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Free Fighting

Tang Soo Do is an art of self-defense, first and foremost. If you study the history of Martial Arts, you will find that they all have come about because of self-defense requirements. In keeping with this philosophy, when we free fight (or free spar), we do so primarily with self-defense in mind. This means that we spar under what can loosely be called "open" rules.

Mike March sparring 1973-b

There are thousands of karate (and martial arts) tournaments held annually all over the world. Each abides by its own set of rules.  When it comes to free sparring, many different rules are followed, depending on the tournament and its sponsors. Some of these rules prohibit punching/kicking to the head, striking or kicking the groin, grabbing your opponent, foot sweeping your opponent's lead foot, foot sweeping your opponent's base foot, grappling with your opponent, etc. When we practice our free fighting, we do NOT place these encumbrances upon ourselves! The reasoning is simple: We humans are creatures of habit. Under stress, we do what comes "easiest" and most "natural." What comes easiest and most natural is what we do day in and day out. In other words, what we practice. If we practice the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing under stress. If we practice the correct thing, we will do the correct thing under stress. This means that, within reason, we will practice our fighting skills without tournament rules to limit us.

Floyd & Mike's test - 72-b

In a true self-defense situation, we want to have a number of weapons in our personal arsenal, so we have a number of effective options when responding. We also want those options to be relatively easy to do, because complex couterattacks require much more practice than easy ones. The only way to accomplish these goals is to train in that manner at all times. As a result, we will be able to defend ourselves more effectively and efficiently. If we are training for a specific tournament that abides by specific rules, then we can temporarily fight by those rules to prepare for that event, but we will return to "practical" or "street" rules after that. This way, in the event that any of you are attacked on the street, you would respond in the manner you practiced in class and at home-and that is with several reasonably easy (and highly effective) options available to you!

Obviously, we want to minimize the risk of injury as much as practicable, so we must balance sparring as realistically as possible with minimizing the possibility of getting hurt. Toward that end, we do have some limitations as to what we do when practicing our free-fighting skills. In general, we do not: throw fingertips toward the eyes, throw motions at the throat, throw motions at the spine or in any way intentionally try to injure an opponent's joints (toes, ankles, knees, hips, neck, shoulders, elbow, wrist or fingers). We practice techniques and motions to these target areas under strict guidelines and supervision, as these targets certainly can be attacked in a true self-defense situation.

We also fight with great emphasis on control and focus. When we first begin to spar as Purple and Green Belts, there shall be no contact. However, the motions should be focused to within 2 or 3 inches of the target. As Red Belts, we focus to an inch from the target. Black Belts are expected to make controlled contact within the guidelines set forth by the instructor. When sparring with someone of different rank, the rules for the lowest rank apply. In addition, it is the lowest ranking member's responsibility to be the aggressor during free fighting. This gives that student the opportunity to practice throwing many motions and combinations. Obviously, the object of free sparring in class is to learn how to improve one's skill, and the lower ranking student wouldn't learn very much if the higher ranking student did nothing but constantly attack. Even though one of the tactics we employ during fighting is to "put pressure" on the opponent by not giving him time to go on the offensive himself, the higher ranking student doing so constantly would prevent the lower ranking student from being able to practice that tactic. This is especially true if the instructor was sparring his students. During class, our goal is for every student to learn. Unsportsmanlike conduct, lack of respect, anger, not acknowledging points, throwing techniques that are beyond the student's level of proficiency, wild (or blind) motions, and any other similar behavior in which a practitioner may escalate his use of force (or increase the possibility of injury to himself or his opponent) will not be tolerated!

Finally, we address the art of "acknowledging points." ALL practitioners are expected to acknowledge points ANY time they are free sparring (unless directed otherwise by the instructor). Acknowledging points means that if one fighter willfully throws any attacking motion at a target area, and that motion moves to that target area, strikes (when fighting contact rules), or stops just short of (within a few inches when fighting non-contact) that target area without being blocked, parried, side-stepped, or somehow neutralized, then that attack is considered to have "scored" a "point." In addition, this attacking (or counter-attacking) motion must also have the power, speed, and control to actually have hit the defender and (in a real-life self-defense situation) have a good possibility of inflicting pain or injury. The importance of acknowledging points cannot be over emphasized. If students do not abide by this rule, escalation of force will result, as will the possibility of injury. The primary reason why students participate in class is to learn how to improve their skills, NOT to prove how tough they are or to see if they can always "beat" their opponent. Again, the instructor will not tolerate any behavior from any participant that shows lack of respect or control during sparring. This rule and the rules outlined above are designed to allow the student to practice free fighting as realistically as possible, while at the same time minimizing the risk of injury. These rules will be followed at all times; the only exceptions are when the instructor directs students to spar under different rules in preparation for a tournament, or when he asks qualified students to use light contact under his direct supervision.

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