Have you ever wondered what type of people you will spar with in Thailand? Well, I’ve come up with another top 10 list to break it down for you.
Sparring in Thailand is different than back home. Every sparring session you will run into guys who have different backgrounds and experience. You will spar beginners, amateur fighters, pro fighters, Thai champions, and everything in between.
When it comes to the actual sparring, unlike back home, nobody will baby you and make sure that someone isn’t going too hard or too soft. The Thai trainers will let anybody who wants to spar, spar. There is no 3 step program that ensures everyone is up to a certain level before they start sparring. If you are at a good gym, the trainers will do their best to pair people together who are at the same level.
These 10 sparring partners can also be found in most gyms outside of Thailand!
After training in Thailand for a prolonged period of time, you will notice different trends begin to emerge. While it is impossible to categorize everybody into 10 specific categories, here are the 10 people that stand out.
This is a list of the 10 sparring partners you will face in Thailand:
The “Please Go Soft” Guy
The first type of sparring partner you will encounter in Thailand is the “Please Go Soft” guy. Sometimes they are beginners who are trying to learn the ropes and are new to sparring. In general, the “Please Go Soft” guy is not used to having someone punch them in the face. He is trying to improve his technique and get comfortable in sparring situations.
Occasionally, you might have someone turn into a “Please Go Soft” guy after a couple of bad experiences. These “Please Go Soft” guys, have had a few bad encounters with guys beating them up in sparring, so they are very hesitant when it comes to sparring with unfamiliar faces.
Every time there is a pause or a break in sparring they won’t hesitate to let you know that they don’t want to go hard. A lot of beginners who first start sparring go through the “Please Go Soft” guy phase, before they grow out of it once they get comfortable sparring.
Skill Level – Beginner, Intermediate
Danger Level – Non-Existent
Sparring Strategy: Technical sparring only, don’t go hard. Work on new combos and techniques that you haven’t tried before. Try switching to Southpaw
The “Tense As Hell” Guy
Another person you will encounter is the “Tense As Hell” guy. If you look closely every single muscle in their body is flexed, making them look like they haven’t used the bathroom in a while. They can be seen at the gym making very jerky movements that have no rhythm. The “Please Go Soft” guys fear these guys the most because they often don’t know how to hold back their punches.
The “Tense As Hell” guys will spar at different intensities. Some go hard, some go soft, it depends on the guy you spar with. Usually they are extremely tight all over and often make jerky motions when they are sparring. Be careful if you are sparring this guy because sometimes their movements have no rhythm and can be extremely unpredictable at times.
I think a lot of people will fall into this category at some point when they first begin. If you have never been in a situation where someone is punching you, it can be nerve racking to put on gloves and punch somebody. Chalk it up to part of the learning experience in Muay Thai.
Beginners who are just starting out should be careful of these guys. Be sure your guard is tight and be prepared for the “Tense As Hell” guy to throw some wild and awkward swings. They have no malicious intent behind their power; they often throw stiff punches that are not relaxed.
Skill Level – Beginner/Intermediate
Danger Level – Low/Medium (Depends if your sparring with someone going hard or not)
Sparring Strategy: Tell your sparring partner to relax (Sabai, Sabai) and work on some technical sparring. No need to make these guys more tense by going hard.
The “Technical Sparring” Guy
The “Technical Sparring” guys are focused on technique and improving. This is a great training partner to have. If you want to improve at sparring you need to have a few rounds of technical sparring to help you build on the basics and work on new things. Going hard all the time will not improve your technique, so ensure that you spar with these guys daily.
You will find beginners who are working on their technique and you will see a lot of good fighters who are working on trying new things or sharpening up their game. When you technical spar, it is better to go with someone who is better than you, that way it can help you improve.
Technical sparring allows you to work on your weaknesses, without worrying about a big haymaker coming from your opponent. If you mess something up, you won’t be punished with a hard shot to the face. This is why sparring with “Technical Sparring” guys are essential for improving.
If you spar with Thai boys (15-19) at the gym, they will technical spar. Only when they have a fight coming up will they increase the intensity of their sparring and clinching.
Skill Level – Mixed (Fighters, Thai Boys, Advanced and Everything in Between)
Danger Level – None
Sparring Strategy – Use this as an opportunity to work on specific new moves or combos you want to learn. Technical Sparring only.
