A fair number of martial arts such as karate, tae kwon do, and others employ a training method called “one-step sparring.” This training method has been the subject of a fair bit of debate. Some advocate it. Others deride it as impractical and not suited to the realities of the 21st century. I think that there are pros and cons to this training method. This is the first of two posts addressing both sides of this topic. Today, I will posit 3 great reasons for one-step sparring.

“But what does this topic have to do with Filipino Martial Arts” some might say, pointing to a video such as this:

If you are not able to view the video, please click here.

They will say “We don’t do anything like this in Filipino Martial Arts.”

Au contraire, mon Frere.

See, for example, this video:

If you are not able to view this video, please click here. This is the basic, block, check counter drill that is taught to all of my beginners.

For the purposes of this post, “one-step sparring” is a prearranged attack which is blocked and then counter attacked. Thus, my demonstration in the above video falls within the definition of “one-step sparring.”  Some instructors call it a “drill.” Others describe it as “teaching the basics.” Call it whatever you want, it still consists of one-step by the attacker, followed by a block and counter attack by the defender.

While many look down on one-step sparring, I will argue that there are three great benefits of this method.

(1) Teaching beginners: this training method is the best way to teach the beginners the ABC’s of the martial art they are studying. As an example, let’s go back to the basic block, check, counter drill referenced above. Quite a few details are covered in this drill:

  • Proper blocking;
  • footwork; 
  • awareness of the centre line; 
  • the use of the check hand;
  • and timing.

Yes, the idea of doing a sequence with a finite end and then “resetting” drives some martial artists crazy. However, the one-step method is an essential tool for installing the basics of Modern Arnis or any martial art for the student. 

It would be erroneous to focus on only one side of the sequence; that of the defending side. What about the driver side of the sequence? With the one-step method, the driver learns the proper distance and range for a proper attack, not to be a “wet noodle,” and to be able to see his partner’s counter attacks.

In short, the one-step method offers tremendous benefits for beginners, both for the driver and the defender. There is probably no other method that does a better job of “software installation” (i.e., the concepts and foundational techniques of a martial art) than the one-step method.

Proper distance and range for an attack.

Beginners: please don’t do the wet noodle thing.

(2) Stress inoculation: Admittedly, the stress inoculation that comes from aggressive and well practiced one step sparring is nothing like the stress or adrenal dump from free sparring or a street self-defence situation.

That said, it does serve as a useful introduction to dealing with stress. The stress can originate from the aggressiveness of the attacker or seeing a weapon come at you. It can come from dealing with a bigger and stronger partner or with one more speed or experience than the defender.

For example, in teaching my 6 to 10-year-old students on how to feed, I often have them feed me first so that I can ensure that they have good form and intent. To stress the importance of proper form, I’ll often execute the block, check, counter at slow to moderate speed. Without exception, they all have the classic flinch response at seeing the stick coming at their face. Usually, they get acclimated to it quickly. 

As I said, it’s only an introduction to stress. I do not think that pushing students into free sparring or advanced training serves them well. It will only set them up for failure. While some may progress more rapidly than others, I believe that the one-step method is the appropriate starting point for all.

Kids often flinch when they see a stick coming at their face.

(3) New technique for advanced students: While the one-step method is perceived as only benefitting beginners, it can be quite useful for the advanced students, even myself. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I had a private lesson with Master of Tapi Tapi Chuck Gauss. He wanted to impart particular concepts of timing, positioning, and technique in this session.

To teach me multiple concepts, he employed a variation of the one-step method to teach me a complex sequence. He then had me practiced this sequence with my partner, Andy, over and over and making corrections to my timing, positioning, and technique. He exposed me to quite a few conceptual tweaks and it was best done with an advanced version of the one-step sparring method.

In summary, an advanced version of one-step sparring can be quite a useful learning tool for advanced students, particularly in teaching new concepts or techniques. Of course, the student needs to transfer the concepts learned during this sequence and apply to free play.

While there are benefits to one-step sparring, there are downsides to this method. I will explore the downsides in the next post.

Turning over to you, what are your thoughts on the one-step method? Let’s hear your thoughts!

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