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Sparring and the Value of Pressure Testing

“Do you guys spar?” It is a question that comes up pretty regularly when I am discussing what To-Shin Do is and what the club teaches.

In the context of two competitors of approximately equal skill, age, and weight… No we don’t. This type of “fighting” is great for competitions. In modern sparring, two athletes willingly enter the ring with the goal of winning a contest. They have both trained and prepared for the event. Not only that, but they also know that the competition has rules and that the risk of actually dying or being permanently damaged is relatively low. Our training isn’t about winning competitions. Many would be fighters online claim that competition sparring is the “only way” to pressure test what we learn in the martial arts. They claim that if you aren’t sparring you are merely “roleplaying” and never actually putting what you study on trial.

In To-Shin Do we practice what we could call “asymmetrical pressure training”. The Japanese term commonly used for sparring is “randori”, which literally translates to “Chaos Capture”. Capturing chaos is something we do. The goal of To-Shin Do randori is for a student to successfully defend themselves against a designated attacker/attackers who have the intent of striking and knocking the defending student to the ground or wrestling them into a helpless position. The attacks are unscripted and the defending student shouldn’t know what the attacker intends to do beforehand.

Street assaults are not the same as a competition sparring match. Out in the real-world an attacker is likely to attack you with a surprise ambush. There may be more than one assailant, and they are likely bigger than you or armed with a weapon. A street attacker doesn’t have rules they must abide by, and the result could be maiming or death. They will likely use words as weapons; cruel insults and intimidation to set the target up for failure. In a street assault there is no time to prepare for the attack and our mind is whirling, trying to catch up to what is happening and to determine how serious the situation is. Is the thug a killer, a rapist, or do they just want to act cool and show off for their friends.

There is no room for half-ass actions or partial commitment. In To-Shin Do we don’t use blocks to stop an attack. Every movement has the capability to affect the attackers balance or damage their limbs or body. A well placed strike to a limb can disrupt the aggressors forward momentum. A pointed finger tip claw to the eyes can cause them to recoil and look away, and a forceful kick to the inner thigh can hinder their mobility. We train in how to negate violence and escape!

So, yes we do spar. But it is not seen as the penultimate test of skill. We also strike targets, condition our bodies to more supple and resilient. We train to recognize what an attack is and how to intuit in a micro-moment what is needed to stop it. At the same time we cultivate our minds and spirits to overcome inner obstacles and fears that could get in the way of living healthy and productive lives.

We train to live life fully, freely and fearlessly.


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