To be successful when learning to spar an athlete must navigate simultaneously the personal and physical dimensions. Alongside every increment in technical ability, an equal gain must be made in temperament, emotional awareness or self understanding. Failing to heed this will result in technique without internal control – which is to say – no technique at all.
The first phase is the learning of the physical movements – punches, kicks, slips, defences – that are involved in sparring. At this point they are merely mechanical. We are constructing the baseline technical ability to perform in our sport.
The second phase is also straightforward enough – fitness. Once the body knows the fundamental movements, it must be robust enough to complete them at the required pace and intensity.
There is a niche within the movements that only you can occupy. In this niche you perform better than anybody. For example, if you are a natural counter attacker then the relevant movements must be prioritised. Certain sequences or strikes will be more appropriate for your body shape, movement and perceptual abilities. Following this to its end will define a style that is unique, and strong because it was chosen. Be assured enough in your own character to identify and refine your strengths.
Just as I can determine my technical niche, I can know my emotional niche as well. Whether my propensity is to be anxious, loose, angry or stressed in a sparring encounter, I can respect this and select strategies appropriate to it, just as I sought the techniques that suited my niche in the previous phase. By courting a familiarity and an honesty with the personal occurrences – what happens to me as a person – I get to understand how my conduct unfolds in different situations. Knowing how my personality responds to the exigencies of the situation enables me to be a specialist in deploying it. The underlying lesson is an ancient one: know thyself.
The fifth phase is to forget everything that has been accumulated in phases one to four, and just fight.