A Modest Proposal

Through much experimentation and some little research I have come to an opinion about martial arts, all martial arts. Nothing too radical, but the catch is that I feel this should be universal and it is hard to convince such a contrary crowd as my cohorts about anything universal.

I propose, simply, that every style of martial training should engage in what I call Touch Sparring.

art_modpro7By this I mean anything of the sort like Push Hands, Sticky Hands, White Crane Sparring, Mantis Hand sparring, etc.

As you can see, a few styles already use some form of Touch Sparring. And others “borrow” from their neighbors–which I think is just as acceptable if done correctly.

art_modpro4I am definitely NOT advocating some universal Touch Sparring that spans all styles. This would be, in my opinion, a grave error. I am suggesting that, even for the most health-oriented, personal achievement or even just plain introverted styles, Touch Sparring will be a boon.

Why? Most people would answer, “self defense, of course.” And, of course, I echo “yes” to that; but I have other, larger benefits in mind.

  1. art_modpro10Touch Sparring gives feedback on important aspects, such as distance, angle and intensity. This training is about staying in some “dis-comfort” zone and sticking it out. It is an incredibly clever activity for its purpose: to re-program your automatic responses until you are no longer having to visualize your actions.


  1. The variables are almost infinite. You can practice striking, grappling, pushing, grabbing, footwork, whatever. Some of the best sparring is highly concentrated: using only one hand, weapons vs. hands, repositioning, etc. This is a perfect way to develop specific abilities.
  1. One of the dangers to Touch Sparring is that it is so much fun. People want to practice it all the time. Of course, it is the tactility that fascinates them. Unlike what they think at the beginning, few people know their own natural art_modpro8responses. Touch Sparring allows them to see how much of their responses actually backfire and go against themselves. You can talk to a student for months, but having them zig when they should have zagged–even just once–clarifies the concept really quickly. Touch Sparring is direct experience.
  1. art_modpro7It substitutes sensitivity for force. This is based on the teacher’s insights and abilities. One of the most difficult things in martial arts sparring is to keep students from rigging the game. I don’t even mean intentional cheating, just the natural human tendency to “adjust” to the rules. Each type of Touch Sparring should be regulated to equalize variables that would skew the practice. Once that is done, partners of uneven abilities, strengths and training can work together. Cheating skews the scores, though.
  1. art_modpro1Nature is self-correcting, according to Daoist teachings. Touch Sparring also is self-correcting. If we make sure that it doesn’t become a little personal duet of well-groomed quirks shared by just two people, it will always expand, educate and enlighten.

Teachers! If you don’t have this tool already in your style, you should make one. Research, experiment, then add the distinctive features of your branch. Any form of martial arts can sustain some method of Touch Sparring.

3 Responses to “A Modest Proposal”

  1. Stan says:

    Great proposal! For those of us who do not already have such practices in our arts, do you have any product suggestions to get us started?


  2. Jeff says:

    It is interesting how often I will be meditating about some aspect of the martial arts, then come here and see it reflected. I was planning to do this in my next class on Thursday.

  3. G says:

    Thanks for this observation. A close reading of Funakoshi’s Kyohan reveals that the change of yin into yang hand, similar to its Goju Ryu relative kakie (sticky hand) were a part of Japanese Tode, at least until the post WWII tournaments arrived and Funakoshi’s students lost all comprehension of his copy of the Bubishi. Sad to say. most of his students thought it was a book of dense poetry, unrelated to martial arts.

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