The first time you start sparring can be extremely intimidating if you don’t know what to expect. Most beginners think of sparring as one step away from being in an actual fight. The better you are at sparring, the more success you will have in preparing for a fight. If you are only training muay thai to burn calories and get a cardio workout then sparring is optional and you should continue to have fun and enjoy the sport of muay thai.
However, if you actually want to get better at muay thai, sparring should be added to your training regimen. Sparring is designed to practice new techniques and reinforce the basics. It is used to help develop timing and recognition, both of which help you use your weapons in a fight. When an opponent recognizes how to win, those win’s will keep on coming. In order to get the most out of your sparring and training, be sure to follow these tips.
Tip # 1
Don’t Go 100% – I do not think it is a good idea for beginners to spar very hard. If you have a fight coming up, hard sparring can be advantageous; however, as a beginner start slow. Usually it takes one person to kick or punch really hard, then both parties start elevating the pace. The easiest way to tell if someone is new is usually when the person is going 100% trying to KO their sparring partner. Remembering that you are sparring to improve your technique, not to KO your partner. Sparring is teamwork and neither should be going 100%.
Tip # 2
Lose the Ego – You will hit and get hit. Accept it and be ready for it. Get over your ego. People who feel that they are too good to get kicked or punched are not in touch with reality. You are training in a full contact sport and if you are new to sparring and worried about looking bad then you are in the wrong sport. The only way to get better at muay thai is to get your hands dirty. The only way you will learn to block and punch and kick is if you get kicked and punched. Eventually you will learn to block those kicks and protect yourself from those punches. Having an ego will only get in the way of becoming a better fighter. You don’t want to be “that guy” in the gym that everyone is talking about after training and at the end of the day no one even wants to spar and train with you. You can only get better with the help of others. Be sure to respect everyone at the gym and be humble.
Look for Openings/Timing is everything– Don’t kick for the sake of kicking! Look for an opening in your opponents guard and try to exploit it. Throw a right kick and see how your opponent responds. You need to test the waters to see if you can find any weaknesses. After all, everyone has a weakness and it is up to the opponent to identify it and maximize this to his/her advantage. The more you spar, the easier it becomes to identify weaknesses and different styles.
Use Combinations – Once you get used to sparring you should start to try and put together combinations. Instead of throwing a low kick, why not throw a jab-jab-low kick? Remember that putting combinations together is much more effective at landing shots than throwing single attacks. Use as many combinations as you can in order to be more effective. Focusing on using your hands and feet together in the combinations. For example, you might try a jab-jab-left hook-low kick. It is always good to try and end a combination with a kick as it scores more points.
Create a Game Plan – Before every sparing session you should have specific things that you want to improve on. “My goal this session is to…” Try and select a few key things that you will focus on during a sparring session. For example, you might want to enter a sparring session to try and work on setting up your low kicks. During the session, focus on throwing that low kick after every punch. This is a great way to improve your kicks. Realistically, in a fight, you’re not going to throw that low kick after every punch but at least your body is use to certain combinations and there is no hesitation when you want to execute it.
Knowledge is Power – Ask for advice! After sparring with someone, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Think of it as a partnership. Your sparring partner is your teammate and you will grow if you work together to improve your game. This goes both ways, so don’t hesitate to offer tips and advice if you see something that the person can improve on. The more knowledge you have during training, the closer you are to becoming a better fighter.
Change your Sparring Partners – Don’t be afraid to spar different people. Variety is essential! Everybody has their favourite combinations and their own style. Sparring with different people will enable you to react and respond faster and easier the more you do it. As a beginner you want to go outside your comfort zone. Practice and train your weaknesses. Whatever you feel least comfortable doing…train it, so that it becomes second nature! Make your weaknesses your strengths. Don’t be afraid to spar someone that is better than you. Often you will learn the most from people who are at a higher level. It’s easier to pin point your weaknesses when your game is elevated. Those old habits your trainer was knit picky about will come out during uncomfortable sparring sessions. A good fighter is able to adapt and respond quickly in a fight to different styles and use it in a way that will win.
Look for Trends– When you begin sparring with someone you should try and look for specific patterns you notice about their style. If they are a southpaw you will want to adjust your game plan. If they have heavy hands, you will want to make sure your guard is strong and look for the leg kick opening. Use that first minute of sparring to your advantage and see what combinations they keep on throwing. Knowing their strengths and favourite combos will help you better prepare for it the next time they throw it.
Relax – In Thailand you’ll often here the trainers say “Sabai Sabai!” This is a tip useful to anyone and is often the most difficult when you start sparring. Try to focus on slowing down your pace with calming breaths. The biggest challenge is when people aren’t relaxed the body tenses up. All of a sudden your punches and kicks are slower and it is easier for your opponent to hit you. Before you know it, you feel as if all technique and training is forgotten. You’re not alone! If you’re mindful and conscientious of being relaxed you can practice and train your body to do what you want.
Stay Balanced – Hold your ground! Balance is an essential component of muay thai. One thing that you will notice with Muay Thai compared to other martial arts is that after every punch or kick you are back to your neutral defensive stance. This will ensure that you will always be in a good position to block and counter any attacks that you might receive when you are sparring. It is important to focus on always trying to maintain strong balance to put you in a position to counter or attack.
Imagine Sparring is a Game – When you spar, pretend you are playing a game. You want to score as many points as you can without your opponent scoring points on you. You should also remember that in traditional muay thai body kicks score the most points, then knees, low kicks and punches. When you pretend you are playing a game when you spar, it will help you relax and focus on trying to do the right things. Sometimes we need to “trick” our brain or breakdown a task, so that the mountain only looks like a small hill. It’s easy for one to say “relax”, but it is more difficult to understand how to get the mind and body there.
Have Fun – Sparring should be fun. There is no winning or losing. Sparring is a great opportunity to learn and improve your muay thai game. Chalk it up to experience! No matter how hard you spar with someone, you should always respect them at the end of the round. Don’t ever forget that you are sparring to get better.
Remember that sparring is about improving your timing, technique and footwork to prepare you for a real fight. It is the best way to simulate a fight in muay thai. The more you can practice these tips, the more success you will have in becoming a better fighter.
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