Sparring. Some people love it, other people hate it. Very few people are ambivalent toward it. For people new to the world of Martial Arts, sparring can be a source of apprehension. Most people, I have discovered in my thirty-four years on this planet, don’t like being hit; especially not in the face. Some people, myself included, take a strange pride in their ability to be hit (in the face or otherwise) without it slowing them down.

Sparring in Martial Arts

martial arts humanity BJJ brazilian jiu jitsu Sparring Martial Arts

Within the different martial arts, and even within different gyms of the same style, there are a wide variety of attitudes towards sparring. Some advocate sparring often and hard, others advocate sparring seldom, keeping it as something that only the more experienced senior members of the class can do. There are, of course, pros and cons to both system.

I’ve been around a bit, I’ve trained in multiple styles, in multiple gyms and dojos, and even in multiple countries in, what has been thus far, a lifetime of martial arts. In my opinion, there is no single right way. The correct path through the martial arts isn’t a set road. It’s not a staircase that you can climb, moving from set step to set step following a predefined, one size fits all, pathway.

Size, speed, mobility, strength, even your ability to take a punch; all of these factors impact on your ability to spar safely and effectively.

Getting Hit in Sparring

Sparring Martial Arts

In my time I’ve seen (and done) a lot of sparring. With people new to the game it’s always questionable how they will react to being hit. I’ve seen big tough tattooed guys go pale and start shaking as soon as someone slips a soft jab through their guard. I’ve seen other guys, same look, same attitude, go crazy and start swinging for the rafters. I’ve seen others take it well, step back, keep their head together, and keep sparring.

I’ve seen the same exact behavior from smaller guys and from the female members of the gym too. I honestly don’t believe that anyone knows how they will react in a fight until that first strike lands. This is just one of many reasons that sparring in a safe and controlled environment is vital to anyone who chooses to follow the path of the martial arts.

Competitiveness in Sparring

muay thai Sparring Martial arts shin conditioning

Amongst those who have a little more experience, the next problem is competitiveness. It’s almost inevitable that you’re going to meet these people. The ones who have a natural drive to “win” in sparring. Those who can’t understand the idea that sparring a tool used to learn and improve. Some people find against someone who is worse than they are, but can’t handle sparring someone faster or more skilled than they are.

Almost without fail the response to this is that they start sparring harder, using power as a crutch to make up for lack of skill or speed. This is, of course, dangerous. Sparring has inherent dangers involved, you’re hitting someone (and being hit) so of course it’s dangerous. With the right people, it should feel comfortable and fun. There’s always the danger of moving the wrong way and getting hit a bit harder than you expect, but when you’re in the gym (or Dojo) it should feel (and be) safe.

If this does come up, personally I tend to just pull back, defend and let them punch themselves out. After the round, I tell them that they’re hitting too hard and that we’re only sparring lightly. If they still can’t control themselves they take a bit of a break from it (I have the luxury of being the coach and having the ability to do this). If I can’t make them take a break, I will admit that I tend to respond by hitting them a couple of times with a little extra force (and some care).

Amir Khan MMA Sparring Martial Arts

Ultimately, someone who can’t control themselves during sparring is a danger to other people, and often themselves as it doesn’t take all that much for someone to lose their temper. Any coach (or Sensei) worth their salt will be keeping an eye on their students and should step in before things get too far out of control, but it’s important to remember that this is martial arts, fighting is what this is about.

If you don’t want to spar then that’s fine, there are lots of styles that don’t require it, but you need to make that clear from the start. Ultimately a lot of the issues that can arise during sparring can be avoided by simply communicating.

Read more like this