Sparring Light Contact: Why do We do it?

Our dojo inherited our light contact sparring from our Kobayashi Shorin Ryu roots. The main targets are the side of the head, chest, abdomen and sides of the body above the belt. In this activity, we just touch with our strikes – both punches and kicks. Therefore, chest guards are not needed. Both partners wear helmets, gloves, boots and mouthpieces and male practitioners wear groin cups. We don’t hit to the face or below the belt and the back is not a target area.


There is no perfect training drill. They all have their different risks and rewards. Not hitting to the face is a disadvantage. After years of going against sparring partners who don’t go for your face, you can get in the habit of not protecting that area. And the face is a prime target for many attackers. Getting in the habit of “pulling punches” as required for light contact sparring can make your technique less effective. On the other hand, on the receiving end, taking light strikes doesn’t help condition you for the full contact you’ll encounter on the street. Also, at over $100, the full set of gear has a moderate price.

For the instructor, negotiating loaner gear and getting students to purchase their own can be difficult. And from a teacher’s point of view, it’s difficult to get the whole group involved because some students don’t have their sparring gear. (And when they do have it, they don’t always bring it.) Plus, you must have competent, trained supervision available to referee.


With all of those disadvantages from all of those points of view, why do we bother with light contact sparring? The answer in short is, it’s a safe way for students to practice real-time techniques. It has many other benefits too. Such as it helps students practice distancing, speed and timing for blocks and strikes, with a variety of partner sizes. Our footwork, moving and stances can be put to a test.

In any sparring, we learn and practice different ways of getting around our partners’ guards and to their targets. While you learn to control your strikes in light contact sparring, you build your physical as well as emotional control. If you practice full contact strikes on targets such as heavy bags, you will be able to execute them if ever needed on a life protection situation. Additionally, sparring helps build courage. And it develops thinking and acting on one’s feet in a very fluid situation. Plus, it’s a great cardio workout.


As mentioned, with the correct gear and competent, conscientious supervision, light contact sparring is a relatively safe way of training. These are just some of the systems we have in place that make sparring and our other activities less risky. Being able to spar on a mat like ours makes it even safer as the worst injuries I’ve heard of involved falling and hitting one’s head on a hard floor. When you weigh the pros and cons of our hands-on training, it is prudent to continue this avenue of training.

-Jenifer Tull-Gauger

karate sparring

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