By Bradley J. Steiner, American Combato
You hear it all the time: “Without freestyle sparring in whatever you are doing, there is no preparation for self-defense. You must spar.” With all due respect to those who honestly believe that (and with utter contempt for those who know better, but foster the lie because it serves their commercial interests) we must insist that sparring is not necessary in order to learn how to defend yourself or dispatch an enemy in military hand-to-hand combat.
Please note, before jumping to the conclusion that we could not possibly be correct, because “everyone knows” that you have to spar in order to duplicate what really happens in a violent encounter, that we are not suggesting you do not have to drill and practice realistically. 
But if you really do want to practice realistically (meaning, as close as possible to the “real thing”) then you must avoid sparring and instead work with simulated combat drills—for offense and defense—that omit nothing that must be used in real combat.
The roughest “sparring” that exists is probably that which we observe today in MMA and the UFC. No doubt about the fact that the young fellows who train hard and fight hard in these events can almost certainly handle a real assailant in the street. But so can hard training boxers, wrestlers, judoka, karate and kickboxing competitors. And MMA and the UFC have a plethora of rules, restrictions, and regulations, just like every other combat sport.
The fact is, of course, that all of that which is banned in fighting sports is exactly what you need, want, and should be working incessantly to polish and perfect for self-defense. 
MORE: Unlike any combat sport, you should be training hard in offensive, preemptive techniques. You should be mastering strategies and tactics that are not permitted (and should not be permitted) in any “sport”.
Deceit and deception, attacking an assailant who is convinced of your helplessness at the very moment when you perceive his greatest vulnerability, and willfully, deliberately, with every ounce of your strength, speed, concentration, determination, and yes, hatred, going for his body’s most vulnerable targets. Eyes, throat, testicles, knees, sternum, solar plexus, and so on right away, and following up relentlessly and ruthlessly with no mercy, forbearance, restraint, compassion, or hesitation.
Biting into your opponent’s face, neck, or other exposed body part. Ramming a finger up into his nostril, or tearing apart his mouth with your thumbs. These are combat skills. These are techniques and actions that have no place in any context, save that of unavoidable self-defense or defense of a loved one.
No correlation exists between such mayhem and a combat sport. One popular figure in the MMA, while essentially laughing at the advocacy of serious combat skills, and saying, in effect, “Well we (i.e. the MMA guys) can use those techniques, too!” His suggestion implied that the MMA was far superior to “mere” self-defense/combat training because in addition to the skill of MMA fighting, the practitioner could always resort to what the trained combatives user will use.
The truth is, of course, that this expert was actually conceding that in a desperate emergency it would indeed be the skills of serious hand-to-hand combat, and not the sporting skills employed to win a match, that the MMA fighter would rely upon. But his intention was to show that MMA was necessary because it bolstered and added to what true combatives offer. WRONG! 
Training incessantly in MMA or any other fighting sport will instill in the motor memory the use of and the immediate resorting to competition-winning techniques. Now it is certainly true that a young, physically powerful, tough, in-hard-training MMA fighter who retains the hand-to-hand stuff in the back of his mind would most likely be able to defend himself… either with no recourse to maiming or killing actions, or by “recalling” them during the engagement.
All well and good for the active, young, in-training and competition MMA guy, but how many people who want and or need real world training in practical self-defense and close combat have the interest, energy, desire, time, or incentive to even dabble in MMA, let alone reach a level of serious ability in it, so that they can adopt it to combat?
Anyone, by the way, could do the same with any fighting sport you can name and, keeping a few “dirty tricks” on a mental shelf just in case, acquit himself marvelously in most any self-defense predicament. Good judo men and boxers can generally make mincemeat of a street punk (and their training does not damage their bodies and produce the injuries that MMA is known for!) 
The student of self-defense (if he is really being taught real, reliable self-defense) does not commit sporting moves to motor memory. Instead he learns to “go for the throat” instantly and with no warning, and with every ounce of concentration and force he can muster. True, he doesn’t “fight” with an attacker, per se. He attacks him. 
And if the attacker succeeds in taking him off guard, he learns to counterattack and become the offensive party in the engagement, taking the war to the enemy’s camp, in a manner of speaking. To develop combat ability (i.e. the readiness and willingness to knockout, maim, or kill when a life threatening situation confronts him) the student trains IN THAT, AND IN THAT, EXCLUSIVELY.
For him combat is not a sport. It is a weapon. Like a handgun. Or a fighting knife. It is brought into play only when absolutely necessary and when violence simply cannot be avoided. No sparring. No fighting.
The self defender goes to war when avoidance is impossible. The competitor fights all the time… according to rules, against another competitor, on a mat or other safe surface, at an appointed time, with regulations, a referee, and a moral obligation to fight fair. Sparring instills the sportsman’s philosophy and methodology. 

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