Sparring is a friendly competition between two combatants, with consent and preferably with an objective third party to judge the winner. The term is most often used in the context of martial arts, however psions have adopted the word to describe their own friendly combat practice. Sparring is generally controversial, with many people critical of the practice for a variety of reasons, those reasons follow later in the article, in additions to reasons often given in favor of the practice.
It is important to note that sparring is different from serious combat. A spar should never result in a serious or lasting injury, it should remain courteous, and it is best done under supervision. Combat on the other hand is always no holds barred, born of aggression, and intended to cause lasting even permanent harm. Combat is comparatively quite rare, and is strongly discouraged as a means of interacting with others. It is not often productive to try to harm others, in part because you will likely fail regardless, but in larger part because it is simply a counter-productive activity that cannot generate long term benefits for either party (remember: the vast majority of people will hit back).
All sorts of people with an interest in combative applications of their abilities spar, the reasons they get involved vary dramatically, however. Some get involved for the simple fun of the simulated combat, a little rush of adrenaline and the chance to display their dominance. Others spar in preparation for a perceived danger (real or imagined) they cannot overcome by means other than psionic combat (these dangers vary from “demons” to schoolyard bullies, and psionic sparring rarely prepares one for either). There are other reasons, from peer pressure to curiosity, but these first two are the most common reasons that people spar frequently.
There is also the pure entertainment value of a spar over other forms of practicing. A spar is simply more fun than “pass the construct” or “guess the fruit” games. At the same time it is a legitimate way of practicing various energy manipulation and perception skills. While this is perhaps the best reasoning for sparring, it is not necessarily the most common.
Any organization that exists with the sole intention of hosting psionic spars is problematic. There are a lot of reasons in the specific why this is, but in generally the reasons are relatively few. In short there are three reasons: egos, refs, and impracticality, for the long version see below.
Whether you’re barely making psiballs or you’ve been practicing psionics for a decade, it’s easy to get your feelings hurt when someone tells you that your opponent just destroyed your shield without taking any damage to their own... for the third time this week. It’s easy to get demotivated when one is new in a place that focuses on combat because the gap often seems insurmountable. This demoralization usually keeps the number of members of a group focused on psionic sparring unmaintainably low.
Referees are far less plentiful than combatants. everyone and their uncle’s dog wants to try sparring at least once, the number of able and willing referees to let them know with a measure of objectivity what’s going on is much much smaller. Without a referee a spar ceases to be a competition and becomes more of an exercise in futility. Neither participant is likely to sustain enough damage from a psionic attack to forfeit the match, and so without a referee to judge who is faring better and to judge when an agreed upon point has been reached, spars can last indefinitely, with nothing like a satisfactory ending.
You are not and will not be Ichigo from Bleach, Goku from Dragon Ball Z, etc. There aren’t any secret psionic deathmatch fights, there are few people who can do more harm than causing you a migraine, and those few are very unlikely to do so. The reality is that psionic combat is ineffectual in most situations when compared to most other courses of action, sometimes the lists of superior choices even include doing nothing. Only in a casual sparring environment and in situations where there is no simpler alternative is psionic combat a viable option. You’re usually better off making a good shield, than trying to attack someone who you think is attacking you.
The rule of thumb when you’re asking if you are being attacked is “If you have to ask, the answer is no.” Even if the answer is in fact “yes,” if you need to ask it’s not substantial enough to matter. There is a great deal of paranoia about “being attacked” in the OEC, particularly among new overexcited-but-inexperienced participants. Sometimes that paranoia is warranted, but even in those very rare cases the “damage” done is negligible to nonexistent.
In part this is because most of the potential threats out there are other overexcited-but-inexperienced people whose sole experience lies in the realm of sparring. At times attacks are less even than a half-hearted attempt by another inexperienced practitioner, but rather natural phenomena and/or the result of poor energetic hygiene. If you have grounded, centered and shielded, you will find the vast majority of scares to have been unwarranted.
While it’s okay, and honestly pretty normal to be a little paranoid or fearful as a newbie, it’s really unnecessary to seek sparring as an answer in the vast majority of cases. If anything practicing combat makes one more paranoid and only minimally improves one’s ability to protect oneself. At the same time, though, it can be a rewarding and fun experience, and no amount of impracticality changes that.