So I said, "How would you take me out?" From that position, that range, relative body configurations... Teo is an intelligent young man (not really young, anymore. He is a father now and all grown up but in my mind he will always be the kid from ten years ago that we tried to tease into asking a waitress out). He moved to take a better position, guarded against a counter-attack that wasn't coming and used a technique that might, might have rattled me.
I know one of his instructors and I know damn well that Teo knows how to finish a human. We talked.
"But in sparring, no one ever just lets stuff come in and if I did really get aggressive, he'd just get aggressive back."
He put a finger on one of my deep problems with sparring and I want to think it out here. First and foremost, I've always loved sparring (of almost any type, not so much into pitty-pat) but it has been bothering me for awhile.
What has been bothering me is the sheer artificiality of it. On one level, MMA sparring is "as close as you can get to real" and "the only way to pressure test techniques." I see where those arguments are coming from but still...
If anyone squares off, if any threat gives me any indication that something is coming, I can walk away. Or talk it down. Or, if that's not going to work, access a force option that turns the whole situation into something that doesn't resemble a fight in any way.
The serious bad guys don't fight. They take you out. They stack everything in their favor: surprise, position, number and weapons (depending on the goal) and finish it. The last thing they want is a fight. Serious bad guys don't fight, they take you out.
And so do successful good guys.
In order for sparring as a fight simulation to even happen, you have to behave stupidly. You choose not to leave or talk or gather resources. Then you have to allow it to become a very particular and tactically silly kind of fight, where you stick to the same options and parameters the threat has chosen. It's a stupid way. One of the basic tactical rules that not only every tactical operator but even every serious sport competitor knows is: Don't play the other guy's game. Sparring specializes there.
And there are good reasons for it. If you want to test and measure and improve the same skills as the threat, it's one of the best, fastest ways to get better... but where does getting really, really good at the tactics of a bad strategy fit?
Bad guys take you out. From surprise. First hit. With a size and strength advantage or, if they can't manage that and really, really need what you've got, with weapons and numbers. They deliberately choose people who won't or can't fight. There's no value to complicated strategy or feinting.
This is an internal discussion. Not a conclusion. I love sparring, but I do it for what it is, know what it is and I'm very, very clear on what it is NOT. Those aren't the skills I'll need if an old acquaintance from the jail decides to even a score or enhance a rep. Those skills are different, qualitatively different.
And don't go tribal on me, either. Saying sparring is artificial is NOT saying that kata is better or realer or some variant. All the training methods are what they are and no more.
Live training is vital, but training stupid tactics live is not just ingraining stupid tactics. People mistake intensity for truth. The more contact and speed, the more real it feels, the more it feels like truth. Not only does it ingrain stupid, it ingrains it hard.
We need live, hard, contact training. But smart. Working from real distance, from positions of disadvantage, outmatched in size and strength. We need to find a safe but live way to practice taking a threat out instead of fighting. We do practice those skills and I know a lot of you do as well. But every so often a good martial artist or even a good fighter is given a problem of force, survival and decisiveness and instinctively tries to turn it into a contest.
It makes me wonder if the training method does more harm than good. Still pondering.