If you’re getting serious about your martial art, sparring is the best way to improve, period. The question is how much do you have to invest in equipment to be able to spar effectively?
How much does sparring gear cost? Depending on the martial art and which pieces of equipment you buy, sparring gear costs between $300 and $1000. This would consist of sparring gloves, headgear, boots, chest guard, shin & forearm guards, knee & elbow guards, a cup/supporter and a mouthguard.
Let’s take a look at each of them, see how that breaks down, and where you might be able to save some money.
The Different Types Of Sparring Gear And Approximate Pricing
If you’re a boxer, these are among the most important investments in your fighting skills that you’re going to make. However, if you’re not a boxer then you will need to use other criteria to select your gloves on.
Because Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has the most in common with other the majority of martial arts that aren’t boxing – use the standard MMA sparring gloves if you are in any doubt about which gloves to purchase.
They weigh between 6 and 7 ounces and are designed to provide a thick layer of padding in front of the hand and on top of it to reduce the potential injuries to the bones in your hand. It’s also worth noting that MMA sparring gloves are designed with punching and striking in mind – they will help you form a solid fist thanks to an embedded grip bar in the design.
Related article: Can You Spar With Training Gloves? [It’s complicated]
This means that if you are particularly intending to just practice grappling in your sparring that you might want to choose other gloves. However, if you’re mixing striking and grappling MMA gloves are likely to be the best choice.
If, on the other hand, you intend to just strike and punch – you would probably be better off wearing a boxer’s sparring gloves which provide a greater level of protection for your hands.
How much should you spend on your sparring gloves? This is something of a how long is a piece of string question.
You can obtain decent quality sparring gloves for both boxing and MMA for around $50-$80 but you can spend much more depending on where they are made, how they are made, what materials they are made out of. Unless you’re intending to fight professionally, a mid-range glove is more than enough.
It’s not mandatory to wear headgear when sparring in most martial arts. Thus, this is an optional cost but it’s one that you must consider. While it might look a little ungainly, you only have one brain and a punch or kick to the head can seriously rattle your grey matter inside your skull.
Sure, there are light sparring sessions that don’t require headgear. But in general, you should wear headgear to avoid head collisions (banging heads hurts and can seriously hurt you), to prevent head injuries (of a superficial kind such as cuts and black eyes), to give you greater confidence (less pain in your fighting is likely to make it more fun for you) and to avoid cauliflower ears.
The downsides of choosing to wear headgear when sparring are that it can impair your vision while sparring, it can turn into a security blanket (which means that fighters can seek out being struck on the head because the pain is diminished – this is a bad idea), it can increase aggression in your sparring partner (“Hey! My blows aren’t hurting! Have some extra power!”) and you’re easier to hit when wearing sparring headgear.
When you buy sparring headgear you want to make sure that it fits well, that you get as much visibility from your headgear as you can, that it is well ventilated (a sweaty head is uncomfortable and ventilation makes it easier to hear instructions while wearing your gear) and that it is as well-made as your budget will accommodate.
You can expect to spend between $30 and $100 on headgear. As with gloves there are differences between MMA and boxing specific headgear and it’s best to choose headgear for your martial art, if you can.
The good news is that if you’re a boxer, you won’t need to buy sparring boots because you won’t be kicking anyone. In other martial arts, they may allow or even insist that you wear sparring boots when you spar.
Sparring boots are heavily padded and are designed both to protect your feet and to soften the blows of your kicks on your opponents. They are usually tailored to the specific martial art that you practice though there are some generic “sparring boots” options out there too.
One odd thing about sparring boots is that they are often sold in odd sizes which have to be translated into US, EU, or British sizes. So, you want to make sure that you’ve read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and got the right numbers or you may end up having to send them back.
Many of the sparring boots on the market are made in China and while there’s nothing wrong with that – you should be aware that Chinese sizes tend to err on the smaller side when compared to their Western equivalents. That means you might want to buy a size bigger than you think you actually need.
The good news is that these boots are not particularly expensive, and you can buy a pair for $25-$50 very easily.
Sparring Chest Guards
Chest guards are not mandatory in any martial art for sparring, but they are something you should consider, particularly if you feel that kicks and punches are just too heavy for you to tolerate when sparring.
You can get a wide-variety of chest guards and they come in all shapes and sizes from a guard that covers your entire torso to one that is tailored just to cover the areas of your body that you’re worrying about injuring. It’s usually best to go for a tailored option if you can as this will make the chest guard much lighter and easier to fight in.
You also need to pay attention to the density and weight of the chest guard. You want it to be dense enough that it can actually absorb the weight of a blow but it also needs to be light enough for you to move freely, otherwise, your chest guard is going to be a hindrance when you fight.
