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Over-violent In Sparring + My Injury Photo

On 6th March 2018, a HEMA practitioner by the name of "Ramon Santos" posted a video here:

He was violently thrown on the ground by his opponent, and laid there stunned while the referees called for the medic. A huge discussion happened on Facebook with many condemning the actions of being overly violent in sparring matches.

Their comments echoed my sentiments. Which is why I previously disagreed with a particular Sifu's practice of sparring with wooden swords, to the point people getting knocked out after receiving a full blow on the head. In the name of training realistically, not everyone would agree to the risk of such injury. But hey, if you and your training partner both agrees to go all-out without care of safety, by all means please go ahead. But make sure it is consensual first.

Some notable comments posted on Ramon's video were:

  • Anthony Barajas said, "IMHO anyone using a throw or armbar is responsible for the safety of his/her opponent. Technically this was a well-executed maneuver. He picks up and then DROVE his opponent had to the ground with his body weight. This was a textbook move but, great judicious care needs to be in place when using these techniques to ensure your adversaries safety to include sacrificing the point. We have to remember that these techniques are designed to hurt and kill people. Sorry, Ramon Santos, this happened to you. You are fortunate you were not hurt badly." (My thoughts: Personally, I have sacrificed points, or losing the match before, in the name of safety. I rather lose than cause injury to my training partner.)

  • Jordan R Hinckley said, "Not cool to say nothing of the lack of sportsmanship."

  • Jeff Larson said, "Holy shit. You ok Ray. That looked like it came out of WWE, not anything we study. I feel that was to aggressive. Our art is to show skill with control, not brute strength with lack of control or safety."

  • Corey Somavia said, "I also want to say that I don't agree with some of the harsh things that have been said about Ryan (the violent guy) here. Speaking as someone who did have to penalize him for excessive force at our tournament, I don't think he's doing it maliciously. My assessment is he's a very passionate, competitive fighter and sometimes that passion gets the better of him."

  • Jayson Barrons replied, I'm sorry Corey Somavia, but people like this need to stop getting a free pass. If he can't control himself in the ring, if "passion gets the best of him," if this is a common thing that happens even after he's been punished...then he doesn't belong fencing. He has violence issues that should prevent him from combative sports *for the sake of his opponents.* He doesn't get to have fun AND hurt people, and then just throw his arms up and go "I just get passionate." That means it's an excuse. It doesn't matter if it's malicious or not (and to be honest, it sure looks like it, especially his body language afterwards), if he's doing it and not stopping it, then he doesn't belong in HEMA. Tell the next person he injuries that he was just being passionate, and let's see how that goes."

  • Demeter Sanborn said, "That was a beautifully executed throw that is against the rules, a huge safety violation, and utterly unsportsmanlike. Should have been an instant disqualification and ban from the next event." and also replied to Corey, "he (Ryan, the violent guy) almost broke my collarbone and he DID dislocate my shoulder to the point that I had to keep it iced the entire tournament just to be able to raise it after medical personnel popped it back into place and stopped the nerve from pinching. This while using excessive force and striking an illegal target area (pommel strike to the collarbone)."

If you want to read more, you may visit the Video discussion directly here:

My Own Experience, Story & Injury

In Chinese martial arts, there is a saying, "留力不留手", which is translated as "Preserve force but do not preserve hands." What it means is, we do not hit with full force so as to maintain safety and also out of respect for our training partners. But this doesn't mean that we reserve our techniques (hands).

If you cannot perform the technique just because your force is reduced, then you have no skills. This is my opinion. I wrote about this previously.

A few years back, I had this student, let's call him "K". Initially, he was fine, but then gradually he started hitting harder and harder during sparring matches. I told him about it, but he was insistent that he had to do it because he has to hit with "true intent" in order to have realistic training.

"K" went on to send several people home with serious patches of bruises after sparring. Some even with injury. One had his thumb injured and need to go for therapy. One was a lawyer, and had his ear-drums busted, but luckily made a full recovery.

In Dec 2012, he invited some of his friends who practiced Aikido and/or Japanese swordsmanship in Singapore to my club. I warmly welcomed them so that we can learn from each other.

On that day, out of a friendly gesture, I invited one of them to spar with me. Let's call him "N". My sword strokes were controlled, even though I can tell that "N" did not care about my safety and he was swinging with full blunt force.

At some point, "N" thrusted me in the face aggressively, and my helmet even flew off. We were using padded swords which can flex on impact, and I was wearing a solid helmet. But my bottom lip was cut open by the blunt force, so you can imagine how intentional his thrust was.

Jack's cut lip

The match was stopped shortly, and he walked back to his group of Japanese swordsmanship friends and "K", while I go wash off the blood. When I came back, I heard "N" uttered something along the line of, "Oh, I was just using a XXXX technique from Aikido". But to "N"'s credit, he did pay for my medical bills.

"K" subsequently was full of praises about "N", and went around telling everyone how strong "N" was, and everyone should learn from him, or spar with him.

Due to our differences (I place greater emphasis on safety), "K" quit my club and went to start his own HEMA club. His beliefs were:

  • "If you don't want to get injured, then you shouldn't get hit in the first place."

  • "You must be willing to take the pain (of getting hit by him) in order to improve."

As far as I recall, "K"'s HEMA club closed down shortly. It lasted for around 1 year perhaps? His members joined another HEMA club which has been around for a longer time, and he also participates/teaches in that club nowadays. According to the people from inside the club, people stopped coming due to his over-violent nature.

Here are my ending thoughts:

  • If you want to spar realistically, using full force etc..., make sure it is mutually agreeable first. Your training partner or opponent must accept the risks first, or else you can be sued for negligence. For instance, if we're in a football match, and the video footage shows that you've tackled me intentionally in an overly-aggressive manner, you cannot say "Oh, it's just part of the game". I have the right to sue you for neglecting my safety if I get injured. This is true for most parts of the world.

  • I, or anyone for that matter, can choose to hit more aggressively during matches so as to increase the chances of winning. But I'd rather not, out of respect for your safety. Please treat others the same way.

  • Don't be an asshole just because you want to win.

Jack Chen Ancient Chinese Martial Arts Manuals

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