Shiryodo Karate – Sparring Contact

Experiences, not Things Make us Happy
NAS State Titles 2016

You may be considering starting to train at Shiryodo Karate, you might already be training and thinking about sparring or you might be sparring and unsure if the level of contact is appropriate or not. The questions “How much contact is okay in sparring?” and “Am I going to get hurt?” comes up at different times for different reasons.

The amount of contact that is okay depends on a number of things but safety is always the priority at Shiryodo Karate so you should never be going any harder than you feel is safe.

General Philosophy.
Shiryodo Karate aims to be inclusive, we want everyone who chooses to do martial arts to be able to enjoy and benefit from what we have to offer. For this reason you should not be going harder than the person you are sparring is okay with. When you are sparring with someone you have not sparred before you should take it easy and get to know what they are okay with. Remember people do martial arts for lots of different reasons and have vastly different levels of fitness and ability. Help those you are training with to get the most out of their training.


When people are enjoying sparring they learn more and get more comfortable with it. Then as they feel more confident they will often be happy to spar harder. There may be times however when people are injured, returning to training after a break or for some other reason are wanting to take it easy. If you are sparring let the other person know what you are okay with. If the person you are sparring does not seem okay with the level of contact check in with them.

When do you start sparring?
At Shiryodo Karate those in our Youth and Senior programs, ages 7 – Adult, they are able to start sparring at yellow belt (for those who haven’t trained before this normally takes 6 months of consistent training, 60 classes). For those in our 4-7 years dragons program they need to be green belt (around 18 months).

This ensures that everyone coming along to the sparring classes has some basic technique and an understanding of the philosophy that the dojo operates on. By this time they will also know a lot of the people who they are sparring with so there is mutual respect. This makes sparring safer, less intimidating and more enjoyable for everyone.

Initially there are sparring strategy and point sparring classes that are open for those sparring to do. The Thursday evening sparring class where there is less coaching and more contact allowed (but still based on what people are okay with) is only open to Green belts and above (around 18 months training).

General Sparring Rules.
Everyone must wear approved protective equipment. This includes gloves and foot / shin guards, which should be clean and in good condition. These are available from the dojo, but if buying from elsewhere ensure you check it is okay, there is a lot of sparring gear that does not meet our requirements. Head guards must be worn up to advanced brown belt for seniors and black belt for youth, they are then optional.

If nothing else is specified then the general sparring contact rules are:

  • Punches towards the head are okay but strictly no contact.
  • Kicks towards the head are okay, controlled touch contact to side of head ONLY, no contact to face.
  • Contact to the body is okay, depending on the class and who you are sparring this can range from touch contact to reasonably hard contact (see above for more details)
  • Leg kicks to the inside / outside of thigh are okay but only touch contact.
  • Sweeps must be controlled and only performed if your opponent is okay with them. The person doing a sweep is responsible for ensuring it’s done in such a way as to not risk injury. Sweeps should not be attempted by / on anyone below brown belt.


What type of sparring are you doing?

One factor in how much contact will be okay is the type of sparring you are doing.

General sparring: as mentioned above, depending on the class and people sparring.

Point sparring: this is a type of competitive sparring, the objective is to get a clean technique through your opponents guard, any contact should be controlled and so the amount of contact is normally very light. All techniques must be above the belt (no leg kicks).

Continuous sparring: in this type of competitive sparring light contact to the body is allowed as is light contact to the legs.

In the dojo and at the NAS (National All Styles) tournaments that the dojo regularly has people enter they will be doing these types of point and continuous sparring with controlled or no contact.


Full Contact sparring: at times people from Shiryodo karate also have the opportunity to attend full contact karate training camps, competitions and other events. Most of these will be through the WKO (World Kumite Organization). These events are entirely optional. People participating should be aware that hard contact, at times with no gloves or foot protectors is permitted.

Gradings: from green belt for seniors and advanced green for youth there is a sparring component at gradings. The level of contact will be appropriate and safe for those participating, this follows the general sparring guidelines. In black belt gradings those grading do 40 rounds of sparring. The sparring in gradings is against fresh people, so is designed to be challenging. At times people will be pushed both physically and mentally by this, the aim is always to challenge, never to harm. Control and the safety of those participating is always the priority.

Who are you sparring?
At Shiryodo we have all age groups, from young children to those in their 60’s or 70’s and everyone in between. Sparring can be very demanding physically, as the phrase ‘fighting fit’ would suggest it does test your fitness. Engaging in physical combat can also be very confronting, especially if you’re not accustom to it or may have had experiences such as being assaulted that were very negative. The good news is of course that working through this is really empowering and will give you confidence in many other areas of your life. When sparring you do however need to recognize that, beyond everything you can see, people come with vastly different life experiences and so will react differently to sparring and some will find it much more confronting than others. Some people will progress more quickly than others, no different than anything else, so be patient with yourself and others, enjoy the process of learning and developing a new skill as well as helping others do the same.


Will I get hurt sparring?
No, the goal is not for people to get hurt. In fact the protective equipment, rules and all aspects of the sparring environment at Shiryodo Karate are all designed to make it as safe as possible while still being fun, challenging and giving you the opportunity to develop skills. Like any sport there are always risks, sparring is no different, however we have very few injuries. Even with hundreds of people training at Shiryodo Karate it is very rare for someone to be injured. As you get better at sparring there may be times when you decide to spar with more contact, once you understand properly how to do this, you can spar quite hard without being hurt.




Malcolm Ayles
Shihan Malcolm Ayles
The question I constantly ask myself is how can I help this person... what can I do to empower them, help them focus, help them become the best they can be.

1 Comment

  1. Gemma says:

    This information was very helpful in reinforcing the guidelines for sparring and the differences in contact between point and continuous sparring. Thank you Shihan.