The “Punches followed by Low Kicks” Guy
Also known simply as a “Low Kicker”, this guy will punish your legs in sparring if you don’t block his kicks. After a few exchanges with this guy you will quickly realize their game plan. Every single combo they throw is finished with a hard low kick. Whoever trained them, made sure to emphasize going high and finishing low – a strategy that works quite well.
Depending on how hard these guys are low kicking, you can end up with very sore legs after sparring a few rounds with them. It is important that you aware of when the low kick is thrown so you can try and check it. They will usually switch the legs when you start blocking with the front leg and go for the rear leg chops.
These are great guys to spar with because they will simulate what guys do in fights. Once you get used to the rhythm and timing of the low kicks, you won’t have any problems checking them. Just remember, once you start blocking their kicks, they will often change the timing and delay them a half second to make them land.
Skill Level – Intermediate/Advanced
Danger Level – Medium/High (Depends on the leg kicks)
Sparring Strategy – Keep your legs ready to check any low kicks he throws at you. The moment he hits you with a kick, return fire with another kick before he can establish his defensive position again. Tic for Tac.
The “Muay Thai Douchebag” Guy
If you are new to Muay Thai then you might soon encounter a few douchebags in sparring. These are guys who go hard on new guys when they are asked to go soft. The “Muay Thai Douchebag” guy loves sparring with the “Please Go Soft” guys because they know they can bully them in the round.
The “Muay Thai Douchebag,” will go softer with someone he knows can beat him up in sparring. What makes this guy a douchebag? He picks on beginners who are just starting out in the sport.
Sometimes they will throw techniques like teeps to the face, spinning head kicks, and other techniques that can hurt you.
The “Muay Thai Douchebag,” will usually walk around the gym with a sense of arrogance and tend to be full of shit. They will brag about fighting this guy and that guy and how they knocked out so and so, in reality they aren’t as good as they think.
Skill Level – Mixed
Danger Level –Low/High (If you are good then it’s Low, but if you’re starting out it’s high)
Sparring Strategy – Lay the “Bully Beatdown” on him or if you’re a beginner ask someone to do it for you
The “That Is Not Muay Thai” Guy
If you ever have the privilege of training in Thailand, you will run into a lot of guys that come from other martial arts. People come from different backgrounds like Kickboxing, Karate, Taekwondo, Sambo etc. and want to test out their skills in Muay Thai sparring.
The “That Is Not Muay Thai” guy, is very easy to spot because they will start jumping around and are often in a side karate or taekwondo stance. I like to refer to them as hit and run tactics, but it can be effective if you aren’t used to dealing with it.
You can expect these guys to throw spinning kicks flying at your face or even snapping kicks that look straight out of a Bruce Lee movie. Most of the techniques can be easily avoided with a lean back or a well placed teep on your opponent.
One thing you should look out for while sparring, is a change in their body position and stance. That, my friend, is him lining his body up for a spinning back kick. From personal experience – they hurt like hell. The first time I ran into a spinning back kick was against a Russian who said he wanted to “spar light.” After a couple of light jabs and kicks, he threw a full power spinning back kick that landed above my groin. Let’s just say, he officially “declared war” after that cheap shot.
Skill Level – Intermediate/Advanced (Usually if they are sparring they are trying to test out their style against Muay Thai)
Danger Level – Low/Highly Dangerous (Depends on the person)
Sparring Strategy – Lean back when they throw the spinning punches or kicks to your face, teep them when they are about to throw a spinning back kick, and destroy their legs with low kicks if they go too hard on you.
The “I’m Twice Your Size” Guy
Another thing that happens when you reach a certain level in Muay Thai is you end up sparring the occasional “Goliath”. From time to time there will be a guy who comes to the gym who is literally twice your size.
The “I’m Twice Your Size” guy usually fits into one of the following:
- The Skyscraper – These guys will tower over you and have a significant reach advantage
- The Body Builder- The guys with a huge weight advantage over you
If you find yourself matched up against a guy who looks like he just came from the set of the new “Conan” movie then you should be flattered. The trainers probably don’t want to put him with a beginner and you were the only guy left.
A guy who has a good 45 kg (100 lbs.) of weight advantage, is no laughing matter. If he manages to catch you with a semi-hard shot, it will hurt. Luckily, 9 times out of 10 they are very slow and are not difficult to spar. Of course there are exceptions.
Most of the time, the “I’m Twice Your Size” guys are generally very nice people. They realize they are twice your size and don’t go 100% in sparring. If a big guy does decide to go hard on you, then make sure you avoid most of their attacks. It will still hurt if you eat a shot from a massive guy even if his technique isn’t great.
