While valuable, point sparring has some limitations, and if overdone, can have serious consequences when it comes to real self defense.
Point based sparring can be a great workout. You can improve your timing and experiment with angles and distance. It can also improve your ability to identify your opponent’s ‘tells’. That’s all great.
Overuse, however, can ingrain dangerous habits. For one, point sparring has a set of rules for what you can and can’t do. In the real world, excluding certain targets is dangerous. You’ve got to use whatever is available at the time. Even more serious is the very nature of point sparring. You train yourself to stop when you land a point. You fight as you train. The last thing you want in a real violence situation is to strike and then stop, waiting for a ref to restart the match.
Point based sparring doesn’t allow more than the strikes or kicks. Grabbing your opponent is not allowed. For Jiu Jitsu and other similar styles, this is counter intuitive as they are typically hands on, in-close fighting styles. While there are strikes and kicks, they are often used in order to close the gap and then apply the more intrinsic elements, such as balance breaking, throws, joint locks, chokes etc.
Most real fights do not stay in the fighting range of point based sparring. The back and forth just doesn’t happen very much. Most combatants ending up in close range, whether it goes to the ground or not.
You’ll also find most people who point spar hold their hands in a position that may not be optimal for street defense. Most people I’ve seen keep their hands fairly low, as they are trying to cover the most ‘real estate’ that they can that is considered a ‘legal’ target in point sparring.
I am of the opinion that in a real violent encounter, holding your hands higher is a better idea. While I know body shots can be debilitating, I’m more concerned about being knocked unconscious on the street, and the knock out button resides on our chins/jaws. In a real violent encounter, you’d be better to take a body shot when you are moving in than to take a head shot.
And since you aren’t bobbing back and forth, you are unlikely to receive multiple blows to the body.
Point sparring has a bunch of positive elements, but should be used judiciously. Sadly, in some martial arts schools, this is the closest thing that students get to dynamic training. An expert in point sparring may be unpleasantly surprised in a real attack.
The message to take away is to know the strengths and weaknesses of any form of training. Point based sparring needs to be balanced against more realistic forms of training, including continuous type sparring which starts at a range, but continues to a conclusion, such as moving in, a throw or take down, and a finish. Dynamic randori with multiple opponents is also a valuable training tool. There are other methods as well, stress induced training, the ‘red-man’ suit and such. Each method has its good and its bad points. Just make sure that you’re not fooled into thinking that, on its own, point based sparring is an effective method of learning true self defense.
Food for thought.