The one thing that separates the best strikers in the world from the rest of us is timing. Timing is the difference between landing a clean strike on an opponent or having your shins busted from leg checks.
The question is how do you develop better timing? The answer is very simple: sparring
Timing is developed in training by sparring against opponents who are actively trying to defend against your strikes. If you practice throwing leg kicks against someone who stands idle and allows you to kick them, it won’t teach you how to land leg kicks against a real opponent.
While most people understand the importance of sparring, there are a lot of people that don’t understand the right sparring levels.
Typically there are 3 different sparring levels that you will encounter in Muay Thai: Technical Sparring, Medium Sparring, and Hard Sparring.
While there are benefits to every type of sparring, technical sparring is the best way to improve your timing and technique.
Most people who spar 100% are not doing it because they are trying to be an asshole (a few people definitely are) most of them are doing it because that is probably the culture at the gym. Every gym has their own norms.
If you are training in at a gym that has a lot of testosterone and egos floating around, you can bet that there are going to be a few guys who go too hard in sparring.
Defining Technical Sparring
Technical sparring is sparring that is done at a controlled pace without throwing any power behind your strikes. This means that every punch and kick you throw is under complete control. You should be able to spar without any pads on and walk away without any bruises or busted up shins.
When you land a punch on your opponent, they shouldn’t feel any pain from the strike. Everything that you land should be controlled so there is no risk of getting injured during the sparring.
Technical sparring is a difficult concept for people who are used to swinging for the fence against their sparring partners. If you are used to sparring with full power, it is very difficult trying to dial back that mind set and focus on developing your technique and timing.
In addition to technical sparring, someone who is preparing for a fight should also understand the benefits of Hard sparring. Learning how to get hit is a skill that is only developed through experience.
When someone first starts sparring, it is important to slow everything down in a controlled environment. Beginners need to get used to the idea of someone punching and kicking them, without worrying about getting knocked out by their opponents.
As a person progresses and becomes more comfortable sparring, they can start to add speed to their strikes, while still holding back from using power. Good technical sparring is very controlled, but at the same time both sparring partners throw strikes with speed to try and get through their opponents defense.
The Importance of Technical Sparring in Muay Thai Development
For many people, sparring is the closest thing they will come to getting ring experience. Starting out, sparring can intimidate a lot of people, especially those who are not used to getting hit.
Being scared in sparring, will result in the body becoming more tense, which will lead to poor technique and bad habits. If you take someone who is new to sparring and put them in a situation that makes them scared, they will throw their strikes without confidence. If you are tense when you strike, it can wreck havoc on your form.
Sparring with poor technique will result in you cementing bad habits that can take years to undo. This is why you should ALWAYS start off sparring in a very controlled and soft environment.
Technical sparring allows you to improve and work on different things, without worrying about injuries
If you take away the fear of getting ‘rocked’ by a punch or hurt with a kick, it is much easier to stay relaxed when you spar. Staying relaxed will allow you to work on your technique, timing and speed of your strikes, without being tense.
This is how you develop good technique that will translate into the ring when you fight.
What Technical Sparring Should Look Like
If you want to see a real example of technical sparring in action, watch this sparring video of Penake and myself playing around. Notice how there is no power behind any of the strikes. This sparring is great for working on your timing on offense and defense.
Things to Look For:
- Control your strikes, if you land a clean strike on your opponent it shouldn’t hurt them.
- Use Muay Thai techniques that you have worked on in training (except elbows)
- Allow your sparring partner to work on his offense and defense also.
- Be fluid and always stay in your Muay Thai rhythm
- Try to stay relaxed and focus on using correct techniques
Here is a short video I made demonstrating some light technical sparring with Dane Sky. I review some important points in this video to help you with your sparring. Check it out below:
Technical Sparring Will Make You Better
If you want to improve your timing you need to focus on technical sparring. Technical sparring is the best way to improve your technique, timing, and rhythm, without worrying about any injuries.
While it may not seem realistic when you spar at a light pace, you will be working on a number of important skills that will benefit your game. Beginners who start off trying to spar at full power, end up developing a lot of bad habits because they don’t have a good Muay Thai foundation.
By focusing on your technique over power, you will be able to develop a good foundation, rather than worrying about getting knocked out when you spar. Sparring in a safe environment will also teach you how to think when you spar, which will make you a better fighter.
If you enjoyed reading this article, then you will enjoy reading my book Muay Thai Strategy. This book talks about the different concepts that you need to develop a complete Muay Thai game.