With the right mindset, sparring can be one of the more enjoyable parts of learning martial arts. You get to put into practice all the techniques you learn during drills.
Sparring is not a contest, however. You need to approach the training exercise in such a way that both you and your sparring partner can learn and grow.
#1 Do Not Try To ‘Win’
Do not enter a sparring session with a ‘win or lose’ mindset.
You will always be a winner because even if you make mistakes, you will learn something and grow.
So, chuck that ‘win or lose’ mindset out the window, and look at sparring as an opportunity to improve and get better.
#2 Gear Up
Make sure you have the proper equipment before you spar.
Having the necessary equipment could make the difference between being able to spar the next day or sitting the next session out.
For example, your Muay Thai gear will protect your head, hands, teeth, and shins during sparring – especially since you are bound to clash into elbows and knees, which are some of the hardest bones in the body.
#3 Have A Plan
Before you spar, have a game plan to follow.
For example, if you struggle with finding your range for punches, then have a sparring session where you can only throw punches, while your opponent gets to throw everything.
If you cannot time your kicks properly, then have a sparring session where you can only attack with kicks, while your opponent can attack with everything.
#4 Vary Up Your Attacks
Unless you are someone like Yodsanklai IWE Fairtex, you will not have much success throwing left kicks over and over.
During sparring sessions, switch up your attacks. Work your hands as well as your kicks. Also, use your knees and your elbows.
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#5 Defend Well
You might think that only attacking is the way to go during sparring, but with good defense comes greater offense.
Try working on the three pillars of defense – blocking, head movement, and footwork. After you get comfortable with those, add counter-attacks.
ONE Super Series Muay Thai flyweight talent Azwan Che Wil tells us why solid defense is so important.
“We get carried away by our opponent at times, which forces us to seek an unwanted attack. But if your defense is vulnerable, there is very little you can do in your attack because you are open to shots from the offensive game,” he explains.
“There is no better time to practice your blocking, guarding, or checking than during sparring. Pad work or a real fight rarely helps in this department.”
#6 Find Your Distance
It is going to be hard to attack if you have not found your distance. If you are taller, you can stay on the outside and use push kicks to keep your sparring partner at bay.
But if you are shorter than your partner, you will need to get on the inside and attack from there.
Finding your distance will help you to decide which techniques you can use during sparring and which attacks do not work so well for your body type.
#7 Leave Your Ego At The Door
The moment you carry your ego into a sparring session, you are already at a loss. Avoid thinking that you are better than your sparring partner. Accept that you will be hit, and then you will learn a thing or two.
You only improve with the help of others, so be sure to stay humble before, during, and even after you spar.
Malaysian Muay Thai competitor Mohammed “Jordan Boy” Bin Mahmoud reveals why ego leads to failures.
“Do not assume that you know it all and do not think that you’re the boss because it is at that exact moment when you will be schooled during your sparring session,” he says.
“Show respect to your fellow partner. Both of you guys are in the gym to learn. If you notice someone carrying their ego to a class, then let them know they should keep it outside the gym.”
#8 Prepare For When You Are Tired
Getting tired is a natural process of sparring. But once you get tired, you are going to be forced to use smarts over strength.
Use these moments of tiredness to practice all the finer techniques you learn during class.
#9 Stay Calm
Undergoing your first sparring session can be a nerve-racking experience. That is why it is important to stay calm.
It seems like simple advice, but do not forget to breathe during sparring. If you forget to breathe, then you will panic and starve your muscles of oxygen, which will tire you out.
#10 Enjoy The Process
The most important thing to keep in mind when you spar is to have fun.
Yes, it may not be a fun process to get hit or to miss every shot, but try to treat it as such. Have a laugh about it after class. That way, you will make new friends, too!
Read more: How To Be A Good Muay Thai Sparring Partner