Some thoughts on free sparring

29 Dec

Free sparring under realistic conditions is perhaps the most defining aspect of a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) program. As we discussed, the ultimate goal is to produce in students functional skills. However, I’ve also tried to help the reader understand that there are many ways to achieve this goal and also quite a few misperceptions regarding this aspect of training.

First and foremost, free sparring in the school is not a competition and there are no winners. There should be NO EGO in free sparring and every student must understand that they are responsible for the safety of their partners. Make free sparring all about improving skills and having fun.

At higher levels, they’ll begin to understand that a good sparring session involves times when both partners are actually cooperative, giving a student the security and opportunity to develop new moves. Light sparring will allow you to work on techniques you have not yet perfected. Constantly sparring with full force will only result in injuries, stagnation and frustration and is counterproductive.

Make sure your training partner knows the plan and the pace of your sparring workout.

Second, introduce free sparring gradually. Beginning students should engage in no more than three rounds of free sparring per class until they learn to address their fears and adrenaline response.

The first few weeks, basic boxing drills like the “four shields” will get a student accustomed to being hit. Follow up with some of the “live training” drills we’ve already discussed here.

Get comfortable with the idea of getting hit and hitting someone. The earlier you integrate this acceptance, the more progress you will make.

Third, remember that there are many different free sparring formats designed to develop different skills. In our program we actually use six different formats;

  1. Kickboxing sparring with gloves and shin guards
  2. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sparring starting from the knees
  3. Pummeling for neck control with knees strikes
  4. Pummeling for body control with takedowns
  5. San Da sparring (kickboxing with the throws but not ground work)
  6. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) (standing and ground)

Each format has its own advantages and disadvantages so doing all of them produces very well rounded students. Finally, realistic expectations of your performance are important. You will make mistakes.

A few guidelines for kickboxing sparring

  1. Hands up
  2. Chin down
  3. Up on your toes
  4. Do no lunge with your punches
  5. After every strike or kick recover your guard
  6. “Nothing for free”
  7. Do not lean back to avoid strikes and kicks
  8. Keep your back off the wall/ropes
  9. Attack with combinations
  10. Set up your kicks
  11. Punch vs. kicks
  12. Kick vs. punches
  13. Clinch to strike
  14. Clinch to throw
  15. Knee vs. throws
  16. Throws vs. knees



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