The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray. – Robert Burns.
In the last post, I discussed three great reasons for one-step sparring. As noted in that post, this topic has been a topic of debate. While there are benefits to one-step sparring, some have argued that this training method has its downsides. I will explore the problems associated with “one-step sparring” in this post.
(1) Prearranged movement is not the same as chaos: Regardless of style, many one-step attacks consist of prearranged attacks and counter attack. The punch is often aimed at a prearranged target (for example, a high punch aimed at the head) Meanwhile, the defender executes prearranged, prescribed defensive techniques.
While there is a place for this learning tool, ultimately it does not come close to matching the chaos of a self-defence situation.
(2) The timing and rhythm are different from a self-defence situation: Going back to the above video, the one-step method is very metronomic. The timing and the rhythm are usually pretty predictable. Punch, block, execute the technique and then reset. In a free sparring or a real life situation, the timing and rhythm vary greatly. Sucker punches and multiple combinations are common in street altercations. The one-step method clearly does not replicate what may happen in a self-defence situation.
(3) Predictable attacks: the attacks are predictable in the sense that every single attack originates in front of the defender. Granted, some instructors may have varied this to include one-step attacks from the side or from a 45-degree angle. However, I don’t recall seeing anyone teaching this. In a real life situation, attacks may come from any direction and angle. Someone may be behind you, at your side, or at a 45-degree angle relative to you.
(4) Artificial: the attacks are artificial in the sense that they are not realistic. Few will attack you like the attacker in the above video. One-step sparring contains one HUGE assumption. It assumes that you, as the defender, will see an attack every single time.
Take a look at the punk in the below video engaging in the “knockout game” fad.
You have to ask yourself: does the one-step method realistically prepare anyone for a possible street attack? Most attacks are not going to be as obvious as the dojo one-step sparring.
(5) One-step: The fact that there is only one attack is the biggest issue that I have with this method. Once the attacker completes the attack, that’s it. Go to the first video in this post. After the attacker performs his technique, what happens? His punch hangs in the air and his left-hand stays by his hip. Everything changes if the attacker counters the defender’s technique.
(in annoying Joe Pesci voice) “Okay, okay, okay but you said in the last post that the one-step method is appropriate for beginners and advanced players alike. Don’t they have to start somewhere?”
Well, yes. However, I have seen schools that still use this as a primary tool for advanced training. Pull up videos on YouTube where you can see 4th, 5th, and 6th dans performing one-step techniques as part of their grading. Shockingly, the attacker invariably leaves their punching hand in the air and the non-punching stuck at their left hip.
Really? Come on, now.
Are these students prepared for that dreaded moment? Not likely.
As I said in the last post, there is a place for the one-step method for beginners and advanced students alike.
It is a particularly useful introduction for the beginners to the fundamentals of the art they are studying. I would argue that it’s important to incorporate other training methods as well.
For example, after teaching the basic block, check, counter drill, I often teach the slap off/pull off drill as an introduction to the concept of “counter for counter” so common in Filipino Martial Arts as illustrated in the below video.
In summary, while the one-step method has its place and I do use this method quite often with my students, I also recognize that there are shortcomings associated with this training method.