Sparring in Muay Thai can be a daunting prospect when you first begin your martial arts journey.
You might have spent months learning techniques and practicing them on bags and pads, but now you’ve got to try them on a moving target that can hit back.
Don’t worry. For many martial artists, sparring is the most enjoyable part of their training.
Once you ease into things and get used to going back and forth with teammates, it becomes the best opportunity to use everything you’ve learned.
This guide will help you ease into a real combat situation so you can look forward to every round.
Know When You’re Ready To Spar
When you first come to a Muay Thai class, sparring will not, and should not, be on your radar. Rather, focus on your Muay Thai fundamentals so that you can experience faster growth in your Muay Thai journey.
Most beginner classes don’t even include time for sparring. If you are part of a mixed session with more experienced people, you might just hit the bag while the veterans put each other through their paces.
You’ll be allowed to join in when your coach feels like you’re ready, which could be after a few months, depending on how often you train.
If you haven’t got the go-ahead, don’t be afraid to ask when you can expect to make this step in your martial arts journey. Different gyms have different practices, so it might just be a little longer before you join in.
Just remember that just because you can, that doesn’t mean you have to. If you are invited to spar, and you don’t feel like you’re ready, no one will force you.
However, we recommend you give it a try at least once. Most instructors will encourage you to get stuck in as part of your growth in Muay Thai, and your training partners will take it easy on you as you adjust.
Before you start going mano a mano with your training partners, you need the right equipment – for your protection and theirs.
● Bigger gloves – most gyms ask you to wear 16oz gloves, which have much more padding than what you might use for hitting bags and pads.
● Shin guards – essential equipment to make sure you can kick and check with minimal discomfort.
● Mouthguard – unless your dentist says so, there’s no need to spend a small fortune on custom-made mouth protection. Many professional martial artists still use basic boil-and-bite mouthguards that cost just a few dollars.
● Groin guard – perhaps the most important item of all. Even a weak kick can take you out if it’s slightly off-target.
Some gyms also require students to wear head guards, but many don’t. You won’t be throwing full-power headshots, so you should be safe without one.
You may also need to invest in elbow pads for advanced sparring, but you’re unlikely to be allowed to practice arguably the most dangerous strikes in Muay Thai as a novice.
If you’re taught by a Thai, you might hear them tell you “sabai, sabai” – that’s your cue to relax.
Most Muay Thai beginners will tense up when they first start sparring as they brace for impact, but that is one of the worst things you can do.
All that tension will make you get tired more quickly, stop you from throwing strikes with smooth technique, and risk hurting your partner with stiff shots.
The first thing to remember is to try not to be scared. Accept that you will get hit with some kicks and punches. You might be surprised to find out that it’s not so bad.
You’re not made of glass, so a couple of shots to the head, body, and legs will not stop you from enjoying a valuable learning experience. You might even grow to love the process of getting hit and fighting back!
You must also remember to breathe. That will help you so stay calm, stay loose, and make it through the rounds without gasping for air.
Learn From The Experience
The whole point of sparring is to improve your skills in a live, one-on-one combat situation. It’s not a competition to find the gym’s toughest warrior.
When you attack, go light and work on different techniques. That way, they’ll be ready for when you are ready to go hard.
If your strikes don’t land, think about what adjustments you need to make the next time you throw them. You might use a different combination, feint and fake, or change up your footwork to take a new angle.
When you’re defending, try to protect yourself, and don’t forget to fight back (in a controlled way). If you get hit, think about how you can slip, block, or counter in the next exchange.
Plus, don’t be afraid to ask questions or request feedback from your partner or trainer. If your opponent keeps scoring on you, find out what you need to do to stop them.
You should also try to use the attacks you’ve drilled in the rest of your classes. Your coaches teach you those techniques because they work, so put them into practice.
Maintain The Right Mindset
Like any aspect of martial arts, respect plays a huge part in sparring. Leave your ego at the door and engage in an exercise that’s supposed to help you and your partner improve.
The aim of these practice sessions is not to ‘win’ by landing more strikes than your teammate. It’s a practice session that does not need to get heated.
Ensure you match the pace of your opposite number. If they throw strikes with 50% power, use the same intensity.
It’s also important to realize you will never avoid every punch and kick, so don’t try to. If you spend all your time moving back to avoid damage, you’ll never get the opportunity to work on your offense.
On the other hand, don’t forget about what your opponent will throw your way. There’s never a better time to sharpen your slips, checks, and catches.
Most of all, have fun! Touch gloves, and enjoy learning the finer points of Muay Thai in action.
Learn Muay Thai Sparring Drills From World Champions
If you are looking to level up your Muay Thai sparring, consider Evolve University’s Muay Thai Training Series: Sparring Drills, an in-depth online video Training Series taught by legendary Muay Thai World Champions.
In this Training Series, beginners to Muay Thai sparring will learn how to implement fundamental techniques in sparring, while advanced practitioners will learn how to strengthen their weaknesses and implement various fight strategies. No detail is spared as Evolve MMA’s Muay Thai World Champions break down sparring drills they use to sharpen their tools and prepare for fights. Learn how different sparring drills can develop specific parts of your game while improving your technique, balance, timing, and reactions.
Packed with 15 chapters of sparring drills, 3 hours of on-demand video, Evolve University’s Muay Thai Training Series: Sparring Drills is the ultimate guide to training like a World Champion.
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