance and Control) with an emphasis on control. Most martial artists have jobs or school to go to on Monday and they do not want to be injured. However, no matter what skill level you are at as a martial artist sometimes emotions get in the way and some people are simply more aggressive.
One of the main tenants of Taekwondo is self control. Sparring improves your self-control but it can be a long road. Sometimes people are overly excited to be in a competition and really want to win so they strike to hard and end up breaking bones on their opponent. A classic problem that I see is when someone scores a strike, it upsets the other person, so they hit back harder. The increased impact upsets the first person so they strike harder. I think you can see where I'm going with this. You have to be able to control yourself and your technique. People who come to sparring class want to learn and if you are too overly aggressive, you won't have anyone willing to spar with you anymore. Then, how will you practice? It is a controlled give and take.
Improved Martial Arts Spirit
Taekwondo is a martial art. This innately describes a military style training regiment. You understand when you sign up that you will be learning to fight. Learning to fight in a safe environment requires a tightly controlled atmosphere that the rules of the "martial art" provide. Learning a rigid system of discipline may seem counter intuitive to the word "spirit" but we are not talking about floating along a magic rainbow, we are talking about learning how to pick yourself up when you get knocked down. Life will give you many ups along the way but it will also challenge you with many downs. Knowing how it feels to walk away from a class where you got bruised, frustrated and don't feel like you did anything right, challenges you to renew your spirit, pick yourself up and get back into class next week.
Along with spirit comes respect. Respect for the spirits of others. Watching your fellow classmates grow and knowing you were integral to their development is spiritually fulfilling in an indescribable way. Now, what if your sparring partner was attacked and they used techniques that they developed with you to save their life? Brings a whole new perspective to spiritual fulfillment, doesn't it? When you are at sparring class, as with any class, respect everyone, higher and lower belts.
Sparring is not an event that should be avoided but rather embraced. It is the icing on the cake of your taekwondo training.