Developing Sparring Programmes (diary entry)

Hierarchy of Training23.02.21

My teaching consultancy on Tuesday night was mainly concerned with discussing where to go with a progressing practical karate school’s sparring programme. One point that should be remembered about karate training is that the original katas were based on the assumption that the Okinawan students would be coming from a grappling culture. This is one of the reasons why although there is grappling contained with the katas the emphasis was more placed on training to strike than the grappling aspects. My client wishes to include more varied forms of sparring earlier on in the syllabus and I see this point to be fair justification for some grappling-only forms of sparring being a part of regular training. This is a big change from the original syllabus where only those going for black belt would undertake a form of MMA sparring.

My advice for unarmed pressure training for practial karateka would be as follows:

Point and freestyle semi-contact “Sport Karate” sparring to only be taught as an optional extra if at all – these are modern innovations that have no direct relevance to karate’s objectives

Kata-based sparring to be a priority – that is specific asymmetrical forms of sparring/pressure testing that reinforce the principles of katas and self-defence. See the works and teachings of Iain Abernethy.

Fighting – Boxing, Kickboxing, Wrestling, Submission Fighting and MMA forms of sparring to become regular forms of attribute training

My “Hierarchy of Training” essay, which is part of “Mordred’s Victory”, discusses setting up priorities for training. I place specific training at the top as this is where most of the learning is done. This type of training is minimalistic due to the objective being to get an individual out of danger quickly. Next I place attribute training because this gives us a sandbox to play in, a means for regular engagment and development of tools that are restricted in specific training. Although I give this a lower priority, this is an area we should probably train in more due to the dangers of the specific training creating its own institution. Finally, we have functional fitness or purpuseful auxillary training to build the raw materials needed to make the areas effective and efficient such as strength, cardiovascular and conditioning training.

It is important to state that I am not a karateka nor have I ever been a teacher of karate. My observations are made from decades of cross-training, researching and working with many top teachers in a variety of different disciplines.


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