Sparring should be both fun and exciting. However, there are some important things to understand before starting. One of the keys to making your sparring sessions productive is communication with your partners. The last thing you want to do is throw on some gloves and ask someone you don’t know to spar without communicating. This can lead to misunderstandings, frustration and annoyance. Here are a few things that every martial artist should consider before a sparring round.

Be very clear about what sparring style you wish to practice.

There is nothing more frustrating than starting a sparring round where you think you are practicing your boxing techniques and someone blasts you with a leg kick. Maybe you plan to work your Muay Thai rhythm and round kicks but the first opportunity they get they shoot a double leg takedown. How about when you are practicing on a hard floor and they catch your kick? There are lots of examples of sparring sessions gone wrong simply due to a lack of communication about which style each person wants to work on. Furthermore, some people are working through injuries and could easily be hurt if you try a technique they are not prepared for. Get in the habit of asking questions like:

Are we Boxing, practicing Muay Thai or working MMA?
Are you comfortable with catching kicks?
Are takedowns ok?
Do you want to work the clinch?

Asking these questions will help avoid awkward situations, negative feelings and reduce the likelihood of injuries.

Get in the habit of asking questions about each other’s goals and comfort levels.

There are certainly times for competitive sparring but in the beginning it’s much more important to get comfortable with it and start developing your techniques. The more you understand about your partner’s goals and comfort levels, the better training partner you will be. The more your partner understands about your goals and comfort levels, the better chance you will have of achieving those goals. This can also help take some of the competitive jitters out of the round because you both know that you have some specific skills you are working on and what you may need to avoid. For example:

  • What techniques are you working on?
  • Do you have any injuries I should know about?
  • I’m working on defending teep kicks, would you mind throwing a few during the round?
  • I’m trying to improve my head movement, it would be great if you could throw more straight punches so I can work on this.

Your sparring partners will appreciate this type of communication and it will help them understand that you are there to help them as much as they are there to help you.

Make it a game, not a brawl.

Again, sparring should be fun. However, with so many different techniques to work, it can be overwhelming at times. Here are a few different sparring games that are fun and can help you develop specific skills.

  • Timing Sparring – This form of sparring is very light (10%-30% power) and allows you to really focus on timing blocks, evasions, off balancing, counter striking and taking shots. Don’t worry about getting hit or winning the round… instead focus on specific techniques that you want to improve or techniques that are hard to execute in faster paced rounds.
  • Jab Only – Just like it sounds… sparring with only the jab hand. Use single, double and triple strikes to keep them guessing. Focus on footwork, angles changes, level changes, blocking and head movement.
  • Ping Pong – 1 for 1 sparring. You can only strike once until your partner responds with a strike. Don’t be fooled, this type of sparring can become fast paced as you get better at it. Break the rhythm and try to keep your partner guessing when the strike is coming back.
  • 3 for 3 – Similar to Ping Pong but in this case you can throw any three strikes in a row while your partner tries to defend. This can really help you develop solid defense and help you put together creative combinations. Remember to change levels and don’t get caught up in head hunting.

Remember, your sparring partners are exactly that, partners not adversaries. Treat them as such, with respect and good communication and you will never have a hard time finding someone to train with.