Randori - the function of "soft" sparring in martial arts training

Have you ever noticed how dogs prepare for fighting?  They play fight - working at about 1/2 to 3/4 speed by mutual consent (neither dog moves to full speed at any point, even though they could "cheat").  They "pull their punches" - their bites are not the kind that injure, even if the experience is quite "rough and tumble".  And they flow continuously - they don't dart in and out.

Despite the fact that dogs never practice "hard and fast" I bet you have no doubt that dogs can fight very well indeed thanks to this "practice".  Just because they "mouth" your hand without breaking your skin, you shoudn't doubt that they can do some serious damage faster than you can blink.  If you've ever been attacked by a dog (and I have on 2 occasions) you'll know what I mean.

I believe that it is for this reason that continuously flowing sparring with light contact is not only useful, but essential in martial training.  In our Academy, and in many goju kaiha, this type of sparring is called "randori" - a term taken from judo.

Randori allows you to experiment and put yourself in positions where you can learn.  Depending on your favorite, tried and trusted techniques doesn't give you a chance to grow, no matter what discipline you practice.

Put another way, if you are always fearful or conservative, how can you do anything other than repeat your past successful movements?  If you try something new it could mean a broken tooth, jaw, elbow, finger in they eye, etc.

In our Academy we have always believed in randori as an essential aid to training.  It is not "real fighting" - it isn't intended to be.  It occupies the same role as play dogfights - a chance to learn without injury.  To learn about your strengths and weaknesses and develop new skills in a controlled environment.

Here is a video I compiled today of footage taken in previous years of our "randori" sparring:

The other crucial aspect to randori is that it insists that the sparring take place entirely within what I have called the "melee" range...

Next: The anatomy of randori

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic