How To Fix Your Sparring

Sparring gives us anxiety. Like so many other methods of training though, sparring is a means to an end. It’s a tool, it is not the project. Keeping this in mind, there are three areas that I notice people have the most difficulty with when incorporating sparring into their training. We have you covered with ways to fix them as well.

1. The Problem: Footwork/Posture
You go to throw the big cross that you have been waiting to unleash, and the next thing you know, you’re looking at the ceiling tiles. You didn’t get caught by a counter left hook, rather simply, you slipped. Movement and footwork are the first things listed in our curriculum and for a solid reason. It is literally, the base on which we stand, and what everything else depends on. A good training center will have you doing floor movement drills, and jump rope, weeks or months before they move you along to the other skill sets. Having the greatest overhand right in the world is of little use if you end up throwing yourself to the ground every time you use it.

A basic drill such as shadow boxing, while far from sexy, is one of the most functional drills you can do. Balance, weight placement, gait, posture, all these things matter. Going from hitting pads to hitting people, that hit back, is the easiest way to see when footwork and posture are askew. The footwork required in jump rope is crucial to developing the habit of staying on the balls of your feet instead of flat on your heels. Agility ladder drills also work well for this. The focus is usually on making quick transitions, staying light on your feet, keeping a strong posture, and good body mechanics, as you work down the ladder.

2. The Problem: Range
Out of the three things on this list, knowing your range is perhaps the most underrated. Speed, power, endurance, are all important elements of a fight. Yet, speed does not mean much if you can not reach the target. Power is ineffective if the target is too close. To quote Conor Mcgregor, ”Timing beats speed, precision beats power”. You have to know where you can hit your shots. When students begin to spar, you commonly see punches thrown at a phantom opponent. They think their opponent is within range, but the jab ends up being an airball. The range issue couples with the movement concerns. If your partner is moving away from you and you don't have the footwork to close the distance, you will have a hard time finding the target. Jabs, hooks, front kicks, and wrestling all have a different range. Knowing what to throw, and when to throw it makes all the difference.

Jab drills are essential to developing this skill. If you can use your jab as a range finder, setting up the cross or the takedown becomes much easier. The same could be said for a defensive jab. When you understand the range for each tool, you can avoid most threats. The jab isn’t the hardest strike you throw, but almost everything else you do is developed by understanding its range. Breaking Muscle has a great article about the importance of the jab. You can find the article here.

3. Control
Once the gloves are on, and the mouthpiece is in, an increase in adrenaline is the natural response. We have the greatest intentions at the start of a training session. The timer goes off, we touch hands, we think about what we learned in class or YouTube over the last few weeks, and how to implement it. Then we take that first leg kick, and it all goes out the window. Instantly, our instinct kicks in, and control goes out the window. It is at that exact moment in time that our goal for sparring is lost. That moment that we go midbrain and start swinging for the fences, all growth has come to an end. Instead of developing skill sets and implementing strategies to improve our game, we do what we already know how to do. The problem is that most people fall back on simply hitting hard because that's what they know. This leads to partners getting hurt when the fighting intensifies, and to demoralization for others.

How do we combat this? We realize that sparring, done right, is a tool and has a precise context. Come in with a specific game plan, and do not deviate from it. If you want to improve your head movement, work it during offensive and defensive exchanges. If you get tagged with a punch or two, do not deviate. Escalation is the enemy. To succeed at something, you have to be willing to fail. There are many other considerations to take into account, this is merely a take on success. In the coming weeks, we hope to share a few drills with you that ties this all together.

Andre Herbert

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