The coach yells change partners at the end of a sparring round and there is always that one guy left out or stuck with the same partner. Why does it seem like no one wants to partner up with “that guy” in sparring rounds? It’s probably because people have caught wind of his reputation of treating each sparring round like a world title fight.
Sparring in Muay Thai is a very important tool if used correctly. It allows you to develop your skills and try techniques, work on your timing and accuracy, and put everything you’ve learnt together. For the 99% of the general gym population who aren’t professional fighters it should be light to medium intensity, and controlled. There should be no ego in sparring. Sparring is about learning and as soon as you let ego take over, all you are focused on is winning the round and not learning anything. Muay Thai, like all martial arts is a life long journey. To prolong that lifetime journey we want to be constantly learning and evolving. Winning a few rounds in sparring is meaningless when you look at the bigger picture. It is not a test of strength or power, but the ultimate test of control and patience.
Here are my top 5 do’s of sparring
1. Listen to your coach.
He is there for a reason. He knows your strengths and weaknesses and is a wealth of knowledge. Sometimes in the heat of sparring you will be fatigued and not able to see things your coach can see from the outside. A good coach will give you advice and tips on how to further develop your skills and improve.
2. Stick to things you’ve learnt in class.
“Did you watch that cool spinning jumping elbow knockout that John posted up on facebook last night?” Don’t bother trying it in class. A – because you will probably seriously hurt someone (or yourself) and B – the people in those videos are usually high level professional fighters who trained in Muay Thai for 10 years. The things your coach teaches you are high percentage techniques which will work the majority of the time. They know what works and what doesn’t.
3. Keep your hands up.
This is the #1 rule in sparring. If you are sparring with your hands down to your waist and chin up then you probably shouldn’t be sparring. Of course we all get tired and shoulders will start to burn, but KEEP YOUR HANDS UP. It’s the only barrier of defence between you and a head kick.
4. Keep it safe.
Let your common sense prevail. If you catch someones kick and sweep them onto the concrete floor, I’m pretty sure you will hurt them. Avoid using power or dangerous techniques during sparring rounds because you’ll end up injuring people and losing a training partner. Un padded spinning elbows and heel kicks at a 100km per hour to the face are not on. You and your partners safety should be your #1 priority in the sparring round.
5. Respect and look after your partners.
With out your sparring partner you would have no one to train with, so look after them. They have volunteered to lend you there body to punch and kick so treat them with respect. They are there to learn with you as well. If you are partnered up with someone who’s skill level is far below yours then help them with some basics. “Hey John make sure you keep your hands up”
Here are my top 5 DONT’S of Muay Thai sparring
1. DON’T treat it like a world title fight.
There is no money, or prize up for grabs so why are you swinging for the fences? A true martial artist has nothing to prove in sparring rounds. Sparring is about developing your skill set and IS NOT A FIGHT. It’s not to test yourself against others in the gym and to see who will come out victorious. If you walk away from a sparring round injured and bruised then your partner has gone too hard. You should walk away from every round having learned something and that 0.1% better.
2. DON’T be the mat shark.
Every gym has one and it’s usually that bigger guy who always partners up with the smallest guy in the gym. 1 because they don’t want to be pushed too hard and 2. They want to be the big man on campus. Muay Thai is a sport with weight divisions. Even though you should spar with everyone in the gym, don’t be “that guy” who targets the little or new guy.
3. DON’T be the over coacher.
Ever partnered with someone and all they do is over coach you on ALL your weaknesses and what you SHOULD be doing in sparring even though they are not that great themselves? Don’t be “that guy”. It’s OK to give tips here and there but don’t spend an entire round explaining the intricacies of how to check a kick just because you tagged them once.
4. DON’T be the Kung fu guy.
Muay Thai sparring is about sparring Muay Thai. Don’t bother trying the Kung Fu sticky hand crescent kick that you learned 10 years ago because sparring is about developing what you have learnt in Muay Thai, and not showing your coach what you already know. Save that for your facebook posts. I remember many years ago I had a guy come into the gym from a kung fu background. Upon glove touch he assumed one of the lowest crouching tiger stances I’ve ever seen with hands fanning around like he was in a high school musical. I don’t have against Kung Fu but we are here to spar Muay Thai.
5. DON’T be the one trick pony.
Everyone has a go to move or combo. If you like to box then don’t just always try to box with someone. You need to broaden your skill set. If you have a favourite combo that always lands then try another combo or work a different setup. The one trick pony guy might get away with is the first few times but usually gets left behind because they don’t work on other aspects of there Muay Thai game.
These are just some Do’s and Dont’s of Muay Thai sparring. The art of Muay Thai is beautiful and about respect. It’s not a street fight or a tough guy proving ground. So next time your primordial urge to rip off your shirt, beat your chest and give John at the gym the beating of his life remember one thing. If you injure him or put him off training then you have one less person to train with. If you keep being “that guy” at the gym then one day you will have no one to train with. Respect your training partners and keep it safe on the mat.