Detailed Drills: Unfair Advantage

Today we’ll look at a few sparring drills that give one person the advantage over another. One of these drills will only require standard sparring equipment, but the other two will need a foam practice knife. You can use wood or plastic as well, but be aware that the chance for injuries goes up if you do! Do NOT use sharp metal for these drills. Ever.

Unfair Fight

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In this drill, two participants set up for a normal sparring match. The catch: when one participant scores a point it’s worth 1 point, when the other scores it’s worth 5 points. This will keep the disadvantaged participant on their toes and produce a more self-defense oriented mindset. It’s a simple change, but it can make a sparring match feel like it has much higher stakes. People act differently when they only have one chance!

Make sure you have the person at the disadvantage spar students of equal or lower skill. There’s nothing to be learned from a black belt overwhelming a newer student and scoring the single winning point right away.

Unfair Knife Fight

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This is similar to the previous drill, but this time the participant with the advantage has a foam or rubber sparring knife and the other person is unarmed. The scoring is similar as well. All punches and kicks are worth 1 point, but a strike with the knife is worth 5. Safety precautions and face shields should be used if the foam knife is being allowed to strike the head. This drill can be done with other foam or rubber weapons as well.

The person with the knife might need to be reminded that they can punch and kick as well. A kick still has a longer range than a knife. The participant at the disadvantage should try to remain far away whenever they aren’t closing in quickly to score.

This drill reinforces the same “one chance to survive” mindset as the first drill, but the presence of the knife has a psychological effect and will change both participants’ mindsets.

Hidden Knife

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This drill requires more than two people and works best in a formal uniform top or in plainclothes where a foam knife can be concealed. Have multiple participants take turns in regular 1 vs 1 sparring matches, but secretly give 1 of them a foam knife. During the match, the participant with the knife may use it to surprise and attack their opponent. Just like before scoring with the knife is worth 5 points while everything else is worth only 1.

This teaches an important lesson: always assume an attacker has a weapon. People do not attack when it’s a fair fight – people attack when they’re confident they can win. Having people train with the knowledge that anyone could secretly be armed will make them think much more realistically about their martial arts training.

All of these drills have unusual rules that make the matches unfair…

…but as the saying goes “life isn’t fair.” How we handle a situation where we are at a disadvantage says a lot about ourselves, and is really a great way to test your martial arts abilities. Again, I want to end this by urging caution using any weapons, even wooden training ones, in sparring situations. Use good control and take safety precautions!

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