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Bowley Kenpo Karate » Philosophy, Sparring » How Hard to Hit

How Hard to Hit

Recently a fellow Kenpoist, Rick Queary, who comes up to our school to spar, posted an interesting story on his blog about being the class bully. It’s definitely worth reading. To summarize, Mr. Queary felt some guilt after dealing a few (non-permanent) injuries during a sparring class. He was told his hits were too hard. After pondering his story for a few days, I was left with the question of how hard should you be hitting.

Mr. Queary sparring with one of the BKK students

Mr. Queary sparring with one of the BKK students

Our sparring classes usually begin with a few warm-up rounds (2 minute rounds) of light contact. We focus on moving around, tapping targets, and getting the blood flowing. After 20 to 25 minutes of these rounds we move on to harder hitting, longer rounds. Even in these rounds though I would speculate most people are only hitting at 50 to 60% of full strength, depending on the target, maybe even less. There’s not usually a need to go harder than that. ( Exceptions for sure, but not as a rule.)

So what happens when someone’s 50% strength is still more than you’re used to or can regularly handle? Should they be asked to make contact at even a lesser degree?

It’s a difficult question without a clear answer. No, I don’t believe they should be required to strike with even less power. (Adults sparring against kids is something else completely, and men sparring against women isn’t always exactly the same either.) Two reasons. First, real world opponents in a self defense situation aren’t going to hold back. So you need to know how to take a punch, and are even better prepared if you’ve taken some in practice. Also, in a sparring situation, you are supposed to hit back at the same level you receive. The higher rank controls the ring and the lower sets the pace. The intensity of the hits is part of the pace. Sometimes beginners don’t understand the intensity level; hence the higher rank slowing things down with ring control. Beyond that though, power should be matched. It’s part of how you learn to take a hit. It certainly isn’t about being mean or harsh or bullying. It is an application of the Kenpo philosophy – Too hear is to doubt, too see is to be deceived, but to FEEL is to BELIEVE. If you’re sparring someone who you perceive is hitting too hard, and you’ve tried to control the ring, then you hit back at the same power level. They’ll quickly understand at that point. Or you’ve just learned you have to spar this person at this power going forward.

Does this necessarily apply to Mr. Queary’s situation? I wasn’t there, didn’t hear any specific instructions regarding the sparring, and don’t know what their school’s regular sparring intensity is. Having sparred Mr. Queary a number of times, I don’t believe him to hit overly hard, have control issues, nor believe him to be a “dojo bully”. If the goal is to learn to defend yourself, sometimes you have to learn to take a punch. Sometimes to help other learn to take a punch, you have to give a punch.

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Sam Bowley
McKinney, TX

Filed under: Philosophy, Sparring · Tags: , , , ,

  • thank you for the vote of confidence. i have noticed only one continual “complainer”. i won’t mention names since no one knows him and it really doesn’t matter anyway.

    i have to remember there are two ways you can get hurt: intentionally and unintentionally. unintentional example would be when i (and i do this all the time) lunge in and step on the opponents foot. in the blog you refer to, i did this and the guy has a history of bad ingrown toenails.

    i honestly do try to control myself and have been working harder on controlling myself since that last dojo incident. i don’t feel as if i’m hitting any harder than 50% and do try to go MUCH lighter when sparring against a child.

    i’ve done more sparring at your dojo than in our own. my instructor doesn’t do a lot of sparring with us. i’m not sure of his reasoning, but it is what it is. he’s VERY good when he does spar against us. his instructor has told us that he’s the best fighter he has ever trained. but for whatever reason, he doesn’t have us spar much. and since i really hate sparring, i’m ok with it as long as i get to come up and learn from you and your students.

    thank you for the patience, friendship, and opportunities.


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