In any martial art, sparring is necessary for the growth and development of your skills as a kickboxing practitioner. Without sparring, your understanding of the practical application of the things you learn in kickboxing classes aren’t worth much until you get to use your skills against opponents. But even when we first hop into the ring or the mats to spar, we’re humbled almost immediately due to the amount of work we have to do to improve and hold our own against more skilled fighters.
With that being said, you’re here because you’ve gotten a taste for sparring and you’re not phased. You want to get better and you’re ready to get back on the mats and throw hands. This simplified guide will give you tips on improving your kickboxing sparring skills.
First, let’s talk about why kickboxing sparring is important. Like we mentioned earlier, it’s absolutely necessary for the growth and development of either an ambitious fighter or a dedicated kickboxing practitioner. We can learn all of the basic kickboxing strikes and techniques all we want, but without sparring, how do we actually know when to use these techniques? We believe in learning by doing, and if that means being thrown to the wolves, so be it. Sparring is intimidating for many, but it can be loads of fun when you finally settle in, and the sooner you begin sparring, the better you will progress as a dedicated kickboxer.
While sparring can be loads of fun, it’s important for you to think to yourself about why you want to spar. Accidents in sparring happen all the time. I personally had my left arm snap in the middle of a kickboxing/muay thai spar where I was performing quite dominantly. Shit happens. The reason you should really think about why you want to spar is because if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons (such as you really just want to hit someone), you’re not going to get anything out of it. Sparring is the most beneficial to those who are either looking to dedicate their lives to fighting or those who are dedicating their lifestyle around kickboxing and martial arts. Just remember that injuries and repetitive hits to the head happen during sparring.
Kickboxing sparring comes in various forms, each serving a specific purpose in a fighter's training and preparation. Understanding these different types of sparring is crucial for your growth and development as a kickboxer.
Light sparring is the gentlest form of kickboxing sparring. It serves several purposes in a fighter's journey. First and foremost, it's an ideal starting point for beginners who are just getting the hang of kickboxing. In light sparring, the emphasis is on technical development rather than brute force. Fighters engage in controlled exchanges, focusing on perfecting their punches, kicks, and defensive moves. It's an excellent way to refine your technique, understand your opponent's movements, and build confidence without the fear of heavy impact (hard punches to the face) or injury. Additionally, light sparring provides an opportunity for seasoned fighters to fine-tune their skills, work on specific weaknesses, and experiment with new techniques in a safe environment.
Medium sparring takes kickboxers a step closer to real fighting scenarios while still maintaining a significant degree of control and safety. It is a happy medium between light sparring and full-contact sparring, offering an essential experience for fighters and kickboxing practitioners at various skill levels. In medium sparring, the intensity is higher than in light sparring, but the goal remains focused on skill development rather than overwhelming force. This form of sparring allows fighters to work on their timing, distance, and power application while maintaining a reasonable level of restraint to avoid unnecessary injuries. It's a valuable training tool for kickboxers looking to improve their ability to adapt and transition from controlled technique practice to a more realistic combat setting.
Full contact sparring is the most intense and closest simulation to a true kickboxing match. While it may seem intimidating, it plays a pivotal role in a fighter's journey to becoming a well-rounded martial artist. Fighters engage in exchanges where they can use their full range of techniques, speed, power, and strategy as if they were in a real competition. This type of sparring helps kickboxers refine their ability to execute their skills under pressure, test their conditioning, and develop fight-specific tactics. While safety measures are still crucial, full contact sparring provides an opportunity for fighters to experience the adrenaline, mental toughness, and physical demands of a genuine kickboxing match, ultimately preparing them for success in the ring or cage.
Our tips on helping you improve your kickboxing sparring come from personal experience. We’ve been there and done it all from light sparring to full contact sparring. These are the most important tips we can recommend anyone who’s just starting out and wants to improve their overall sparring experience:
Now that you’ve gotten a glimpse of the different types of sparring you may encounter, let’s discuss the importance of physical conditioning to assist you in your kickboxing sparring. Without a suitable cardio gas tank, you’re going to struggle against sparring multiple opponents in the same training session. While it’s completely inevitable that you will get tired, ensuring that you can keep up with the intense physical demands that sparring requires will allow you to not only get in better shape but also allow you to keep your head in the right mental space, preventing you from making silly mid-fight decisions. Having improved cardio also allows you to be active in the middle of a spar. The worst thing you can have happen is to fatigue, or gas out, mid fight, leaving you exposed for your opponent to throw everything he can at free will. Those 16 oz muay thai gloves aren’t gonna help block your entire face ya know.
Cardio improvement workouts can include an average 2-mile jogs, elliptical workouts, dumbbell shadow boxing, burpees, and sit ups to help your core. There are many other workouts available for you to discover that will help you improve your overall cardio tank. Improving your overall cardio will give you that needed second wind to bite down on your mouth guard and keep going.
Approach each spar with a goal and know what you’re going to do in each match. Want to work on those question mark kicks? Ok, got it. Want to work on setting up your inside lead leg kick? Get comfortable feinting those 1-2 punches.
Another thing we advise is to be observant of your opponent and his/her fighting style. Sometimes you will encounter someone who is a pressure fighter (someone who constantly moves forward and in your face). If this is the case, you’ll need to adjust your strategy to be more evasive, perhaps becoming a counter fighter for a round. Other times, you’ll face counter strikers who are really slick with their movement and strikes. If this is the case, you’ll need to adjust your approach, be risky, and move forward and become a pressure fighter. Observe their fighting styles and adjust accordingly and get ready to throw your hands and blue boxing gloves at will.
Lastly, make sure you spar regularly. Practice makes perfect as they say (except in martial arts, there’s always room for improvement). Regular sparring will make you more at ease with combat scenarios. Even if you’re not sparring to become the next Ultimate Fighter, it still will give you the boost in confidence to handle yourself in the event of an unexpected confrontation outside of the gym. Make sure to show up with breathable clothes, like this muay thai shirt that feels great during sweaty training.
With all of this said, remember to have fun during your kickboxing sparring and make sure to ask for feedback from your coaches and teammates. If that one dude keeps popping jabs to your face, ask him where you can make improvements to adjust. Just remember to check your ego at the door. Sometimes you’ll be amazing in sparring, sometimes you’ll be awful. That’s the beauty of martial arts.