When it comes to martial arts training, one of the main ways of testing the effectiveness of your techniques is by going “live,” which is to say you must utilize your skills against an opponent and engage in sparring sessions.
This means your training partners are one of your most valuable assets, and so you should treat them as such. In order for them to continue to be willing participants in sparring sessions, you have to be respectful.
Here are some tips on how to be a good sparring partner for Muay Thai and other full-contact striking arts.
Have Proper Equipment
Every single gym is different, so it is important to follow the rules and etiquette of the gym. Make sure you are wearing the right sized gloves that are not battered from a decade of use, and with all the padding gone from the knuckles. If there is loose velcro, tape it up.
Also, have quality shin guards to protect both yourself and your partner. Lastly, for guys, wear a cup, as it will help provide protection from any accidental kicks to sensitive areas. It is the simple things that will keep everybody happy, healthy and improving.
Do Not Try To “Win”
Remember, sparring is practice. You are sparring to try out your techniques under pressure to make them more effective. The gym is not the proving ground, but rather a safe environment where you learn and grow. This means it is effectively a battle against yourself, not trying to one-up your training partners.
This mindset of trying to “win” in sparring is often what leads to a lack of evolution in your game, because you are afraid to try out new things in case they do not work. It also means you are more emotionally invested — if you get hit, you are not losing, you are learning, so resist that urge to throw your overhand right back as hard as you can.
The wrong mindset leads to poor quality sparring, which often makes it less fun, less useful, and potentially more dangerous.
Have A Strategy
If you go into a competitive bout, you will want to put on your best performance, of course. Some of the people you are sparring may compete, but many will not.
Regardless, there is a time and a place to try and do your best, but general sparring is a learning tool. And, if you only use what is familiar to you, how will you ever become comfortable with new techniques?
That is why we need to have a strategy. Just picked up a new technique in class? Look to land that. It does not matter if the technique always lands or if you get countered, because these are simply cues to improve on. Any new techniques will come with teething problems until you are familiar with it.
Do you have good hands, but not low kicks? Then see how many low kicks you can land in sparring in an effort to improve that aspect of your game. Bring your weaknesses to the forefront ,and before you know it, it will not be a weaknesses anymore.
Do Not Avoid Those Better Than You
It can be daunting going up against the more experienced people in the room, but shying away from them and not making eye contact so you don’t have to spar them will not save you. In fact, it will only stop you from progressing.
Not only are they likely to be more controlled due to their experience, but they can also help you learn faster, because you are forced to raise your game. They may also give you useful hints and tips in real-time so you can address your weaknesses straight away.
Reflect On Your Sessions
Do not just spar and be done with it. When you are finished with your sparring session, take a quick moment to reflect on what worked, what did not, and where you could improve so you can become a better martial artist.
Also, ask a coach or a senior training partner to watch you and point out anything they might see. They may be able to spot something you may have overlooked. If so, take that information in and work with it.
Enjoy The Experience
If martial arts is your hobby, then it all boils down to having fun. Being tense, not trying new things, and putting too much pressure on yourself will only reduce the enjoyment. That is a vicious cycle, as then you will spar less, and ultimately, learn less.
Be relaxed, do not get caught up in the mistakes, and do not be afraid to address any issues with your training partners. For example, if they are getting too intense or hitting too hard, suggest they dial it down for the good of everyone’s development.