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Fear Of Injury Makes Realistic Sword Practice?

"If you were to have a sparring match or freeplay practice that has the possibility of injury, people will move and fight more realistically."

True? Or False?

The answer which I've been thinking about for 10+ years, in my humble opinion, is not as clear-cut as we want it to be.

Firstly, I recognize that if I make a wrong move in sparring means the possibility of injury, I will definitely move more cautiously. The psychological changes will affect my actions. I think most people agree with this, and some might think that this creates a more realistic behavior in people.

Safety and Realism - Balancing these 2 components

To put it as simple as possible, imagine a balancing scale with "Safety" on one side, and "Realism" on the other. When one goes up, the other goes down.

I'm here to offer some alternative viewpoints for your consideration:

  1. Risk Appetite Some people do not want to venture into that extreme and putting themselves at the risk of injury. We have to respect that, no matter what their reasons are. It doesn't mean that these people are less worthy. There are some martial arts styles who do not do sparring at all, but yet they still preserve a precious legacy.

  2. Opportunity Loss Let me give you a real-life example that I've seen. David is a 50 years old lawyer who loves swordsmanship. He earns 5-figures a month. Benny is a 20 years old chap who loves swordsmanship too, and he believes in sparring full-force, no holding back, using rigid heavy weapons for maximum realism to develop his skills. So what happened was, Benny made a full-force horizontal attack to David's ear and busted his ear-drum, resulting in reduced sense of hearing in that one ear. David had to spend lots of money on medical bills, and couldn't work a few months. Now, from David's perspective, he has to consider if it's worth losing his income and risking his career, for the sake of learning swordsmanship. What will you choose if you're David? A 5-figures per month income? Or, throw that away in order to participate in more realistic practice?

  3. Respect To Our Training Partners When we engage in sparring or freeplay, we have to remember that our training partners are putting their physical bodies on the line so that we can practice. We have a duty to take care of their bodies and respect this "gift" that they have given us. If we handle their bodies recklessly without care, do you think they will offer it to us again? But of course, there are also people who think that "respect" means you fight with full-force and no holding back. That's also fine, but provided that both parties are mutual agreeable and understand what they signed up for.

  4. More Safety = More Realism Conversely to "Less Safety = More Realism", another way to think about it is also: More safety actually brings more realism. If I have a very rigid and heavy weapon that I know has the ability to seriously injure my training partner, I may start to hold back in order not to hurt him. But if I have a safer training weapon, such as a softer foam sword, which I know that it won't injure anyone, what kind of behavioral effects will it have on me? In short, I will be able to NOT hold back and strike my training partner with full-force as though it's a real fight.

  5. More Realistic Training Weapons = More Realistic Training? Many years ago, I used to think that having a more realistic weapon means I'm training more realistically and more authentically. I've since grown in my martial arts training to know that it's not true. You're not more authentic just because you spar with metal swords or heavy wooden swords. Anyone with money can achieve that. Authentic training comes from authentic learning. It can be achieved even without realistic weapons. A real teacher will be able to pass the teachings to you, even if he just picks up a broken branch on the field. Realistic training weapons serve to enhance our learning, but it's not like without it, we can never achieve real training.

Ending Thoughts Overall, there are pros and cons for each configuration.

Reduce safety for the sake of realism, you might sued. Check up the law on "Gross Negligence" if you will. No amount of indemnity forms can protect you or your club, if the injured party decides to sue.

Increase safety and people may question the effectiveness of your training.

Either way, it's a give-and-take situation. Win some here, lose some there.

But, no matter what is your decision, what you choose to compromise, how you choose to configure your training, how you choose to balance between Safety & Realism, I respect all styles' preferences and I wish you the best in your martial arts journey.


Jack Chen Ancient Chinese Martial Arts Manuals


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