So You Wanna Spar
By: Dale Norfolk elementalkickboxing, kickboxingleeds, beginnerssparring
“The journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu1, Philoosopher2, 6th Century)
It is always a very difficult area for any beginner to a contact sport, the first contact, not that one, with the aliens and Jodie Foster3. The time that you have spent that time in line working through your combos, techniques and you’ve run back and forth a thousand times. Now, now its time to do your first sparring4 session, the first time (Hopefully) that you have struck another human with the sole purpose to do so.
It can be quite daunting, knowing what to expect from this, it is natural that the human body recoils from potential harm, by the brain sending messages to the body saying, “Woah there hoss!”. But I’m here to tell you, your over-active brain is giving you a bum steer here.
Currently, I have been sparring at clubs for *mumbles terrifying number* years, and on all occasions, I have walked away on my own two feet without even a scratch. In fact, if you were drawing up some kind of probability around this, the bad outcomes would not even equate to a single percent. Any time I have sustained any sparring injury, it has been because a) I was fighting more than one person b) maybe linked to (a), wasn’t defending myself correctly and got too cocky.
So, let’s just lay down exactly what as a beginner to sparring things that it should not be:
A chance to batter your opponent.
A chance to get even.
A time to get injured.
A time to swing for the fences with kicks or punches.
An attempt to bust open anyone.
So, with that ironed out and before we move on to what it should be, lets understand the aim of sparring, the big overarching goal and that is for both people to practice their techniques against a live reaction to understand how a live opponent reacts. If you need more convincing, I maybe have some further short blogs you may be interested in (‘10 of the best sparring tips - Elemental Kickboxing Academy - Part I’ (10 of the best sparring tips - Elemental Kickboxing Academy - Part I) and ‘Kumite’ (Kumite)
So, what should you need for a constructive sparring session, what should it indeed be? Well, here is two lists, one of hardware and general rules.
Hardware for sparring
Headguard (If head shots are agreed)8
(Also, shameless plug, you can buy these from the club, speak to one of our lovely people)
Short agreement on contact: this should be decided by you both.
A relaxed mood: don’t be afraid, your opponent is not here to hurt you.
Concentration: You should be concentrating on your opponent, not thinking about how much milk you have, not what to have for tea.
Light foot work: As important as all other aspects, stay quick and on your toes.
Defence/Guard: You need to keep your hands up, your opponent is not looking to injure you, but being blasé with clocking will get you hurt.
Pick a belt wearer: As a rule, it is always best if you are new that you spar with a member of the club who is used to sparring and can best help you. Fighting another beginner does not afford you the best learning experience and more possible to injure each other.
Feedback: Tell your opponent if things are getting too fast or you are taking more punches and kicks that you expected, get them to slow things down. All club member s should be happy with this.
Respect: all bouts start and end with a bow and a touch of gloves, once gloves are touched the match starts, so be ready, pads fastened, gum shield in and fight head on.
Getting Even/Receipts: This should go without saying, if you say you want limited contact and the immediately whack someone in the head full pelt, that is not, well its not cricket. So, make sure there are no incidents if you agree and control. If heavier contact is made bow and apologise. Otherwise, your opponent may issue a receipt11.
Have fun!: Sparring is fun or should be, you will see seniors often laughing and joking whilst knocking ten bells out each other, this shows they are happy with the contact, and they actually enjoy it.
Now that may be a lot to take in, but it really isn’t once you get started. Further to this, if you do not have the correct equipment or do not want to make contact, you can do Shadow Sparring, where all the movements are used without actual contact, but we are aware, there can be times when you will, out of force of habit and should as above only be practiced with a belted partner.
So go, go enjoy your first bit of contact, I promise you, if you follow the above, you will enjoy the experience and learn something. Below are some articles and videos that may be useful and help you to understand this element and improve your style. After all, everyone’s slightly different and all are happy to share their insight with you.