10 Tips For First Time Sparring
So, over the last few months, a number of people from the beginners class at Impact Boxing and Fitness, have been transitioning, from the beginner/intermediate classes I have been involved in teaching, to the fighters classes which involve quite a bit of sparring and sparring like drills. So, because of this, I feel it pressing to put out a few tips that quickly come to mind that one should work on, in or outside of the ring before or during sparring sessions. The tips are in no particular order, surprisingly. I imagine I will come back and fix the order later when my OCD mind starts screaming at me to do so. haha
1. Mentally Prepare
Imagine as many circumstances as possible and what method of action you will take. When, I say this, I mean really being creative with shadow boxing, that is one of the most underused tactics of training technique and habits, and forms of action in boxing. Placing yourself in your mind against an aggressive fighter, a brawler, a boxer puncher, a defensive or offensive counterpuncher, a boxer. Against different styles or stanced fighters such as orthodox or southpaw fighters, cuban style fighters, lead hand down (Roy Jones Jr.) style, mummy style, philly shell, etc. Different situations are also great to put yourself in to make a conscience decision as to what will take place when: you have been dazed and have no energy, or have no legs, or simply can't see straight, or what will you do when you daze your opponent, what will you do when your style of fighting is not working out so well in the round, or when your opponent figures out your weaknesses, be they technical or physical. There is a lot to consider and decide before hopping in the ring and swinging at someone.
2. Wear the Appropriate Gear
14-18 oz sparring gloves. Head gear. Shoes. Other protective gear such as mouth guard. I plan on posting another blog about brands, and tips to buying boxing equipment, so stay posted for it.
3. Accept the Fact You Are Going to Get Punched.
There is nothing quite like the sting of a punch on a tender nose. Everyone knows it is bound to happen when entering a boxing gym/club, but, no one ever really reacts the way they wish they did when the punch is landed. One of the first books I ever purchased was a biography of the life of Lennox Lewis, and something I read in that book has always stuck when he was asked if he had ever been hurt in boxing, "Yeah. It's not a long hurt. It's like [slap] ... ahh. But, you have to come back - that's when the discipline comes in. Even though you hit me, I'm not going to show you that I got hurt. I'm going to hold myself so I don't encourage you...." And there is so much truth in that. It takes a big heart, courage and confidence to hop in the ring. Whenever you get hurt, or get hit, hold your composure, don't lose your form, plant your feet firmly and gain a base and transfer their energy into yours and ultimately, make....them...pay. Remember, it is 2 predator in the ring, if you show signs of prey, your opponent will take a bigger role of predator to finish the job, and that will really cause you grief. So, suck it up.
4. Do Not Concentrate On What Your Opponent is Doing
Try and facilitate the direction of the round. I have a lot to say on this, but I think it will suffice if I say that I have seen far too many people lose rounds in sparring because they were too concentrated on what their opponent is going to do and how they themselves are going to react. This eats away at ones game plan, trying to hone in on your opponents' game plan only aids him in you losing sight of yours. Rather, use their game plan against them as it comes. Make them have to adapt to yours. This works for any style of fighter, whether you are a boxer, a counterpuncher, a brawler, etc. If they have a strong jab, take it away and rip them a shot on their exposed side.
5. Work On Ring Craft and Generalship
Few things are sweeter, in my opinion than watching a fighter dominate a fight by way of ring craft. Having the ability to use the centre of the ring to cut off or create angles, or using the outside to lull a person towards the ropes by breaking around them with a tight angle. I have taped the floor of the ring at the gym to expose some of these tricks to the members so they know what to look for in terms of utilizing every angle in the ring.
6. Use the Experienced Fighters
Remember that more experienced fighters can be a great sparring partner since they can tone their punches. Sometimes, we see the experienced fighters in the gym and hope we never have to face them. Remember that every gym is it's own community, some communities are very aggressive and play it "every man for themselves" and some are a family. Know your community and if you find a fighter that seems willing to help you in sparring, then have right at it. No one knows how to pull their punches, or gauge the strength and speed of their punches better than an experienced fighter. When I first started, that's exactly how I learned. Mind you, I was just fed to everyone to either be taught, or demolished, but quickly, I found the fighters that I wanted to work with more, either because of their knowledge, their insight and ability to educate me on my level, or because of their onslaying pressure that made me HAVE TO adapt.
7. Relax, and Be Like Water
One of the worst things I person can do to themselves, is enter the ring, nervous, and then tense up the entire session/bout. One feels vulnerable and under-experienced for the tests of sparring, and feel that in flexing every muscle possible, they will be able to better absorb impact. The opposite couldn't be any truer however. As Mike Tyson said it in his movie Tyson, the relaxed fighter, the one who enjoys what they are doing are the ones that dominate, round after round. Being able to relax, and flow and move or roll and transfer landed punches, greatly aids in a less than desirable time waking up the day after sparring.
8. Remember the 3 Priorities of Boxing: Form, Range and Direction
They each need to be perfected in the ring. Form constituting footwork, defence and offence. Range both, passive and active and direction, meaning being able to throw at least the 10 practical punches in any of the 6 given directions, namely: forward, backward, left, right, clockwise and counterclockwise. For more information on this, read my past blog on what 3 principles make up a world class fighter.
9. There Are Different Types of Sparring
Technical, Light, Shadow, and Heavy Sparring to name a few. Figure out what you want to work on or need to work on and use the appropriate type of sparring in order to improve weaknesses. Technical sparring is a great avenue to take in order to better implement technical aspects of your offence, defence or footwork by way of monotonous repetition. Light sparring is ideal for testing new moves out and putting them to a relatively real situation without having to take heavy heat for any noobie mistakes. Shadow is great when you want to variate your warm-ups or tune your skills and reactions before really hitting some good sparring. Of course heavy sparring is great in mimicking the potential unravelling of a fight, to increase your punch output capacity and test your limits in aggressive measures, conditioning, endurance, and durability.
10. Find a Way to See and Remember What Needs to Be Worked On
Get others' opinions, or use a camera and record your sparring, but then really break down what you were doing. I have seen guys come into the gym and just record themselves all day and post the best stuff up on Instagram or Facebook and never really work on technical deficiencies that I see time and time again.
11. Last But Not Least, Have Fun and a Positive Attitude
It of course always sucks when you get your butt handed to you by a 65 year old, as shown in the following viral vid.
Check your ego at the door of the gym, enjoy the learning opportunity and be positive about what you did well!