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Sharing is Caring

Here are the main objectives for sparring: Number one, don't get hit. Number two, hit the other person. Or in the case of jiu-jitsu; sweep, pass, submit. Don't get swept, passed, submitted. So here I am on the mats with a pretty tough opponent, having a really good roll. But occasionally I have to put my hand up to block a foot that is flying at my face. Or an elbow that is aimed at my ribcage. Or a big, hard-as-a-rock head that is flying right towards my nose.

Is my opponent spazzy and out of control? No, she's great. It's the pair of grapplers next to us who I am protecting myself from.

And lest you think this situation is unique to jiu-jitsu, how about when you are sparring with someone and the 250 pound guy who is in the pair next to you steps on your toes. Or slams into you in his quest to sidestep his opponent. Or, even worse, aims a hook punch at that other guys midsection and somehow hits yours instead? (Yes, this has happened to me!)

Don't we have enough to worry about with one opponent? Is everyone staying in their own space too much to ask?

Before I go on a rant, I will say this. Accidents happen. So I will go by the same rule that I apply to unintentional face contact. If you do it once, it could be an honest mistake. Twice, a very careless mistake. More than that you are either not paying attention at all, or you are doing it on purpose. So yes, you might get over enthusiastic in your attempt to sweep that dude and end up throwing him into our mat space. No problem. Everyone apologizes, untangles their various limbs and gi parts, and moves over. But then it happens again. And again. And now I am more concerned with the foot that almost broke my nose than my own partner who is trying to choke me unconscious.

There are a few reasons these kind of accidents happen. One is of course, is legitimate lack of space. In this case it is the instructors fault, he or she has allowed too many matches to occur at once, and there is honestly no way for people to not bump into each other. This is an easy fix, just pull a few people off each round. But what about when there is plenty of room?

In my opinion, it is the senior belt's responsibility to watch out for space while sparring. Although it is certainly possible for a new white belt to notice that she is about to kick someone nearby, it is unrealistic to expect them to. When you are new, it is hard enough to keep your emotions in check, to try to remember something, anything(!) you learned in class and then apply it. To do this, and watch out for others, is nearly impossible. But more advanced students should be able to execute a game plan while simultaneously protecting their partner and the other people around him. 

In the end, it is all about control. That doesn't mean you have to go slow, although less speed makes it easier. But you can spar at a pretty high intensity and still be aware of your surroundings. That sense you use to notice that your opponent is cringing and looks miserable? Its the same one. The part of you that notices how insulted she is by your condescending "just hit me" attitude. That one. The time you felt the tap and instantly let go. Well, I hope that's every time. But just in case, its that same awareness that will keep everyone safe.

Don't ever notice any of those things? Well then you are a selfish jerk who thinks every round is all about you. And we have bigger issues to deal with than simply teaching you how to share.
You know you want to hug me! Or triangle me!


  1. I'm going to disagree - I think that lower belts SHOULD watch out and learn to do this. BUT I think that when there are people who are not sparring - they need to come in and stand between folks, or move them. Basically help safeguard people. I do hear what you're saying, and I agree that when there's a pair of lower belts who need to move out of the way that the senior of the two will end up doing most of the watching.

    My favorite thing - when I end up too close to people (either our fault or their's) I will say things like "Hello, may we join you" or "I want to spar with them!" heh

    1. LOL, I do that too! I usually say "Hi there!" or something like that. Often it is a harmless mistake. This particular incident, however, was pretty dangerous. My partner almost got kicked in the nose...twice!


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