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.

Why you will probably quit Muay Thai

You’ve seen it on the Internet and you have a few friends who have also started training, you might even know a friend of a friend who is an Muay Thai champion. You’ve always wanted to try it out so you decide to make some calls and look for a Muay Thai school. You find one near by and decide to do a trial class. Even though you weren’t great you absolutely loved it. High from the endorphin rush you sign up with dreams of becoming a total badass and maybe even one day stepping into the ring. You shadow box the techniques you learned on your way out.

Fast forward 6 months later. It’s cold, raining, and the middle of winter. Master Chef final week is on TV and you’re thinking about skipping training to go home to your comfy couch. Training’s not as fun as it used to be anymore and you’ve been getting smashed at work. You wonder what happened to Josh, and Steve who you started with because you haven’t seen them for weeks. It sounds like the beginners excitement has worn off and you find yourself making more excuses not to train than to train. Why is it that so many people drop off and quit training within the first 6 months.

You never set a clear goal.
This is like getting into your car with out a destination. You could potentially drive around for hours, days, and even months! No matter what your reasoning behind starting Muay Thai you should always have short term and long term goals. Goal setting needs to be specific, realistic and measurable. A bad example of poor goal setting would be “get good at Muay Thai”, “lose weight” or “I want to fight more”. It doesn’t set a time line and isn’t measurable. A better example would be “I want to train a minimum of 3 days a week in 2016”, “I want to drop 5kgs by August 2016” or “I want to have a Muay Thai fight by the end of 2016”. All these examples are realistic, achievable and set a deadline. Try to be realistic with your goals. Don’t write something like ‘I want to have my first pro Muay Thai fight’ when you know you don’t have the commitment to train hard enough for it. Set achievable goals and ask yourself are you really willing to pay the price for it, before you commit to it otherwise you are just setting yourself up for failure. Next time when setting a goal think SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

You don’t have time
This is one of the most common reasons why people stop training, but I think it’s complete bulls**t. You made time for it in the beginning when everything was new and fresh, but then as the weeks and months went on “things” got in the way. You had dinner with friends, you went to see a movie, you were tired from work and wanted a night in. As Tony Robbins put it best “It’s not that you’re resource (time) poor, it’s that you’re not resourceful”. You have 24 hours in a day. Training Muay Thai 1 hour out of your day is just 4% of your time. If you want to reach the goals you’ve set then you’ve got to make them a priority. You’ll need to make sacrifices from time to time. If it’s important to you then you will make time for it and not excuses not to.

You were consistently inconsistent
When you first started training you hit it hard every single day. As the weeks went on your days per week decreased. As the months went on you started to take weeks off. You never got into a consistent routine of training regularly or establishing good habits to begin with. When motivation fades you need training to be an already established habit. Habit is established by having clear goal and having the discipline and consistency in your training to achieve that goal. It’s like brushing you teeth every night. You don’t need to watch motivational videos, or read motivational quotes to psych yourself up to do it. You do it everyday, twice a day with out thinking because you know it’s good for you.

You keep getting injured
After every session you walk away with a new injury, and you take some time off to let it heal. It happens again and you take more time off to heal. Eventually your “sick leave” is greater than your actual Muay Thai life span and you quit. I’ve seen this vicious cycle claim many. Muay Thai is a contact sport and you will get injured. You’ve just got to be smart about it. I’m not saying you have to train through all injuries. A bruised shin won’t limit or restrict your ability to focus on boxing. A strained wrist won’t affect your ability to practice your kicks. A good coach will always be able to give you supplement exercises to get you back into Muay Thai training.

You are getting bored
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Bruce Lee
This quote basically sums up what Muay Thai training is all about. You get 3 months into your training and still working on the jab right kick combination. You wonder to yourself when do we get to learn the cool stuff like jumping spinning elbow? The reality behind Muay Thai training is that it’s about refining your basic techniques and not so much learning every single kick technique in the martial arts encyclopedia. It’s about constant personal development and being 1% better than you were yesterday. Of course it will get boring at times but that is when it is good to reflect on why you started Muay Thai and what it will take to achieve your goals. Constantly set smaller goals and when you achieve them, reflect and reevaluate a different goal. I’ve been training for over 10 years now and still do on a daily basis. I focus on a different aspect of Muay Thai every few months whether it be clinch work or boxing. This way I constantly improve in one aspect of Muay Thai and develop as a martial artist every single day.

Muay Thai and Martial Arts training is a life long journey. You will have your peaks and troughs but its what you do in these troughs that will define you. Muay Thai training is tough and many instructors would like to think that most new people will train for years but the reality is that most people quit (and very quickly too). It’s only natural to encounter some or not if all of the problems mentioned above. It’s all apart of the journey. Dream big, set realistic goals and work hard to achieve them.