If you just began your Kickboxing journey, you may have had a chance to see experienced fighters in your gym engage in battle inside of the ring wearing protective gear. If you were ever left wondering why they we’re swinging punches and kicks at each other, it’s because they engaged in a kickboxing sparring match. Sparring, when discussed in the context of kickboxing, is the act of two fighters simulating a competitive fight using protective gear. The goal of sparring is for fighters to become familiar and develop a level of comfort of getting hit and hitting their opponent.
But as someone who is at the early stages of their kickboxing journey, or maybe you’re someone who has been training for a while and just hasn’t had the chance to hop into the ring with someone to spar, you’re probably developing an itch to get in there and throw hands. But before you decide to fight everyone at the gym, let’s first discuss a bit more about why sparring is necessary in your Kickboxing journey and how to best prepare yourself for battle.
As fighters, there are necessary evils we have to put up with during our training, such as weight cutting, inevitable injuries, and then, of course, sparring. There are a few wild poeple who get a thrill of getting hit in the head, but for the most part, the general population doesn’t really like any intense level of physical contact. But sparring allows us to elarn to be at ease during a confrontation and in the middle of a fight. Sparring also has other added benefits:
Competitively speaking, sparring allows fighters to train for their upcoming fights and focus on techniques and strategies that are tailor-made for their opponents. In mixed martial arts, sometimes you need to place heavy emphasis on your BJJ training, but other times, you need to polish your muay thai and kickboxing striking. Sparring allows you to get together with other fighters who resemble your upcoming opponent and develop a gameplan on how you will approach your next fight.
Now, for the general population who has zero interest in becoming the next Ultimate Fighter, sparring is still extremely beneficial to you. One of the main reasons we join kickboxing gyms is to learn self defense. Unfortunately, we can’t properly learn self defense by just hitting the heavy bag. We need to spar and apply what we learn in class into a simulated fight for us to really understand the techniques we learn.
When you spar against someone, you’re practically fighting at a 30% level, so you’re feeling some level of contact when you get punched or kicked. The more you get that sparring experience and develop the confidence to go toe-to-toe against someone, the faster you will really have a deep understanding of kickboxing’s self defense tactics.
We’re taught early on how to check (or defend) leg kicks, but it’s not until you start sparring that you learn why they’re so important. Sometimes, you have to get hit in order to get it through your head that the techniques your coaches teach you are for your own good. So be sure to pay close attention during class!
When you spar in Kickboxing, sparring should be fun (unless you’re preparing for a competitive fight… then no, it should not be fun). Typically, you’ll spar with your fellow classmates, which common norm is to throw strikes at under 30% power levels. This means do not approach your spar thinking you’re going in for the knockout. Sparring should be about working on your technique, head movement, leg checks, and more. One thing you’ll take note is that everyone spars differently, and there’s usually a simple reason why.
If you encounter an opponent who likes to spar with his hands low (the complete opposite of what coaches teach their students on day one), don’t feel discouraged. This person more than likely has some level of kickboxing experience where he or she feels like they’re ok with getting hit in the head. You’ll also encounter students who have their hands to their face like a magnet and flinch at everything you throw. This is a typical indicator that this is a relatively inexperienced kickboxer.
When you approach each spar, try to get a gauge of each person's skill level. Depending on each person's skill level, this will determine how intense you can and should approach your sparring match. If you go up against an inexperienced kickboxer, don’t go in there with the goal of taking their head off. If you go up against someone with more experience, give them a run for their money (but don’t get out of control).
Now that we’ve discussed why we should spar, let’s now talk about how you should prepare for your upcoming sparring sessions. Aside from the obvious equipment necessities, we’ll also discuss how you should mentally prepare before each match.
When you spar, you want to make sure you’re equipped with the right kickboxing gear for smooth spar. The worst thing you can do is invest in poor gear and get injured mid spar. Below is a list of the key sparring gear you’ll need to get you through those tough matches.
Many gyms will require you to wear head gear for sparring. Make sure you protect your head well and invest in a quality boxing/kickboxing head gear. From experience, getting kicked in the head without head gear is 20x worse than with head gear.
Do you teeth a favor and invest in a solid kickboxing mouth guard. You can also use a boxing mouth guard just as well, since they’re all pretty much the same. Don’t go into a sparring match without a mouth guard. You don’t want to accidentally receive an uppercut to the chin and go home with a chipped tooth (or worse, a missing tooth!).
Ensure you’re entering each kickboxing spar with shin pads, or shin guards. Muay thai shin guards get the job done well. You’ll want to invest in a quality pair of shin pads for kickboxing so that you don’t accidentally kick your opponent at 50% power and hit his/her elbow or knee. You’re in for a painful time!
This is the most obvious of the list, but make sure you get yourself a comfortable pair of boxing gloves before you begin sparring. It can make a world of difference mid fight. A poor pair of boxing gloves can also lead to you holding back and making the most of your sparring matches. Boxing gloves for kickboxing are the way to go. You can also benefit from using muay thai gloves as well.
While boxing gloves protect your hands, hand wraps protect your wrists and reinforce your knuckles with extra padding. Make sure to get yourself a pair of these amazing boxing hand wraps - your wrists will thank you in the long run!
If it’s not obvious, sparring is a very intensive activity fighters and kickboxing practitioners have to go through. You will get tired. Get yourself a decently sized water bottle and avoid having to pay the gym for a bottle of water every day (unless you want to, that’s cool too).
A phrase we’ve heard many times from our coaches, Get your head right! Before sparring, remember to leave your ego at the door. You and your opponents are there to learn and develop as fighters and kickboxing practitioners. You’re not there to get in a brawl and cement your dominance. That’s not what sparring is for.
Lastly, make sure you stay calm before you spar. While some of your opponents might be significantly more experienced than you, try not to get nervous. Your teammates should be there to take care of you as well. If you get the sense that your opponents are unnecessarily aggressive, find a new sparring partner and stay away until you feel like you’re ready to handle them.
While we preach that you should keep your cool and prevent going too hard on your teammates during sparring, sometimes emotions get the best of us and we end up finding ourselves in a heated sparring match. When this is the case, do the best you can and don’t back away from the fight. These types of fights actually help you develop further as a kickboxer as once you engage in them, you’re at ease a little bit better the next time because you now know what to expect. Remember, we’re not vouching for you to enter each spar as a grudge match, but when worst comes to shove, let 'em have it and give them your best shot.
In the world of kickboxing, sparring sessions serve as an essential component of training. They provide the opportunity to practice techniques, improve your skills, and gain valuable experience in a controlled environment. However, it's important to remember that your teammates are not your enemies during these sessions; they're your best friends on the mat and in the ring. The spirit of camaraderie and mutual respect should always come first. While you aim to challenge yourself and push your limits, ensuring the safety and well-being of your training partners should be top priority.
Sparring isn't about trying to defeat your teammates; it's about learning together, growing together, and ultimately becoming better kickboxers together. So, when you step onto the ring, treat your training partners with respect and empathy. Communicate clearly, set boundaries, and always prioritize safety. If you see a teammate struggling or in discomfort, pause and offer assistance. Remember, in kickboxing, the bonds you form with your training partners are as strong as any friendship. Taking care of one another in sparring not only creates a positive training environment but also fosters lasting relationships built on trust and support.