After eight years of a more traditional aikido training, with challenging but somewhat scripted attack lines, some grappling, and some striking (but with the instruction to never touch the target if practicing striking with a person), I've now had some exposure to sparring - and I am convinced: it is necessary. Yes, at our class, sparring is still not like an actual fight. The environment is still controlled. We can request to increase the speed or dial down. We can set conditions. We wear gloves. And yet... there is something eminently educational about getting tapped with some force - even if it's a padded tap. I don't think practicing blocks without sparring for eight years had taught me as much about blocking effectively as a few sparring sessions I've recently had. Two added bonuses about sparring for me, personally. One, as a bullying survivor, learning to spar helps me strengthen the non-victim mentality. It's not that I pound my sparring partners into a pulp (as I used to wish I could do with bullies as a child) - in fact, my instructor keeps telling me I am still too nice. But there is something to be said for the self-esteem boost one gets when managing to sneak past the opponent's defenses. Two, I wear 14-oz boxing gloves when sparring. If I remember correctly, it's the lightest boxing glove, but I am five feet short and have small hands and short arms - so, suddenly growing a pair of 14-oz fists makes for one hell of a wrist, arm, and shoulder workout. It's torture but it's fantastic. Would love to hear about other sparring experiences and advice.