If you feel sparring is the most difficult part of your martial art training, you are not alone. Sparring is not easy at first but let me tell you that you won’t have to dread training day for long.
Does sparring get easier? Sparring does get easier over time. As long as your sparring skills are improving, then you can approach it with more confidence. Work at your own pace and at your own level and sparring becomes a lot easier within 2 to 3 months.
Sparring is meant to teach you how to fight and it is probably the best way to do so. As with anything in martial arts and discipline, you will reap the rewards if you persist with practice.
Here are 5 tips that will help make sparring easier for you.
5 Tips To Make Sparring Easier From The Start
There are more than 5 sparring tips here, but they’re grouped into 5 sections. These are all practical changes that you can implement in your sparring immediately and you can get the benefits from them as soon as you are next in the ring.
Think About Why You Are Sparring
Everyone who has ever been involved in martial arts wants to be the biggest, best and baddest when they start out. However, this isn’t an accurate reflection of where you are on your martial arts journey – one day you may be at the pinnacle of your sport but that’s not where you begin and if you want sparring to work for you, you need to understand that.
When you are honest with yourself, you can determine why you want to spar, and it ought not to be about proving anything but rather about learning. Smart fighters choose to spar at their own level rather than over-reaching and getting themselves hurt.
That means you shouldn’t spar unless you feel comfortable do so. You should certainly not start sparring with someone who is clearly far beyond your skills. You shouldn’t spar with a partner that can’t behave properly while sparring. In fact, even if your coach orders you to spar with someone, you can still say “no”.
Once this is clear in your mind, you can then start to articulate exactly what you want from your sparring session. It’s fine to insist that the whole session is conducted at half speed. It’s fine to decide that today, you only want to practice jabs. It’s more than fine to find a super experienced sparring partner, who is happy to let you go on the attack while all they do is defend.
There’s one really important rule that ought to help you understand whether or not you understand the point of sparring: if all that’s happening when you spar is that you’re being constantly beaten – you are not sparring at your current skill level and you are learning almost nothing of value. Stop sparring like this, in the end, all it will do is force you to quit and pick another sport.
Go back to the beginning of this section if you find yourself always getting beaten and go through it slowly. Learn to say “no” and learn to speak up about what matters to you. You’re not a punching bag, you’re an adult fighter and asserting this will only make you better and make your sparring sessions valuable to you.
Learn To Relax
Of course we all know that it is easier said than done. But much of the worst that comes from sparring comes from the individual themselves pushing too hard and thus creating tension between them and their sparring partner.
This results in painful sparring sessions, which don’t really benefit either of you, and which can make you feel unhappy about sparring at all. Here’s what you do to relax:
- Learn to breathe. Breathing is a vital part of fighting. You need to remember to breathe in and breath in deeply while you have time to do it and then learn to fast exhale when you move and when you punch or defend. If you’re not breathing properly, you will get stressed and you will find yourself struggling for breath and becoming exhausted. This has never resulted in a successful sparring session.
- Learn to let go of worry. That means stop worrying about getting hit, stop worrying about the potential of losing, stop worrying about how your punches look or if you’re making too many mistakes. You’re meant to get hit, you’re meant to make mistakes, etc. this is a practice session not a competitive bout.
- Learn to take your time. Sparring is not a sprint, it’s a marathon (a very short 3-minute marathon). You don’t have to get everything in to the first 10 seconds of your round and you shouldn’t try to do so. Punch when you think it’s going to work. Move when you need to. There’s no schedule as to when things get done, you’ve got time.
- Learn to save your energy. Don’t carry yourself tense and stressed – it’s exhausting, and it stops you from having energy when you need to punch or move. Relax your body until you want to use it explode on to your opponent.
- Shadowbox before sparring. The more you shadowbox, the more you will improve your stance, the more comfortable your stance, the easier sparring becomes. Shadowboxing is often better for you, earlier in your fighting career, than bag work. Positioning your body effectively is more useful than being able to hit hard.
The Essentials Of Sparring
OK, now we’ve looked at what you can do before you get in the ring – it’s time to look at the basics of what you need to do when you get in the ring. These are the simplest things to carry out that will make sparring immediately easier. You may want to work on just 1 or 2 things at a time, master them and then move on but once you’ve got this list down pat – everything’s going to be better when sparring.
- Keep your eyes on your sparring partner. It might sound silly, but you can’t block or evade a punch that you can’t see coming. If you’re not looking at the other guy, you’re going to get hit and it’s going to happen a lot. If you find that you’re not seeing the opponent because you keep flinching back, ask them to slow down. There’s no value in being constantly punched.
- Remember you are here to learn. Sparring is not fighting. Sure, it may feel like that sometimes but it’s not. You can’t really “win” in sparring and that means you don’t need to try to either. Instead, treat your session as a learning opportunity, try out some new things, move your feet, punch when you need to, don’t rush in to try and end things quickly. Patience that focuses on picking up new skills will carry you far.
- Don’t be afraid to throw punches. You get in the ring and you’re so worried that your punches won’t have the effect that you want them to, that you don’t throw any punches at all. The trouble is that you can only be hit if you’re not hitting – you learn by doing. So, throw some punches, because even bad punches can be adapted over time to become good punches. No punches are just an invitation to get punched.