You can buy all sorts of fancy materials for a chest guard, but unless you have no other choice, stick to polyethylene. It’s cheap and it’s effective, you don’t want to spend a fortune on this item.
The good news is that they don’t cost the earth and you will spend between $20 and $50 on a good quality, branded chest protector.
Sparring Shin & Forearm Guards
You won’t need these for boxing, but you should be aware that shin guards (or instep guards) come in two types Muay Thai style and MMA style. As you might expect, they’re designed for the specific martial art you practice.
Muay Thai guards tend to fasten around the calf using a strap that can be easily adjusted by the wearer. MMA guards also have a sleeve (a bit like a sock) that adds the padding over the shin. You can also find shin guards with a removable instep guard – these provide a greater level of protection (if you need it) for your feet.
Forearm guards are often sold as part of a fist protection system; however, you can find them separately too. There’s no major variation in forearm products and they tend to be suitable for all martial arts where the forearm is used for defense.
Forearm guards do vary in price. Some fairly basic ones will set you back maybe $15 but if you want something a bit more rugged with extra padding you might pay as much as $30.
Sparring Knee & Elbow Guards
Both elbow and knee guards tend to come in Muay Thai and MMA variants and, as always, it’s worth buying the right guards for your martial art where possible. However, it’s fair to say that neither of these pieces of safety gear is particularly popular in common use.
Elbow guards are a bit of a nightmare and they often slip while you’re fighting and that makes them uncomfortable at best and if they stay that way too long, they can interfere with your circulation and that can make them dangerous at worst.
Knee pads appear to be rejected because people don’t seem to appreciate how easy it is to severely damage your knees when fighting. In fact, knee injuries are a very common way to end a professional martial arts career – it’s a very sensible precaution to invest in knee guards.
Both of these pads prevent injury when you fall, when you’re using knees or elbows to strike with, and they reduce the chance of “mat burn”. That’s exactly what it sounds like, a friction burn that comes with being dragged across a mat – it’s quite unpleasant and it’s best avoided.
Good knee pads will set you back between $25 and $50 and a nice set of fitted elbow pads that won’t slip can cost between $15 and $40. They’re not particularly expensive but the cost of these things does add up as you buy more and more sparring gear.
A cup or a supporter is also known as a groin protector. For gentlemen, this is often considered an essential piece of equipment in any sport not just martial arts. Footballers and even Olympic sprinters are among those who use them too.
A sharp blow to the intimate parts of a gentleman’s anatomy can result in severe damage and, in fact, in most martial arts the blows are heavy enough that they can lead to a rupture, hospital treatment and the possibility of permanent infertility. It’s not a chance worth taking.
You are best off wearing a groin protector that comes with its own underwear that it can be slipped in and out of. You want to ensure it’s made from the best material you can afford and has as much stopping power as your budget can facilitate.
Once you’ve got that sorted, you might want to take some time to ensure that it is a comfortable fit (they are usually sold based on your build/body type). Obviously, you need to buy one that is the right size.
Good quality groin guards are not cheap, sadly, and you should expect to pay around $80 minimum for this, and you can spend as much as $300! Given the importance of the protection that they provide, many men opt for the more expensive models.
Sparring Mouth Guards
The last item on this list is absolutely mandatory in any martial art. Do not engage in sparring without a mouth guard. A mouth full of broken teeth is no joke. Not only will this be intensely painful, but it could also be permanently disfiguring.
Dentistry is expensive and cosmetic repairs are even more so. There is no circumstance where the cost of a mouth guard won’t be repaid by the money you save on being strapped into a dentist’s chair at a future date.
The best mouthguards are custom fitted by a dentist and the charges can be steep for this service. You’d expect to pay anything from $100 to quite a bit more for a mouthguard like this. However, they are the most comfortable to wear and the ones best molded to your mouth, which means that they offer the most protection.
However, if you can afford something like that, just yet, you might also want to consider a self-molding kit (you can find these on Amazon) these contain an inner layer which you boil and then bite down on to create an almost-fitted experience. These are significantly cheaper than the dentist’s bespoke service and around $70 should be enough.
How much does sparring gear cost? It very much depends on which martial art you are practicing. Most people aren’t going to need sparring boots, for example, but nearly all martial artists will need at least a set of sparring gloves and a mouth guard. Men will probably want to invest in a cup too.
However, you shouldn’t stint on safety gear. If there’s something you feel that you need, buy it and use it. You can always cut back on gear as your confidence grows. It is always better to be safe than sorry and there’s no shame in protecting yourself when you spar.