While traditional forms and skills practice are necessary training, they often do not give the learning experience of working with another person. Sparring is the direct practice of fighting technique, and it has been an integral part of martial arts practice for thousands of years. Because the practice involves a live, free-thinking opponent, the sparring practitioner must train his or her reflexes, distance, timing, strategy, and self-control in addition to the performing of correct technique.
Since the popular spread of martial arts in the 20th century, sparring has taken a more sports-like format. Pads must be worn on the hands and feet, with optional equipment available for the rest of the body. Contact should be light- to medium-level power, without the intent to hurt the other person. Striking to certain designated areas, such as the face and kidneys, is illegal. These rules help ensure safety, which allows more people to spar and spar consistently without injury.
Within the realm of competitive sparring, there are two types: point sparring and continuous fighting. In point sparring, after each hit to a legal target area, the match stops and a point is awarded; the person with the most points at the end of the match wins. In continuous fighting, the match is not stopped after each hit, but a winner is declared based on a judge's decision.