Kid’s love sparring don’t they? Their faces light up
when they are told to get their sparring mitts on and they run off
enthusiastically to fetch them out of their bags.
Though I'm not a huge fan of sports karate for adults I
do think it’s a great exercise for kids. It develops fitness, courage, reaction
times, and a sense of strategy. It also toughens them up a bit and teaches them
to show a bit of humility whether they win or lose.
So it is with some sadness that I can’t introduce the
kids to sparring in my after-school class. Why? Because they have no sparring
mitts! These are kids doing a 6 week introductory course in karate, wearing
just their P.E. kits. No gi, no belt, no kit!
To give them a taste of the thrill of sparring I’ve had
to be a little inventive. I take in as many belts as I can find (all my old
coloured belts, my kobudo club belts and any other spares I can put my hands
on) and teach the kids how to tie them on. Then I have cut up several old white
belts into strips of about 10 inches long and give them one each to tuck into
the front of their belts – this tab becomes the target.
We then do a bit of ‘shadow sparring’ to learn how to
move around in sport karate and practice a couple of basic block/punch
combinations against imaginary opponents. I then pair them up and get them to
use the same technique of moving in to their partner to do a reverse punch but
instead of punching (no mitts remember) they pull out their partner’s white
After they’ve each had a few goes at moving in to pull
out the tab of an unresisting partner they move on to doing it in a more
competitive way with both partners trying to get each other’s tabs. This starts
to re-create the energy and flow of a real sparring bout with the kids learning
to move around each other, guard their own tab and moving in to grab their partner’s
Once they’ve got the hang of it we have a mini
competition which helps to teach them the basic rules and etiquette of a
sparring match. I divide them into two groups and sit each group either side of
the sparring area. I then call up one from each group (matched for size and
age) to compete whilst everyone else watches.
I act as referee and get them to stand opposite each
other, bow, get into fighting stance and then at my command (hajime) they start
to ‘spar’. A point is scored when one of them pulls out the other’s tab and the
match is stopped (yame), the kids are put back to their starting position and
the point awarded (ippon). They then bow to each other and off they go again.
We carry on like this for a set period (usually a minute) and the winner is the
one with the most points. At the end the opponents are brought back to starting
positions and the winner announced (kachi). All the kids get a chance to have a
go at this ‘shia kumite’.
Alternatives include ‘best of three’ points to win or winner
is first to score a point. There are rules about staying in the area and
penalties and warnings for bad or dangerous behaviour (not that this needs to
be invoked very often!).
The kids really enjoy this opportunity to have a go at ‘sparring’
in this way and seem to get a lot out of it. I have found it a useful way to
simulate sport kumite when sparring mitts are not available and many of the
same skills can be learnt and practiced in a safe way. I haven’t yet introduced
any kicks into this style of sparring but there is no reason not to use
roundhouse kicks because our real kumite sessions in the club involve only
touch contact anyway and we don’t wear any protective body gear.
Hopefully if some of these kids enjoy my karate
sessions enough to make them want to join the main club they will be able to
hit the ground running a little when introduced to real sparring with mitts!