If you find yourself paired up against a “Skyscraper” then work on techniques that are effective against taller opponents. For a good guide on dealing with “Skyscrapers,” read our Short vs Tall guide.
Skill Level –Mixed
Danger Level – Low/High (Depends on the individual)
Sparring Strategy – Utilize speed and techniques that are effective against taller opponents.
The “Advanced” Guy
These are the tough guys to spar. Everything you land on them, they will return. They will usually spar in a controlled pace that allows you to spar hard without the worry of being rocked.
This is the perfect sparring partner to have because you will learn what works and what doesn’t in sparring. Think twice before you try new techniques on these guys because they will usually teep you off balance or land clean strikes on you when you miss.
Most of these guys have a lot of fights under their belt and know how to get the most out sparring. They are often title holders in their home country or are Thai’s who fight for the gym.
If you want to improve your sparring you need to have the “Advanced” guys around that will motivate you. Consider this your ideal sparring partner, someone who has the perfect blend of technique and power that simulates the ring experience.
Skill Level –Advanced (Good Foreign Fighters and Thai Fighters at the gym)
Danger Level – Medium (They are controlled and spar the same level as you)
Sparring Strategy – Work on your timing and try and land clean shots. Don’t repeat the same combos or you will become predictable and will get countered.
The “I’m Going 100%” Guy
Also known as the “I’m Going To Try And Knock You Out” guy. These guys can pack a punch. The first time this guy lands a good shot on you, your brain will probably flash for a second. Unlike the “Tense As Hell” guys – who are generally new to the sport and simply can’t control their power- the “I’m Going 100%” guy is aware of what he’s doing and will try and smash everyone they spar with.
I’m not sure why he chooses to always go 100%, but the best guess is he probably comes from a gym that spars very hard and is used to that kind of sparring. If you notice they are only sparring hard with beginners, then you are also dealing with a “Muay Thai Douchebag.”
Training in popular tourist destinations like Phuket, there are a lot of Russians who come to the gyms. These are the guys that will usually spar hard, regardless of their opponent. The Thai trainers usually assume the Russians will go hard, so they match them up accordingly.
Not all Russians are like this, but the majority of Russian fighters who train in Thailand fall into this category. They go hard, be warned.
Skill Level – Mixed
Danger Level – Highly Dangerous (Don’t Get Caught)
Sparring Strategy – The strategy depends completely on your skill level. If you are uncomfortable sparring these guys, then don’t. There is no reason to risk getting hurt. Fortunately, most gyms will match guys according to their skill.
The “Next Level” Guy
The “Next Level” guy usually has 100-300 fights. Most of them are current Champions or ex-fighters who were ranked very high in the big stadiums. If you train in Thailand, you will run into a lot of “Next Level” guys during training. They will hit you when they want to and only let you hit them occasionally.
These guys are full of experience and they understand all aspects of Muay Thai. Whether they are actively fighting or they’re retired from the sport, they are people you should watch and learn from.
If you end up sparring a “Next Level” guy, have fun with it. Don’t stress about looking bad because they likely do it to everyone.
As a beginner it will feel like everyone is a “Next Level” guy, but trust me, you will know when you encounter one. The better you get the easier it will be to distinguish the good from the great.
Skill Level – Legendary (Top Tier Muay Thai Fighters)
Danger Level – Low (They are controlled unless you piss them off). Don’t try to out skill them!
Sparring Strategy – Soak up as much knowledge as you can from the “Next Level” guy. Ask questions and be prepared to look like a beginner all over again.
The Perfect Sparring Situation
In order to maximize the benefits of sparring you should have a wider variety of sparring partners. It’s great to spar with guys who are better than you, but it can be difficult to test out these new techniques. Learn from the best, and practice it on your other partners.
Ideally you should have 3 types of sparring partners:
1) People who have less experience (Weaker)
2) People at the same level (Equal)
3) People who are better than you
These different types of sparring partners will help you improve and maximize your potential as a fighter.
One of the advantages of training in Thailand, is you are constantly sparring with people from all over the world. They all come from different backgrounds so sparring is never the same and you are always being challenged!
For more tips of sparring make sure you check out:
Did I miss anybody? Let me know in the comments below if you have encountered someone that is not on this list. It is impossible to include everybody in this list, but these are definitely the guys that stick out the most.