I've been developing the ideas behind the new sparring DVD
for some time, and although much of the DVD is constructed out of my work with guys in the gym, there are a number of outside factors that influenced the way I approached the subject.
The first one that I want to talk about is Futbol de Salao ('soccer in a hall') from Brazil. This is an English adaptation of it
Because of the smaller field and smaller and heavier ball with little bounce, the game allows for the development of technical skills through increased contact in terms of ball touches. It's a very fast game and requires that skills be performed at a high tempo. In addition to skill development, futbol enhances related areas of physical coordination, reaction time, anticipation, rapid decision-making, improvisation, adaptation, dynamic balance, visual flexibility, and so on. Used in training, the play is more about skill development than it is about the competitive outcome of the game. So Futbol de Salao can be used effectively as a support system for the actual soccer game.
When I was developing new sparring methods, I needed something that could perform similar functions in the gym for training fighters. Futbol de Salao gave me a kind of rubric that I could use.
Most sparring is fight-based and therefore win-based, so people get hung up on outcomes and they don't work skills deliberately within the exchange. Instead, guys tend to spar on auto-pilot. This removes the 'deliberate' from the practice. One of the things I had to do was find ways to make the spar relatively safe, to remove the anxiety from the participants, but to keep the exchanges real enough to be accurate representations of the actual fight. It's fairly easy to do this on the ground where there are tap-out conventions, but for standup it was more of a challenge. The skills had to be practiced under fire and not in a drill, much in the manner of Futbol de Salao where you have a reduced version of the game itself.
I knew also that tempo had to be high and that skills had to be performed within that tempo. I kept in my mind the idea of the increased percentage of touches in Futbol de Salao and brought that concept to the sparring. This forces the recognition and response networks to process information quicker.
The sparring we practice is a form of deliberate practice. Because we have set out our objectives and created some limitations to the exchange, we not only make the situation safer but the fighter knows exactly what he is trying to achieve and when he makes a mistake, he has an opportunity to see it and to correct it.
As in Futbol de Salao, we aren't changing the essential realities of the fight. We're just reducing the size and time frame in which we are working so as to concentrate our efforts. In that way, the fighter is constantly being stretched and forced to make mistakes and therefore to learn.
Of course, with fighting there are many more variables than in a game of football. So we are working across a range of options in any given session, and the intensity and the agreed conditions and conventions will vary depending on the fighter's experience and the objectives they are working on at that particular time. The professional fighters I work with will have different agreements with their sparring partners in terms of what is allowed than the newer, less experienced guy where safety is a consideration first and foremost. But the essential principles are the same, and you can work them with young kids right the way through to professionals.