To spar or not to spar? That is the question.



I have often heard many Martial artist state, ‘that if there isn’t sparring or rolling in the system you are training in then it isn’t real.’

I understand where these individuals are coming from but it also shows an ignorance for those training for different purposes and goals.

Now we all know there is some utter rubbish out there on you tube with the no touch, no contact ninja turtle killer individuals.

But what about established combative arts or hybrid modern street systems that may not do conventional sparring?

My system of Japanese Combat jujutsu does not have sparring or rolling in it as most combat sports participants may know it but it does have pressure testing with specific aims and results.

In my humble opinion from 45 years training and teaching Martial arts sparring and rolling are mainly products of combat sports that work around certain rules and regulations as well as time duration, weight categories etc.

It also works on the premise of two opponents consensually facing off against each other and having a fight.

This is all good and essential in the world of combative sports but two people facing off and having a ‘square go’ has nothing to do with any art that promotes self-defence.


Outside of the sporting arena whether we like it or not two people mutually deciding to punch the shit out of each other in the street or roll around on the pavement is against the law and neither of them can claim self- defence.

They are both guilty parties and will both be prosecuted if the law is involved.

Fighting outside of sport will get you eventually put in prison where you can spend many happy hours watching your back because nobody in there is going to have a fair ‘straightener ‘with you.

They will introduce you to the ‘real world’ of combat. They won’t fight you they will assassinate you before you even know you are in the game. Did I say game. Sorry it is definitely not a game.

I train people to defend themselves against street thugs, muggers, rapists and other criminal element.

The mindset and goals are totally different to a combat sport competitor.

When some of these individuals who are involved in sport combat visualise themselves applying their techniques in a ‘street scenario’ they are still thinking of it as a one to one stand up fight.


Outside the parameters of competitive sport fighting there are no rules or limits to what one individual will do to another.

Most street criminals will use guile and cunning to get near you and mentally disarm you or catch you unawares and then hit you hard and fast with whatever they have at hand.

Dealing with knives, bats, broken bottles, firearms or multiple attackers are a whole different beast.

Slip up in competition you may loss a point or have to tap out. Slip up in real combat and you may lose your life.

Self -defence techniques are based around you going about your everyday business when some asshole decides to confront you, ambush or sucker punch you.

That is what I train people to respond to and their training is based around real street scenarios and how to deal with them.

Actions can range from escape and evasion, avoidance, de- escalation skills, breakaway/release techniques, to control and restraint, trips, takedowns, pressure points, strangulation, joint breaks, incapacitation ,knockouts and extreme response.

Not every scenario requires the same level of response. There is a force continuum that dictates the level of force you use in response to the level of threat. A good Martial artist regardless of what they train in should be aware of this and also have a good working knowledge of the law in regard to self- defence.

Now on a personal level I have used elements of boxing, grappling and MMA to help my students deal with full contact and giving and receiving blows. It also helps them develop fighting spirit and to handle the fear factor and adrenal responses of live combat. If they wish to participate in any of those contest arenas that is also fine but it is not essential.

It is very difficult to practice live combative jujutsu.

Let’s examine some of the techniques banned from MMA.

· Head butting.

· Groin strikes.

· Strikes to the throat/neck.

· Eye gouging.

· Direct strikes to joints.

· Small joint manipulation.

· Hair pulling, biting, twisting and pinching flesh.

· Direct strikes to back of neck/spinal column.

· Grabbing the clavicle.

· 6 to 12 elbow strikes.

· Kicking or stomping a downed opponent’s head.


These techniques are rightly banned in any competitive combat sport because of the dangerous and destructive nature of them.

In a combative system like mind these are all techniques practised and ingrained in a students on a daily basis.

You cannot spar these moves full contact without injury or worst.

When I decided to test myself in the grappling or MMA arena, I had to leave 80% of my combat jujutsu at the mat or cage side and was at a great disadvantage to me but I done this purely for my own reasons to see how I could cope in those arenas under rules.

The results were mixed as I found it very difficult especially in the early days not to resort back to some of the illegal techniques that were bread and butter for me.

This is why Combative jujutsu and its like do not have conventional sparring or rolling in its syllabus.

By indulging in a rules bound type of sparring would take away the indistinctive and combative nature of its techniques and mindset. It would water it down.

I love the combat sports and have experienced and competed in most of them in one form or another and have the up most respect for them but sometimes I feel in some quarters that respect is not reciprocated to the Combative Martial artist.

There are a myriad of pressure test drills that the person who pursues the more combative nature of the arts can indulge in. They will be specific to the arena they train and specialise for .That is the street.

These drills will more than prepare them physically and mentally for the opponent they train for.

This is not the BJJ black belt, MMA champion, veteran boxer etc. They train for the three second fight against a street thug, criminal psychopath or in extreme cases the terrorist.

It is the polar opposite to sport. As different as apples and oranges.

You cannot compare them and they don’t overlap.

If you don’t train for street awareness, tactical positioning, understanding of a street predator and how they operate you can have all the black belts, medals and trophies in the world but can still get stabbed, ambushed or sucker punched.

We react how we train.

I am not talking about some street encounter where we have the ‘my dick is bigger than your dick’ scenario.

This is ego driven where one person or the other cannot back down or off because somebody has driven into their parking space or eyed up their missus. They want to get involved in some macho bullshit that can never be viewed as self- defence.

That scenario is fighting how ever you dress it up. Who is right or wrong doesn’t come into it. Are you willing to do prison time for knocking somebody out cold or choking them just because they jumped in front of you in a queue and your dumb ego and pride couldn’t let it ride and solve the problem some other way.


For every physical technique I teach I teach two de-escalation techniques.

Self - protection can be broken down into 90% preventive measures 10% physical response.

The combative Martial artists aims and outcomes are totally different to the combat sports practitioner.

‘I would have conversations with a fellow Martial artist were they would say.

‘Now if I was in a fight with you, I would do AB or C.’

Now firstly I wouldn’t be in a fight with them or anybody else.

These days I am too old in the tooth but also smarter.

For me to be in a fight is playing. Tough playing but playing. A fight is what you did in the school playground when you were a young buck jostling for position and wanting to be the Alpha male. If you are still like this in your forties or fifties you really want to have a word with yourself.

The thing with the above statement made by my fellow Martial artist is if they were hellbent on trying to hurt me for real I am trained to respond by any means foul or fair before they even realise it is happening. No Queensbury rules here I’m afraid to say.


I do not train for the sparring match I train for the 3 second execution if need be.

I would not be playing by their rules I will be playing by mine. No rules.

There are many ways to pressure test yourself not just the conventional methods that many Martial artist adhere to.

So, the statement that I opened this article with is to narrow minded and also shows a lack of respect for those who choose not to pursue the combat sports way.

Also, it makes them fall into the trap of thinking ‘their way is the only way’, which can be a dangerous frame of mind.

Enjoy your training and be true to yourself.


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