Sparring: Basic Insights for the Hobbyist MMA, Boxing, or Kickboxing Martial Artist
Can a Hobbyist Spar?
The average person trains martial arts for fun, health, fitness, and self-defense. And yes, seeking the path of self-improvement can be found through studying the martial arts. To truly achieve your greatest potential in the martial arts, you want your skills to be at the highest level. Sparring can contribute to this result. In the many grappling arts, sparring is enjoyable due to the non-injurious nature. There is no striking in grappling oriented rolling. With boxing and kickboxing, there is obviously a lot of striking going on. To the average person, sparring is not something that somewhat frightening. The truth here is sparring does not have to be frightening or injurious. As long as you go about it the right way, you will find sparring to be extremely helpful.
Why Sparring Is Important
The reason free sparring is important is because it brings a much needed dose of reality to the training of martial arts. Boxing and kickboxing and MMA striking is about being able to hit a live opponent while avoiding being hit. A training program that is based solely on hitting heavy bags and focus mitts is not going to be able to make the necessary bridge to making an art work.
Here is a bit of reality: bag work, focus mitts and other drills derive from sparring. Boxing and kickboxing is what goes on in the ring. The goal of any drill is to aid in boosting performance in the ring or in sparring practice sessions. Over the years, the commercialization of boxing and fitness kickboxing made the supporting cardio, endurance, and timing drills the main and only focus of training.
For those who are really serious about their training, this is not going to be enough.
Sparring not only introduces you to reality, it also works tremendously as a means of developing attributes that would be extremely difficult to learn outside of the sparring arena.
You can develop:
- Aware of Distance and the Fighting Measure
- Reaction Time
- The Ability to Deal with the Unpredictable Nature of an Opponent
All of these attributes will be learned within the context of an actual (friendly) sparring environment. The experience and knowledge a student gains in such an arena can translate to other areas of martial arts training such as self-defense.
Experience is critically important. This refers to real experience with actual resistance training against a non-compliant opponent. Anything else is merely a shadow of proper training. This does not mean you have to spar for hours on end. Two minutes of boxing or kickboxing sparring twice a week is going to have a profound effect over time.
Self-defense is certainly not the same thing as kickboxing in a ring. However, importing all those amazing attributes and necessary experience from sparring sessions definitely can fuel self-defense tactics in a much better way.
Ensuring Sparring Sessions are Productive
Sparring is never about going in and beating your training partner up as if you were entering a makeshift toughman competition. Sparring is a drill designed to help improve skill. That means sparring should mostly be controlled and light. Going to hard is not going to help the cause.
Sparring should only be done with the proper equipment and under the proper supervision. Going off on your own with sparring is not something anyone with little experience should do. If you want to improve your sparring, then you should discuss this with your instructor and follow the rules of your gym or dojo. Safety must always be the highest priority in your sparring sessions. If not, you likely will not get much out of it.
As always, having a physical exam before getting involved with a physical activity is advisable.