- Breathe out when you punch. Exhale when you punch so it will land harder and faster. That will give you more confidence in your punches.
Related article: Here’s Why Fighters Breathe Out Aloud On A Punch!
- Don’t dip your head too low. Of course, you don’t want to get punched in the nose or the mouth – no-one does. The trouble is that if you drop your head low to try and protect it, you change the shape of your body so that your punches can’t be thrown effectively. In the end, this is just an invitation to the other fighter to punch the back of your head until you give up.
- Keep your toes toward the other fighter. Your ability to throw a powerful punch at something requires you to be facing it. If your toes aren’t pointing towards the other fighter, your punches won’t land the way you want them to.
Simple Sparring Pointers
OK, now that you’re feeling more confident and you can at least hold your own against a sparring partner, it’s time to add a few more useful tips to the mix to take your sparring to the next level:
- Easy defending is good. Want to avoid being hit? Then block the punch or lean away from it. Yes, it’s fair to say that footwork can really help in defense but when you’re new to sparring – it takes too much concentration and it wears you out quickly. Use your upper body to do the work for now. If your sparring partner is also quite new to things, they may end up knocking themselves off balance when you do this.
- Keep things random. If you try to punch on a rhythm, your sparring partner will eventually get used to it and then it will be very easy to defend against. Change things up and you become a nightmare to stop. So go LEFT-right-LEFT-right once and then right-right-right-LEFT for the next and so on. You need to make sure that you’re working on fighting with both hands and not just your dominant hand if you want to get the best from this.
- Jabs are fast. There’s no faster punch than a jab. You can keep your opponent at a distance by constantly jabbing at them. This is especially true if you have some distance to cover between where the punch will start and where you want it to end.
- Don’t be scared to trade blows. The worst thing that can possibly happen in a sparring session is for you to become a glorified punching bag. That’s a truly miserable experience – so fight. Don’t let them hit you and soak it up. Hit them back. Again and again and again and again. The closer they are, the more important this becomes. Go straight for the center of their mass and hammer at it, particularly if you can’t see them well enough to work out where else to go. Once you know where their head is, though, have at that too.
- Make it hard for them to lead with their dominant hand. Stay on the side of their body that’s the weakest. Circle around them and position yourself where you want to be. You don’t need to make it easy for your opponent to land their most powerful blow. Your feet move and that means you can be elsewhere whenever you want.
- Sometimes, you can watch just one hand. Early in your fighting life, it can be really difficult to keep track of both of your opponent’s hands at the same time. So, don’t do it. Pick one hand and give it all your attention. Sure, you’ll get hit sometimes but you’ll also stop yourself from getting hit a lot too.
How To Stop Yourself From Becoming Exhausted While Sparring
Sparring should be tiring because it’s hard work and it’s great exercise but you don’t want to be exhausted while you’re in the ring because that gives your opponent the chance to walk all over you. So here are 5 things to avoid if you want to stay fighting fresh:
- You carry tension all the time. Seriously, relax. It’s exhausting to keep your muscles full of unused energy. When you generate energy, it should be to put it to use – to either punch or defend. It shouldn’t be wasted.
- You’re panicking. You’re meant to react to the other person but not to over-react to them. If you find you’re just flinching away constantly, ask your sparring partner to slow things down. Panic is exhausting and it stops you from learning from your sparring session too.
- You’re losing balance. You don’t put your whole body behind every punch. Sure, that can add power to a punch but once your whole body is moving forward, it’s pretty hard to move it back when the blow lands. Spend more time doing shadowboxing and bag work and work on punching hard without putting your whole body into it.
- You’re trying to use muscle tension to create power. Try this now. Tense your arm and then punch with it. Does that feel natural? Does it feel fast? No, right? Yet, a lot of fighters when they start sparring do exactly that. Don’t tense up your muscles before delivering a blow.
- You’re out of breath. With a lot of practice, you can exhale 20 or 30 times for each breath you take in. When you start, however, it’s more like 3-5 times. If you’re throwing punches with no air to put in them, they’re going to be weak. When you’re out of air, give yourself some space to breathe in before you go on. Otherwise, you will quickly be exhausted.
How Long Does It Take To Get Good At Sparring?
How long is a piece of string? It can take a lifetime to master any martial art and thus, it can take a lifetime to master sparring. But, how long should it take before you can get in the ring and acquit yourself reasonably against an opponent of your own level?
Not more than 2-3 months as long as you’re paying attention to making your sparring sessions easier. Many fighters quit because they struggle with sparring, but the truth is, sparring is a learning experience and it’s up to you to make it a valuable one.
Is Sparring The Best Way To Improve?
Yes. If you want to fight competitively, it’s very much the only way to improve. However, if you do a martial art for the fitness, health and mental benefits – you don’t have to spar if you don’t want to. It just means that your learning will be more theoretical and less able to be applied in a practical situation. That is always a choice you can make!
Does sparring get easier? Absolutely, yes. In fact, it doesn’t have to be as hard as you think it will be right from the start as long as you follow these tips. The length of time it takes to get good at sparring varies between martial arts but it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 months of sparring to feel comfortable as long as you work at your own level and don’t try to rush things.