Sparring Guidelines

When we spar, we imitate the challenges of a real fight, but at a safer level of intensity. It is the best way to put into practice the skills you have learnt and practiced on the pads. The unpredictability of working with a sparring partner allows you to test the practical application of techniques, react to your partner’s attacks, and probe their vulnerabilities. It can be very intense when you are not accustomed to it, but here are some guidelines to ensure that it is enjoyable, stimulating and as safe as it can be.

  • It’s customary to start a round of sparring with a gesture of respect; a wai (putting the palms together) or a glove touch. Likewise, touching gloves is a comradely gesture after catching a partner with a strong attack.
  • Adapt your choice of ‘weapons’ to the protective equipment worn by both participants – hands only if you only have gloves, adding kicks if you have shin guards. Take it particularly easy with knees. You don’t tend to land strikes such as kicks or knees to the head or elbows in casual regular sparring as they are too dangerous. A set of appropriate gloves (~16oz) and a gumshield are prerequisites. A groin guard is a good idea where appropriate.
  • Don’t think of sparring as a competition. You are partners, not opponents. If you are dominating your partner to the extent that they are forced to only defend or retreat, you are the one who is losing out on a learning experience.
  • Be confident enough to tell your partner when to ease off, or when to avoid an injury or weakness. Likewise, recognise when to drop the intensity and focus on your defence, to allow your partner to practice their offence.
  • Try to let your partner set the pace, and find an intensity that suits you both. If in doubt, it is better to spar lightly and playfully with good technique than to rely on force.
  • Keep your cool. If you find yourself losing your temper, becoming upset or overwhelmed, take a breathe. Try throughout to remain calm and relaxed – don’t forget to breath and keep your eyes open.
  • Maximise the opportunity to learn by not always playing to your strengths. Try fighting at ranges that you are uncomfortable with, or using techniques which are new to you.
  • Recognise the opportunities that come from sparring with partners at different levels of ability, or with different characteristics (strength, size, speed, weight, etc).
  • Be considerate of other people’s space, especially if other pairs are sparring near you.
  • Remember that many people are uncomfortable being in close contact with others, let alone striking each other! Becoming accustomed to it can be a slow process; some people may never find it beneficial. Be attentive to your partner’s emotions. Remember that no-one has to spar with anyone that they’d rather not, for any reason.