Sparring, basically has the same meaning in almost all martial arts, martial sports, and combat sports such as boxing and Muay Thai. Wing Tsun is different however. In fact, it might not meet the definition in Wing Tsun.
In the above martial arts and sports, two combatants face off with each other. They generally walk around each other waiting for a good moment to attack. Usually a fighter is looking for an opening or a weak moment on the part of their sparring partner to attack.
Sparring is usually defined as a fighting practice. In the context of martial arts or sports like boxing and Muay Thai, it prepares a student or trainee for more serious fights. Generally, it is a give and take event, one partner attacks and the other defends, hoping to score points, then the rolls reverse. The more aggressive the combatants, the less the ‘rule’ is followed. Usually there are rules which confine the target areas to the torso and occasionally to the face but not the back of the head, throat, eyes, genitals, leg areas, ankles and other areas which are recommended for self-defense situations. Matches can last several rounds. Rounds can last 1 – 3 minutes. In events with medals or trophies, the match will have judges with points being scored according to a set of rules.
Wing Tsun’s focus is real life self-defense situations where there are no rules. Often protective equipment is necessary (of a different kind) because of different target areas. In real-life there must be a winner and a loser. The fight cannot last too long or it would endanger the defender. Therefore, Wing Tsun ‘sparring’ is really like a short fight with a beginning, a middle and an end. More targets are used to train for self-defense, mixed with grapples, knees, elbows, shoulders, and aiming at targets like the legs, and, in light contact matches, all head and leg areas with appropriate gear.
Since the Wing Tsun ‘short fight’ or lat sau is still fighting practice and since we are not physically on the street, we often wear protective gear, we do not throw objects and do not play by all the street ‘rules’ (as in no rules), injuries are rare.
The emphasis in Wing Tsun lat sau is toward real self-defense. More tools and more targets are used while applying the lessons learned in sticky hands and fighting drills.
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg