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Sparring is a form of training common to many martial arts. Although the precise form varies, it is relatively free-form fighting, with enough rules, customs, or agreements to make injuries unlikely. By extension, argumentative debate is sometimes called "verbal sparring".
The physical nature of sparring naturally varies with the nature of the skills it is intended to develop; sparring in a striking art such as Savate will normally begin with the players at opposite corners of a ring and will be stopped if they clinch. Sparring in a grappling art such as judo might begin with the partners holding one another and end if they separate.
The organization of sparring matches also varies. If the participants know each other well and are friendly, it may be sufficient for them to simply play, without rules, referee, or timer. If the sparring is between strangers, or there is some emotional tension, or the sparring is being evaluated, it may be appropriate to introduce formal rules and have an experienced martial artist supervise the match.
Sparring is normally distinct from fights in competition. The goal of sparring is normally the education of the participants, while a competitive fight seeks to determine a winner.
The educational role of sparring is a matter of some debate. In any sparring match, precautions of some sort must be taken to protect the participants. These may include wearing protective gear, declaring certain techniques and targets off-limits, playing slowly or at a fixed speed, forbidding certain kinds of trickery, or one of many other possibilities. These precautions have the potential to change the nature of the skill that is being learned. For example, if one were to always spar with heavily padded gloves, one might come to rely on techniques that risk breaking bones in one's hand. Most schools recognize this problem but value sparring nonetheless because it forces the student to improvise, to think under pressure, and to keep their emotions under control.
Sparring has different names and different forms in various schools. Some schools prefer not to call it sparring, as they feel it differs in kind from what is normally called sparring.
- In Chinese martial arts, sparring is usually trained at first as individual applications, eventually combined as freestyle training of long, medium and short range techniques. See chin na, pushing hands.
- In Japanese martial arts, a sparring-like activity is usually called randori. In judo, this is essentially one-on-one sparring; in some forms of aikido it is a formalized form of sparring where one aikidoka defends against many attackers.
- In Karate, sparring is called kumite.
- In capoeira, the closest analogue to sparring is playing in the roda .
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