We hope this article will clear up some misconceptions about sparring. There are so many myths out there regarding Muay Thai sparring (and other combat sports). If you choose to spar it can be a fun, challenging, safe and an important part of your training!
1. It’s inherently dangerous
It’s not unusual that some watch a Muay Thai sparring session and assume that what they’re watching is aggressive, violent, sinister—even downright insane. Two people—probably well acquainted—are circling one another on the mat, and when one sees an opening on the other’s body a fist or shin is deposited on the exposed face, rib, arm, or leg (stay clear of the groin). There’s always much sweat. Sometimes there is blood. Occasionally, people get mad or upset. But the truth of Muay Thai sparring is that—under the proper conditions—it is a relatively safe activity, probably safer than many of the sports we grew up playing at our grade school’s P.E. field. It’s certainly rough and sometimes unpleasant, but in my three years at Function 5 Fitness I have never seen a student get seriously injured during sparring. Even at other gyms that I’ve trained at, sometimes at gyms that may have a more aggressive training culture, I’ve rarely seen anything more serious than black eyes and bloody noses result from Muay Thai sparring. More important the benefits of sparring out way the risks.
2. You should go always for the KO
But the safety of Muay Thai sparring relies on the mindset of the trainees. If one trainee wants to make a sparring session dangerous, it becomes dangerous; in this instance It Takes Two to Tango does not apply. If one of the two sparring partners decides to turn it up, maybe putting extra snap on the jab or a little more follow through on the head kick, then the sparring session is no longer safe. Not only is the trainee on the receiving end of that jab or head kick in danger of injury, but the injurer may suffer swift retaliation. Escalation in a tit for tat sparring environment quickly loses control. While bruised muscles (and egos) may have been the only risks at the start of the round, trainees who decide to enter an arms race of punching power are putting much more at risk. Your experienced coaches can keep this type of escalation in check, and this is why you should never spar unsupervised.
3. You should never go hard
But that’s not to say you should always take it easy. There are times—and your instructor will let you know when—when it’s alright and even encouraged to turn up the power and pace. If we have a student preparing for a fight, we may encourage more advanced students to press him or her during sparring. In a fight, your opponent is going to try and take your head off. Guaranteed. And while it wouldn’t be safe to train at that kind of intensity, it’s important that serious students preparing for competition are exposed to a certain degree of danger in order to train composure.
4. You should try and “win” every round
There are no judges sitting ringside to score your sparring round. If you knock down your training partner during a low intensity round you will not be awarded a 10-8 round—you will be admonished for losing your composure and acting like an a-hole. In general, the most you can hope to accomplish in a round of sparring is improvement, and that doesn’t always mean putting a beating on your partner. If you’re having trouble checking low kicks, you’re better off fixing that hole in your game than insisting on busting your training partner’s nose.
5. Everyone will enjoy it
Not everyone wants to be punched in the face. And that’s ok. Sparring is not a requirement at Function 5; it’s an option. Anyone can benefit from Muay Thai training without ever biting into a mouthpiece. Our main purpose for teaching Muay Thai—other than the fact that we love it—is that it’s a fun sport that offers effective physical benefits. We also have fighters, but their training should not be viewed as the end goal for all students. Every student has his or her own training path. And while the fighters are bound to fight, anyone uninterested in getting punched, kicked, and kneed should just continue to punish the pads—it never gets old.
– Daniel Davis-William, NSCA CPT, CSCS