Fighting vs Sparring / by Tom Maloney

Aren’t sparring and fighting the same thing? No way. First, lets talk about fighting. What is fighting? Fighting is not designed to be the best opportunity to hone martial technique in the midst of intense combat. Also, unless two individuals knock each other out at the same exact moment, submit each other at the same exact moment, have heart attacks at the same exact moment, or simply decide not to fight and shake hands at the exact same moment, fighting will always have a proverbial winner and loser. So what is the purpose of fighting? To win. To have. To control. To assert. To protect. To defeat. To stop. Is self defense fighting? Good question. The dictionary defines fighting as, “to engage in battle or in single combat; attempt to defend oneself against or to subdue, defeat, or destroy an adversary.” According to the dictionary, self defense is fighting. This definition makes sense for the discussion at hand because the true difference between fighting and sparring is simply the intention behind the act.  The dictionary defines intention as the, “purpose or attitude toward the effect of one's actions or conduct.”  The intention of a person involved in a fight is to overcome the obstacle at hand by any means necessary in order to emerge victorious.

So what about sparring? What are one’s intentions during sparring? The answer may be different for every martial artist. I can only offer my view. I believe the intention of sparring should be one thing; to be compassionate.  So we would offer our partner flowers instead of punches? No, thats not the kind of compassion I’m talking about. The compassion I am talking about is Authentic Compassion. Authentic Compassion is moving with the best of our martial ability to expose our sparring partner’s weaknesses so that he can grow, all the while having the intention not to physically damage him. If, for some reason, we enter a sparring scenario and choose not to expose our partner’s martial shortcomings then we do him a disservice by not allowing his awareness of combat to deepen. If Bob has a poor middle block and can’t protect his rib, it is Jim’s compassionate duty to take advantage of the opening until Bob learns to how middle block with skill, all the while having the intention not to injure Bob.  And Bob has the same duty to Jim.  Sparring is the laboratory. The workshop. The slow motion machine to hammer out the kinks. How do you know if you've had a successful sparring session? If both partners end with a bow, a thank you, no concussions, new knowledge, new skills, and a deeper understanding of conflict.  Although fighting and sparring have different intentions, they exist along the same continuum of martial combat. Though separate, they cannot exist without one another and ultimately it is up to the partners and instructor to agree upon the proper intention for the intended goal.