More guys then I can count or remember, due to the sheer volume not my post concussive state from tooooo many shots to the head, have come in and asked “So if I start now when can I start to spar?!” I love the enthusiasm but let’s ground these poor souls in reality. This is not as easy as it looks on TV. Just because you own the latest Tapout shirt and have The Ultimate Fighter collection on DVD you are not ready for sparring.
Most MMA/Martial Arts schools are packed for class time but pretty dry when it comes time to spar. If it was so easy everyone would be doing it. Not everyone is prepared for the reality check that a good old punch to the dome will deliver. Forget about liver shots and kicks to the legs, let us leave those nasty things for a later conversation. Everyone can understand a face punch. The rest requires some experience which I keep telling you that you are just not ready for.
Sparring is the ultimate expression of one’s training one step removed from actual combat or competition. You gear up and take aim at another person as they do the same to you. At its best it is a sharing of skills and at its worst it is a painful mess. To truly prepare for sparring you need to do more than show up and hit pads. You need to get your cardio up because surely that will be your downfall 1st time out. Nothing will take away your strength like the combination of stress, adrenaline, and contact. I had a guy who finished the Iron Man in Hawaii throw up after 6 minutes of sparring. It is not joke.
While you are getting your cardio up you need to start shifting from just hitting pads to more partner work. You have to start understanding distance and timing. In sparring it will be rare that someone just stands there and lets you hit them without hitting back. Kurt Pellegrino is known to break that rule due to his cinder block head and slight case of insanity, but that is one of the many reasons why we love him. Sparring is a give and take, pad work is primarily a give. You have to be ready to hit, move, and be hit.
I can go on and on about sparring and how to get ready. The best I can do is be real about it and let you know it will truly suck for a while. You will get hit way more then you hit back and you definitely will have a bunch of the guys trying to convince you that they were there once too. You probably won’t believe them and you will think yourself a big pussy, rest assured that that is 100% normal too. Many a grown man has shed a tear after sparring. I not so fondly remember after a really bad session at 27 years of age sitting in the back stairwell crying like a baby because I just couldn’t stop being hit. I wasn’t new to any of this. I was training for a K-1 qualifier. I don’t care who you are or how long you have been doing this, you will have humbling bad days.
I hope I have scared you newbies a bit. You have to respect sparring or it will break you. Come knowing that it will be hard and it may not be for you. I think everyone can conquer sparring but it will ultimately be up to you to do it.
So if you are down with the challenge you need to start training to do it. Grab your gear and get in the gym. It’s time to do work!
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