Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sparring: Etiquette and Common Sense - What a lot of people lack.

I love sparring, and enjoy sparring almost every day.  But I've realized that some guys, actually a lot of guys, don't know even the basic common courtesies of sparring.  Maybe no one ever taught them, maybe they weren't raised right, but here they are.

1. Always wear 16oz Gloves - If you don't, it's unfair to your opponent (sparring partner)  By having lighter weight gloves, such as 14oz you will be faster, hit harder, have less padding and more easily keep your hands up than your opponent.  The only people allowed to wear 14oz gloves while sparring are girls and boys under 100lbs, 45kilos.

If you don't wear 16oz gloves and you accidentally injure or hurt your sparring partner, you're at fault because you should have been wearing bigger gloves.

If you are want to be the bigger man and only have 14oz gloves, apologize to your sparring partner and offer to let him use your 14's while you use his sixteens for sparring.

2.  Always wear a mouth piece - It's just standard safety gear and it makes it a night and day difference if you get hit without one.  The problem isn't just protecting your teeth, it's also your jaw.  If you get punched, even lightly while not wearing one, it's much easier to get knocked out or otherwise injured.

It's unfair to your sparring partner if you do not wear one because he will either feel bad for punching you, resulting in either fake sparring where he only does body shots, or he'll be at risk of accidentally hurting you.  The most expensive piece of Muay Thai equipment I own is a custom molded mouth guard, but it was worth every penny.  Get one if you're going to be serious about sparring and fighting.

3. When your opponent starts hitting too hard - How to respond - This is a really hard one to tackle as it has to do with experience and also self control/ego.  All the times I've been injured by sparring partners have been because they lacked self control of their ego. Ironically, I've been injured more in sparring than any of my four actual fights.  The reason why I've been injured more in sparring is because guys who think they are experienced or have their egos in check, really don't.

I'm confident that I'm not at fault because if nothing else in the world, I have really really good self control and know exactly how hard i'm hitting.  This is the reason why I'm able to spar with girls and punch them in the face at full speed without hurting them, because I know hot to pull back my punches so they don't hurt.

The two types of guys that spar too hard.  The first, is the asshole that doesn't want to waste his time with beginners.  See the story about my first western boxing class.  The second is the guy that thinks he is more experienced than he is and then gets his ego or pride hurt and goes crazy.  Sometimes you physically see the change in the guy's eyes, you can see the rage before he starts the flurry.

I used to always be the first one to tell guys, "Hey let's take it easy." but no more.  Every time I've ever done that, I go back into sparring thinking we're going to go 40% and then I get hit at 100% by a cheap shot.  I despise these guys as it's a bitch move on their part.  From now on, I'm going to follow my rule of hitting my opponent equally as hard as he hits me, and never being the one to say "let's take it easy."  I'll always go 40% with everyone and if they want to step it up harder, I'll do so as well until either he's the one to say "let's take it easy." or one of the coaches breaks it up.  I'm sick of trying to be the better man and then having them catch me off guard, as I'm the one that has to deal with weeks of recovering from injury.

Tips for beginners:

When I started out I sucked at sparring, and now looking back, I feel bad for guys that had to waste their time practicing with me.  These are the things I learned to graduate to the intermediate level where I am at now:

1. Wear a mouth guard, keep your chin down and your hands up, always.  Don't even drop it for a second, and during the 3 minute rounds, take it seriously, don't start talking in the middle of a round.  Treat it like a low impact fight.  Don't turn your back, get water, or take a break until the bell rings.  

2. Learn to cover up and get hit, then be comfortable with it. The single biggest thing that helped me, was getting over my fear of getting hit.  I practiced one day by having someone wail one me while I defended for an entire round.  What it taught me was that as long as I was covering up, I couldn't get knocked out.  That gave me the confidence to really spar.  

3. Make sure your gym is timing 3 minute rounds.  One of the most annoying things about other gyms I trained at, almost to a point where I wouldn't go back to Phuket is because of this, the trainers not keeping track of time.  Three minutes of sparring, and one minute of rest between rounds is perfect for learning, pacing, and also cardio conditioning.  If your trainers are unreliable and either don't pay attention to their stop watches, or do stupid things like have one 7 minute round followed by a 2 minute round, use your own timer.  I went out and bought a cheap kitchen timer just for this, so once the three minutes were up, I could hear it.  By doing so, I learned how to pace myself, use energy wisely and I would end up training harder since I knew it was only 3 minutes.

4. Spar often - As in spar everyday if you can.  If you're at a gym that spars less than 3x a week, ask to spar more, or even ask the other students to stay after class and spar with you.  If not, look for another gym.  A sign of a good gym is one that keeps you honest about your skill, and lack of and the best way to do that is by sparring with people at least a few times a week.

5. Boxing Sparring vs. Muay Thai Sparring vs. Clinching - It's important to do all three.  If you don't ever do hands only sparring, you might learn bad habits like Taekwondo guys who aren't used to being rushed with jabs and punches to the face.  Only doing boxing makes you learn things like "bob and weaving" which will get your a knee in your face in Muay Thai.  

I personally hate clinching, but I know how important it is so I do it once a week.  It builds up your neck muscles, makes you stronger and teaches you a valuable skill.  Just make sure you and your opponent both know to use your inner thigh to "knee" and not your actual knee. I've had my ribs bruised by a guy who "lightly" kneed me straight on while clinching.  It took almost a month to heal.

That's it for now, any other thoughts on sparring, whether it be Muay Thai, MMA or Boxing?  Leave a comment.

-Johnny @ My Fight Camp


  1. This was the most insightful article you've posted yet. I liked your response to when an opponent hits too hard.

  2. Your blog is fantastic. I hope to train in Thailand some day.

    Keep it up!

  3. How common is it t have these shitty sparring partners? Are they usually foreigners, Thai or both? If I do this I want to avoid the egomaniacs. I used to have a pretty big ego but luckily I've matured out of it and sure as hell don't want to get it back.

    1. Ego is something that crosses cultures. If you get the best of a Thai trainer and he loses face, his ego might take over and he might go crazy on you just as much as a foreigner would. But at least when the Thai does it it's concious, a lot of foreigners just don't realize it.


Hey if you've read this far, you might as well at least leave a comment. Even just to say what's up! If you have any questions about training in Thailand just ask it here in the comments and I'll answer so everyone can benefit from it.