Sparring Games: Alternate Target Objectives

Feeling in a bit of a slump in your sparring? Perhaps overwhelmed or under-challenged? Sparring games, where you create restrictions and alternate objectives, can be a great way to up the strategic challenge and interest or allow you to focus on a smaller subset of skills.

The first batch of games I'm presenting are all about changing target objectives. So instead of simply fighting until you make a decisive fight-ending wound, you'll be seeking to score by striking to a particular place or moment. In a future article, I'll be sharing more games that focus on timing/tempo and the use of specific techniques.

Many of these games can be played even if your partner doesn't know you're playing them, allowing you your own secret game-within-a-game. For these sparring games, targets can be as broad as "left arm" to as specific as "right eye". The games can be played at any sparring speed.

Called Shot

Decide on a particular target that is the one you are going for. Make that your sole objective. You can disclose this to your opponent (increasing their focus on defending it) or keep it a hidden objective for yourself alone.


Choose three targets and an order in which they should be struck, such as "right arm, head, left leg". Then seek to strike those targets in sequence. This is particularly useful for training multi-intention sword actions, working on keeping up your guard and offence after a successful strike, and to work flow-of-action.

Double Tap

In this game, when you strike a given target, you must strike that target a second time for the hit to be accepted. So, if you are sparring and you strike your partner's left shoulder, you then need to strike their left shoulder a second time to score. If you happen to strike their right shoulder, then no point is scored, and now you need to try to strike their right shoulder a second time.

Secret Vulnerability

In this game, your partner has only a single vulnerable target, and you don't know what it is. When you strike a target that is not a vulnerable target they will inform you that your strike was "no good". You will be required through a process of elimination and good strategy to identify the target and strike it. Your partner may also be focusing their movement and sword work to protect the vulnerable spot specifically.

Tempo Target

In this game, you must strike a specific target in a specific tempo. For those unfamiliar with the conception of "tempo," the idea is that your strike to the specific target is only valid if you do it while your opponent is in the middle of one of these specific types of movements:

  1. They're attacking you.
  2. They have just been parried (or have missed their blow) and are recovering.
  3. They're preparing to attack, i.e. winding up, or are otherwise changing guards
  4. They're stepping into your measure/range without attacking.

Choose a specific type of tempo as your objective. If your goal is to strike your opponent while they wind-up and you hit them after parrying, or while they're attacking, then it doesn't count.

Technique Target

Along the lines of Tempo Target, in Technique Target you must hit a specific target using a particular technique. Whether this is a counter-cut, or a void, or a grapple, hitting the target isn't good enough, you must do it in a very specific way.

There are undoubtedly hundreds of variations that can be conceived of from this set. I'm eager to hear how you put them to use and what types of similar games you've been putting to use.

Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
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