"Technical Sparring" Defined

In a previous blog entry, I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of sparring as it applies to self-defense. Based on that post, I received the following question:

“Could you expand on the explanation,definition and how to perform what you referred to as ‘Technical Sparring.’

“Technical sparring” is a term used by the first martial art I studied, American Self-Protection or ASP. ASP was a modern martial art that drew from the principles of the arts studied by its founder, Evan S. Baltazzi. Those arts included aikido, judo, Savate, and boxing. The art was highly structured and followed a progression of belt ranks. Each rank progression involved learning a series of self-defense techniques and demonstrating higher levels of proficiency in other skill sets.

In addition to practicing the techniques with an individual partner, ASP also incorporated a more dynamic method of training called “technical sparring.” At its basic level, this consisted of a “monkey in the middle” style of technique practice. One person would get in the middle of the mat, surrounded by the rest of the class. Based on that person’s level of knowledge and experience, the other class members would attack one by one to allow the “monkey” to practice his/her techniques in a random manner.

Initially, this process was very controlled to allow the monkey time to recognize and react to the attacks, which were thrown from predictable angles. As a student got more experienced, the intensity of the attacks increased, the interval between each attack decreased, and the angles of attack got more dynamic. Since the techniques for higher level belts included defenses against various weapons, the introduction of training knives, sticks, and guns also increased the stress. While beginners might spend three minutes in the middle, advanced students were required to go for 5-10 minutes per session.

As the tempo and dynamics of the method increased, we also began to “free form” a bit, incorporating attacks outside the rote technique of the system, having 2-3 attackers close simultaneously, and attacking with weapons other than those typically included in the standard techniques of the art. We also took cheap shots. If the monkey fell down, we’d close in and kick or try to mount. Ultimately, it became a pretty realistic, very intense training method that was very challenging and, by nature, incorporated many elements of defending against multiple attackers.

Why was/is technical sparring good? First of all, it evokes an adrenalized state more readily than training with a single partner. Performance anxiety is high, as is the level of physical exertion. That makes for good training.

Secondly, it provides a random, reasonably unpredictable series of stimuli that force you to respond reflexively. Since you don’t know that you’re practicing a defense against a right punch until the punch is coming, you have to react, not just “do” a technique that you know your partner will throw.

Most importantly, the technical sparring format forces you to finish every clash like an individual fight and then immediately prepare for another attack. Unlike the interminable game of tag of competitive sparring, you get out of the habit of “hit and assess” and focus on “hit and finish.” That doesn’t mean you can’t get “proactive” and preempt an attack–you certainly can. However, everything you do is focused on taking your attacker(s) out of the fight decisively, not scoring points.

Technical sparring is a very cool training method. It takes discipline and control on both sides of the equation to make it work, but it’s certainly worth adding to your training regimen.

Stay safe,


Michael Janich