Sparring in martial arts is limited by two major factors – safety and sporting rules. Having rules for safety makes perfect sense, most martial artists need to go to work or school the next day without having to carry injuries and be black and blue. However, the more rules there are for sporting reasons, the more stylised and frequently fantastical a martial art becomes. If you are purely treating your martial art as a sport this is perfectly fine, but when the sporting rules make the way you spar so stylised that it becomes unrealistic for self-defence then you are probably conditioning yourself to have bad habits that will fail you if you ever need to rely on your art to defend yourself.

While Shinkyu Martial Arts does run tournaments our sparring rules are not designed for competition they are, first and foremost, designed to maintain a safe sparring environment while developing realistic skills.  We have 3 levels of sparring that gradually increases the levels of confidence of participants while simultaneously building on competency in increasing broader ranges of skills, while also gradually increasing realism.

These levels are:

Non-contact points – Essentially this is an introductory level of sparring for developing control and familiarity with basic attack and defence.

Continuous – A significant step up from points sparring, continuous broadens the range of legal techniques significantly. But most importantly the continuous action prepares students for the reality of self-defence and fighting.

Free fighting – Free Fighting is the final level which is designed to simulate self-defence. This is only performed by experienced, advanced students.

Non-contact points (Ippon Kumite)

Beginner and intermediate levels

Essentially this is an introductory level of sparring for developing control and familiarity with basic attack and defence. NB note that in some styles Ippon Kumite refers to pre-arranged drills or one step sparring. This is not the case for Shinkyu the word ippon refers to the concept of single point sparring.

Key features:

Non-contact – I.e. strikes and kicks are aimed to be pulled short of making contact, although contact will be made with partners when blocking or grappling.

Stop and start action – After a technique or combination is scored both partners stop and the partner who was hypothetically struck acknowledges their opponent by nodding or saying “hai” or in cases of a very effective technique or combination a bow.

Legal Techniques:

All punches and backfists, with the exception of spinning backfists.

All kicks to the body.

Round and hook kicks only to the head (including neck and top of the chest).

Sweeps + over leg takedowns when practicing on mats.

Grappling and grabbing but caution is advised when not practicing on mats.

Ground fighting is not permitted.

NOTE that when sparring a student should not arbitrarily stop after they score one technique and wait for their opponent to acknowledge. They should adopt one of two strategies depending on the circumstance:

  1. Withdraw and pull away from their opponent (ideally on an angle). This reduces the chance of being counter-attacked.
  2. Score more techniques and further pressure their opponent.  Usually, in points sparring, you will only throw a handful more techniques before withdrawing.  Throwing combinations of multiple scoring techniques like this encourages attackers to take advantage of opportunities they have created and it teaches defenders to deal with an opponent who is continuing to pressure them and trying to overwhelm them.

Continuous (Jiyu kumite)

Intermediate level students have the option to do this level of sparring in our Combat classes, but it is not assessed for gradings until advanced levels.

A significant step up from points sparring, continuous broadens the range of legal techniques significantly. But most importantly the continuous action prepares students for the reality of self-defence and fighting.

Key features:

Shinkyu full face head gear is to be worn.

Very light contact: Tap control strikes and kicks to head. Light contact to the body.

As always with Shinkyu the goal is never to hurt your partner but the tap level of contact is just so partners are reminded that they are being hit and if it had been real, you could have been hurt.

Continuous action: Sparring partners do not need to acknowledge but equally should not ignore effective blows, instead they should role-play by covering or losing momentum ETC. EG if an advancing partner is counter punched squarely in the face with a solid counter technique they should not continue forward but instead lose their momentum and depending on the strength of the blow – cover and defend.

Partners may choose to stop if they have scored a flurry of highly effective techniques of a single technique that would be devastating if executed in reality.

Legal Techniques:

Full range of punches and back fists.

All kicks and knees to the body.

Round and hook kicks only to the head (including neck and top of the chest).

Thigh kicks.

Grappling, sweeping, throwing only on mats.

Ground fighting is to be stood up after 5 seconds in a tournament, but in the dojo, it is up to the instructor’s discretion. Usually it will continue until one partner taps out.

These rules are subject to some minor differences in a tournament.

Free Fighting (Randori)

Advanced grades only – only on mats and only in combat classes. Randori sparring is assessed in 2nd kyu, single brown stripe belt gradings and above.

Free Fighting is the final level which is designed to simulate self-defence.

Key features:

Participants need to be exceptionally well controlled both physically and emotionally to do this kind of sparring. People who prone to making dangerous contact or are uncontrolled in execution of techniques or those who get angry will not be allowed to do this level of sparring until they have proven themselves trustworthy.

Shinkyu full face head gear is to be worn.

Very light contact: Tap control strikes and kicks to head. Light contact to the body.

For realism and safety partners should be versed in role playing.

EG Palms or pushes to the face should be assumed to be gouges or rakes.

Light treading on the back of the knee should be assumed to be stomps.

Grabbing or prizing off of fingers in a grappling situation should be assumed to result in breaking or dislocating those fingers and immediate release of the hold.

Biting “noises” or shouts of “bite, bite” should be assumed to be bites and partners should react appropriately.

Sparring does not stop until a partner is deemed to be incapacitated or in a position where they simply cannot or is highly unlikely to make a viable comeback.

This level of sparring must always be refereed by a third party – usually an instructor or other higher graded student. It is their role to:

  • Make sure all techniques are safe and appropriately controlled
  • Ensure both parties role play to make sure that both realism and safety is being observed
  • Ensure emotional control is being maintained
  • Decide when a bout is to stop
Legal Techniques:

Oblique kicking is the only illegal technique, but extreme caution and control should be used with potentially dangerous techniques. Partner should not attempt to use techniques that they are not 100% confident they can execute safely.

Safety equipment

At all levels, students must use Shinkyu purchased/approved protective gear.

Mitts or grappling gloves for karate points sparring.

Grappling gloves for Continuous and Free fighting.

Leg pads for all levels.

Groin guard for all levels.

Shinkyu head gear for Continuous and Free fighting.