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QUESTION

I'm into Ninjutsu. We have just started some boxing + kicking: Gloves, mouth guards. I'm speaking "friendly" here - this is in-house sparring, not MMA competition.

So, the instructor has recommended shin guards, and I'm contemplating buying these ones (I always go for quality, these seem highly appreciated, and the price difference between those and average ones is about $50) but I wonder - Don't guards defeat the purpose of getting a little tougher, learning to perform even when hurting?

Of course, had I been into MMA competition I wouldn't hesitate buying the best guards available, and the price isn't the issue - it's the principle.

So, my question is this: Do guards defeat the purpose of training?

{ asked by Avi }

ANSWER

"It depends." Partly on your goals, partly on what you hope to achieve via sparring.

First things first: If shin guards are standard in your studio or if your instructor recommends them, then absolutely get them. You might talk to the senior students and see if they agree with the advice before springing for them, but this is one of the situations you may want to go with your instructor's recommendation, at least at first.

In "friendly" sparring people will be throwing strikes as if you had them on (since that is what they are used to, even if they cognitively know you don't have them), which can lead to unpleasant consequences until you have the conditioning in place (and even then). There will still be plenty of aches, pains, bruising, etc (depending on how hard you guys go when sparring, but especially when you begin) to learn to fight through without adding bone bruises or hairline fractures on your shin to the mix.

Which leads to the next point: If you want to condition your shins so that you don't need the guards (which may be a desirable goal for you), you can do heavy bag work (lots of shin kicks) or other forms of conditioning outside of sparring to "toughen up" your shins. Don't just dive right in to sparring without the guards if you go all out: condition yourself up to that point first and then ease yourself in.

Now, the guards will slow down your conditioning somewhat if you guys are used to blocking with your shins or throwing significant shin kicks. The guards are there to prevent injury more than anything (take, for example, that your mouth guard is preventing expensive dental work and broken teeth), which particularly while you are learning or when focusing on things other than physical conditioning (such as getting operant conditioning into place) can be very valuable. You may still want to take them off eventually, but where you end up and where you start and may be two very different places, as might be how you transition.

{ answered by David H. Clements }
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