Sparring is an essential part of training in any martial art, including mixed martial arts. It allows you to test the techniques you’ve learned on a resisting opponent trying to fine-tune their moves on you. It’s where you put everything together and become a competent fighter.
No amount of shadowboxing, bag work, or focus mitt drills compares to sparring. You’ll have to defend against real attacks during your sparring sessions and land strikes on opponents who are doing everything possible to evade your strikes.
Everything You Should Know About MMA Sparring
You probably have many questions heading into your first sparring session, like how often you should spar and if you need to spar at all. One of the most important things you should consider when heading into your first sparring session is the quality of the gym you train at. Some gyms are poorly supervised, leaving students on their own to figure things out, while others, like Evolve MMA, have world-class instructors that provide structure for students and ensure sparring sessions are safely done.
Avoid gyms that promote all-out brawls during sparring sessions since that can do more damage than good. Concussions are a real possibility anytime you engage in activities that involve getting hit repeatedly in the head.
Who Needs Sparring?
Some MMA fighters like Tony Fergusson would argue that you don’t need to spar to compete at the highest levels of mixed martial arts since he no longer spars during training camps. However, the truth is a bit more complicated than simply stating Fergusson doesn’t spar. While that might be the case these days, he sparred for years during the early phase of his career and has lots of cage experience. At this point in his career, sparring is not as important.
The truth is it’s virtually impossible to master any martial art without sparring. One of the reasons why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is so effective is because students spar after each class. As a result, they accumulate significant fighting experience as they train, preparing them for competitions or real fights.
Students of combat arts that allow strikes, like mixed martial arts, don’t get to spar as often since their sports put more stress on the body. You can safely spar BJJ five days a week, but no competent MMA coach will allow you to spar five times a week. It’s too much stress on your body, particularly your brain.
You don’t need to spar on your first day of training MMA or in your first few months. You progress to sparring once you have mastered a few techniques and are looking to test your abilities against a resisting opponent. You should only look to spar when you’ve learned the fundamentals of MMA, like the basic punches, kicks, takedowns, takedown defense, submissions, and submission defense.
Regarding frequency, look to spar about once or twice weekly if your body feels up to the task. Avoid sparring whenever you feel foggy since that might signal your brain needs a break.
Some of the benefits of sparring include:
- It provides an opportunity to use what you’ve learned during training in a real fight simulation.
- It enhances your technique and improves your reaction time.
- It teaches you how to manage your aggression or anger toward an opponent.
- It gives you a feel of what an actual MMA fight feels like if you plan to compete.
- It exposes holes in your game and technique.
- It improves your cardiovascular endurance.
Sparring isn’t all roses and sunshine. Some of the potential negative effects of sparring include:
- You might end up putting too much wear and tear on your body with regular hard sparring sessions.
- There’s always the potential of getting concussed if you get hit by a big strike.
Your First Sparring Session
You must pick up some training gear heading into your first sparring sessions. Some of the things you’ll need include:
Once you have all the necessary gear, talk to your instructor to find out if you’re ready for your first sparring session. Your instructor understands your fighting abilities better than anyone else, so you always want their approval before taking on new things like sparring or competitions. If you and your instructor both think you’re ready to spar, you probably are. Some instructors will set up your first sparring session to ensure you’re matched with an appropriate training partner.
Some of the things you should keep in mind as you spar include:
- Sparring is a simulation of a real fight, but it’s not a real fight. You and your training partners are there to learn, so look out for each other during your sparring sessions. Your training partner’s safety should always be a top priority when you spar, and they should do the same for you. Avoid training partners who tend to be reckless during their sparring sessions, especially when you’re first starting.
- Don’t run away from fighters who are more experienced than you are. These are often some of the best training partners for people new to sparring. Experienced fighters tend to have good gym etiquette and already know they’re better than you. They’re more likely to take it easy on you while giving you constructive feedback. For example, if you drop your hands often, as many MMA beginners do, an experienced sparring partner is more likely to point it out and give you some gentle negative reinforcement to help you build better habits.
- Spar with equally skilled fighters often since they give you the best competition. Experienced fighters tend to hold back against beginners, but an equally skilled training partner won’t. You need these tests to sharpen your technique against opponents who are doing their best to defeat you.
- Don’t go all out of lesser skilled training partners. Remember how more experienced fighters treated you as a beginner and do the same for others. Besides, it’s also the perfect time to work on your defense since their techniques are not as fluid.
- Maintain the same pace as your sparring partner. Don’t go 100 percent if your training partner is going 10 percent. Communicate how hard you want to go with sparring partners before and during your sparring matches.
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