In most gyms, there is usually one guy (or girl) who has a reputation of sparring too hard. Most of the time this person thinks he/she is going light, even though they aren’t.
Most trainers will make sure that people who spar hard get paired with people who are experienced enough to handle the heat. In Thailand, usually, when there is some crazy guy who is trying to knock people out, the Thai trainers don’t let new guys spar with that person.
In an ideal world, when you are sparring with someone who is going hard, it means your trainer believes you have the skills to handle that fighter.
While guys who spar hard often get a bad rap, most of them are usually friendly people outside of sparring. Over the years, I’ve found that guys who spar hard are one of the following:
- They are new to sparring
- They come from gyms where people spar at an elevated level
- They are not self-aware of their power
- They are a douchebag
- They are responding to your intensity (perhaps you initiated the hard sparring)
This article is going to assume that you are sparring with someone who is not new to sparring. Sparring hard with a beginner is a waste of time. There is nothing to learn by beating someone up who doesn’t know any better, so don’t do it.
Unless the beginner is a douchebag who is being a bully to other people at the gym, focus on technical sparring with them, even if they throw the occasional hard shot.
The other assumption is that you have the skills to spar with someone who is going hard. If you are not comfortable sparring at a hard pace, don’t spar hard. Simple as that. You should focus on technical sparring until you are confident you can handle yourself at an elevated level.
The real benefits of hard sparring are experienced by fighters who compete. While technical sparring is excellent for improving timing and technique, it takes away real-time speed, power, and adrenaline that you face in a real fight, which is why it is only half of the equation.
The Definition of Hard Sparring
Before we continue, it is essential to define hard sparring. If you are a beginner, you won’t have enough experience to tell the difference between hard sparring and regular sparring. I’ve had some guys ask me to go lighter when I barely even threw a kick with 30% power. Sparring power is relative to your expectations and experiences.
I define hard sparring as throwing kicks that will hurt if you don’t block them, and punches that will rock you if they land. This doesn’t mean getting hit with knock out shots, but it usually involves having sore legs/body the next day of training.
Hard sparring does not mean angry sparring, although the sparring session can occasionally turn into a brawl if two people lose their cool.
The Benefits of Sparring Someone Who Goes Hard
To help you understand the benefits of hard sparring, here are four reasons why you should spar with the guy/girl who guys hard. This doesn’t mean that YOU should be that person, but if someone else is that person, you should learn to enjoy sparring with them.
If you haven’t already, I suggest you read my guide to hard sparring. That guide explains a lot of these concepts in further depth.
Reason #1 – They Get You Ready for a Real Fight
People who never spar hard are not prepared for the ring.
After witnessing hundreds of fighters come through the Thai gyms and fight, I can tell you that people who are used to hard sparring, can endure a hard fight without getting knocked out.
Conversely, the guys who tell their sparring partners to go light in sparring are often the first guys getting knocked out after a hard shot in a fight. These fighters are usually not prepared for the mental and physical pain of competition.
You can be the most skilled fighter in the world, but if you are not used to having someone kick and punch you with power, you are going to be in over your head. It is like playing tennis and only practicing mini-court tennis, without having a practice match at full speed. What do you think happens when you compete in a real match if you’ve never had any practice games?
There is a reason why some gyms produce champions, while other gyms produce duds. Students reflect their coaches ability to prepare and train them for a fight. If someone never experiences kicks and punches at full speed, they are going to be in for a shock when they fight.
While there is no substitute for real ring experience, sparring at an intense level can elevate your adrenaline levels, and simulate some aspect of a real fight.
Even though the pressure to win is not present, you will still feel elevated stress levels that will cause your heart to race, and cause you to lose your breathe faster.
Reason #2 – You Don’t Feel Bad When You Hit Them
Have you ever hit someone a little too hard in sparring and felt bad afterward? Well, you don’t get this feeling when you spar someone who is trying to strike you. When you land a hard shot, you won’t feel bad because your opponent probably already landed some hard shots on you.
This eliminates the apologies after every hard shot you land and allows you to focus on the sparring. The bottom line is you will hit your opponent, and they will hit you. Sparring is about trading blows, and nobody is going to walk away without getting touched.
That being said, if you protect your chin and vital areas, there is no reason for you to get dazed when you are sparring hard. Always keep your hands up, and your brain will thank you later.
While I often walk away dizzy after a hard Boxing sparring session, Muay Thai is different. Most of the shots you take in Muay Thai are to your body. Those shots condition your body and make it stronger for the future. If you have half decent boxing skills, you won’t take many shots to the head if you keep your hands in front of your face.
Reason #3 – Your Defense Will Improve
Now, I mentioned this point before, but I wanted to emphasize this again. The first thing you learn when you spar with a guy trying to bash you is that you need to protect your vital areas. Tucking in your chin, covering your head, and blocking kicks are essential. Anytime you forget to protect yourself, you will feel it.
If you leave yourself open when you strike, you deserve to get hit in the head. That is the only way you will learn. You can tell a person a million times in training to keep their hands up, but trust me, when that person gets rattled a couple of times with hard punches, they will keep their hands up in the future. Pain is the best teacher because your body responds to it.
The negative reinforcement of dropping your hands and getting hit in the face is going to teach you to avoid that pain by keeping those hands up.
Every time you receive pain from an unblocked punch or kick, it will send your brain a signal to block again. When you are technical sparring, you don’t receive those messages to your brain and can get away with being sloppy on defense.
Reasons #4 – They Help You Deal with Fear
Every time you are facing a situation where there is a chance you could get injured, it elevates your heart rate and increases your adrenaline. Learning how to manage your increased stress level is often the difference between having a good fight and gassing out in round one.
If you spar with someone who makes you uncomfortable, it can help you simulate some of the aspects of a real fight. Your breathing will become heavy, your muscles become tighter, and your whole body tenses up.
Real fights are stressful situations.
Whether you are in the ring competing in front of people, or someone is attacking you on the street, both situations cause your body to release adrenaline. Learning to stay calm when you are in a stressful situation, is learned through experience. This is why experienced fighters often look so relaxed in the ring, no matter what is going on in the fight.
If you have experienced this fear before in sparring, when it happens in a fight it won’t faze you. While a real fight is more dangerous than sparring, the same process of releasing adrenaline is taking place in your body.
As I’ve mentioned before, hard sparring should only be done by more experienced students. If you are a beginner/intermediate student you should not spar hard. If you encounter someone who spars hard, just focus on your defense and cover up until the round is over.
Hard sparring is better suited for the students who have experience sparring and can maintain proper technique throughout the sparring session.
Anyone who is preparing for a fight needs to know what it feels like to get hit with some power. That is how you will learn the importance of a strong defense.
As a general rule, you should only spar as hard as your sparring partner. If they start off going light, then keep the pace light. That is how you will be able to spar with everyone you train with, without being that “guy” who always goes to hard.
If someone wants to spar hard with you, then don’t back away from the challenge, embrace it.
A good back and forth with someone at harder pace is going to make you better. As long as you have the abilities to match your opponent, you should never back away from a couple of hard sparring rounds with someone your skill level.
Want more Sparring Articles? Read the following:
- The Importance of Technical Sparring for Your Muay Thai Development
- A Guide to Hard Sparring – Everything You Should Know
- 12 Sparring Tips that Will Make You Better
- The 10 Types of People You Find Sparring in Thailand
- Muay Thai Sparring Drill: Trusting Your Guard
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