Muay Thai Headgear
Headgear for Muay Thai and Boxing
Headgear is an essential piece of equipment for any fighter that intends to compete at the amateur level or partake in full contact sparring. Almost all athletic commissions require it for amateur fights and most gyms won't let their fighters spar without proper protection. The reason for this is that it's very easy to get hurt during sparring if you're not wearing headgear; concussions would be common, and people would get cut much more often. Solid padding on your head will allow you to spar harder while sustaining less damage. Depending on the headgear, this damage can be brought down to almost nothing. Headgear used in amateur matches, however, is typically more regulated; full face masks will generally be disallowed.
Benefits of Headgear
As I mentioned above, headgear is useful for preventing damage to the fighter who is sparring or fighting. It does this by adding an additional layer of protection to the fighter's face. Most headgear covers the sides of the face, in addition to the cheeks. Depending on the brand and purpose, others might provide additional protection to the chin or entire face.
One of the most important areas defended by head gear are the ears. Believe it or not, the ears are very easily damaged in fights. Kicks and punches can rip apart the relatively weak structure of the ear, leaving it damaged and requiring stitches. Since the head gear covers the area section really well, and it is usually in the center of the padding, it's very well protected.
Another area that is protected well by headgear is the eye. One of the most common injuries in striking is a broken orbital; in fact, two recent high-profile fights have resulted in broken orbitals. Georges St. Pierre and Manny Pacquiao have both left their opponents incapable of seeing out of their eye and requiring surgery. For the amateur fighter, this is typically not an acceptable outcome for a fight. As such, headgear is an absolute necessity.
Types of Headgear
There are three primary types of headgear: competition, sparring, and full protection. Their use should be easy to ascertain by their names, but I will go into further detail below.
Competition headgear is typically made to US Boxing standards and is more expensive than sparring headgear. This is because it is of generally higher quality and has to meet certain standards, as mentioned before. Most smaller shows will allow a fighter to use pretty much any headgear, although this is by no means a guarantee. It's possible to use competition headgear in sparring, and that actually might be preferable. In general, it offers superior protection and a better fit. The only downside is that it can cost two-to-three times as much money for similar protection. Most competition headgear will defend the cheeks, brow, eyes, and ears.
Sparring headgear is similar to competition, although it's not as durable and usually not as well made. A lot of fighters that use sparring headgear in matches will find it slipping off their head after taking a couple solid punches or being pulled off accidentally in the clinch. While most organizations don't check the headgear, it's preferable to use the competition type when fighting. If you don't plan on competing soon and are just interested in sparring, then this should work fine for you. I don't expect your sparring buddies to hit you in the face while you adjust your headgear. If they do, then maybe you should look for a new gym.
Full protection headgear makes sure of an entire face mask to ensure that the face sustained as little damage as possible during sparring. Almost no amateur promoters / regulators will allow a fighter to wear something like this in a fight. While I do see them from time to time, it's relatively rare. The only place in recent memory where I've seen this type of headgear used in competition was for some karate point fighting event where strikes to the head were illegal anyway. For sparring, this headgear offers the greatest protection. The major downside of it is that you will not get used to getting hit in the face to the same degree that you would if you used open face headgear.
I have a few friends who say they find it difficult to breathe and get claustrophobic when using headgear. This can be uncomfortable and annoying, to the point where some people stop competing or training. If this is a problem for you, I suggest trying to use headgear that doesn't have full cheeks. This might make it less constricting, especially on the sinus area, and make it easier to breathe. The downside is that you'll have less protection, but not so much less that it becomes a major liability.
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