In the beginning, there was pain. Oh, the pain was much–but the blood lust was more.
I went into sparring sessions prepared to remove the heads of men twice my size. I threw hellacious right hands and little else, more often than not with the intent to end lives and/or bloody noses.
As I sparred and sparred, lessons began to present themselves to me, and like being smacked upside the head with a brick again and again, these lessons eventually began to stay glued in my head noggin area as I danced with the best.
I learned that if I did not check the low kicks of 180 pound men, I probably wouldn’t be able to walk. Or, when someone who physically outclasses you is trying to clinch, it is a better strategy to deny the clinch than it is to bite them and hope that “ref no see.”
A morbid curiosity. It’s what drives all of us to take part in things that will most likely render us temporarily (lord willing) incapacitated.
Why did I try and ride my skateboard through a brick wall at age 16?
Why did my friend allow me to drunkenly tattoo ‘I love Mischa Barton’ onto his ankle with a safety pin and a sharpie?
Why did ET touch the light bulb and then blankly stare into the nothingness while softly muttering “ouch…” as the glassy heat burned his weird alien finger?
The reasons are all the same.
That morbid curiosity was what drove me to see what it would be like to fight someone that can definitely knock my dick into the dirt.
Turns out, I didn’t leave dickless–I just didn’t leave standing on my own two feet. I sorta just lurched off the mats on all fours. My quads and hamstrings were pulverized like Oreos in a Dairy Queen Blizzard. My bones felt like they had been attacked by a gang hell bent on making sure that I was drinking enough milk everyday. My liver sent me a fax declaring that he would be cashing in on all 172 days of his vacation time immediately, if not sooner.
My advice for newcomers to sparring isn’t groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ll give you what few seeds I have (fertility joke?):
“I DRINK YOUR ADVIL, ELI MY BOY!” – There Will Be Pain, an Oscar nominated film about sparring.
Knees, shins, and other physical appendages have these things called “nerves” which feel the feels and then cry out to your brain,
“STOP. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHAT IN GOD’S NAME ARE YOU DOING?”
Yes, sometimes smashing your knee into your sparring partner’s is not the most pleasant experience.
Other things I would call “not the most pleasant experience” include a quad swollen like the plastic dome of Bubble Boy, a sexy, sexy black eye due to being kicked in the face by a 220 pound man (ok, you got me, I loved that black eye), and the development of brand new baby testicle on one’s shin after having a no-chill low kick totally and completely checked.
Fighting hurts, my children, and sparring is a controlled introduction to the chaotic science of combat sports. The more you spar, the more you will know what you’re getting into. Also, the more I will get to pummel your liver. Please come…
Slacked Jaw Mofos Get Starched First
Yes, I fully understand. Sparring is an exhausting ordeal. Especially when you’re green. How in God’s name are you supposed to neutralize your nerves, maintain composure and pick your shots/set up combos in three short minutes?
In the beginning, don’t fret too much about trying to accomplish all of these things at once because you’ll just be setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, I suggest focusing on something far less exciting than throwing a clean head kick or setting up a body shot: keep your damn mouth closed and tuck your chin.
No matter how tired you get during the rounds, don’t stand in front of your partner with your jaw dangling open and your mouthpiece resting on your tongue. Teeth are expensive. And you look like a llama. Don’t be a llama.
THIS ISN’T PERSONAL, KAY.
When somebody gives you a swift lop to the leg that you simply can’t refuse, the natural reaction is KILL, KILL, KILL.
Both ears spout steam and a long sliver of drool appears at my mouth. My eyeballs roll back into my head and I release a wanton barrage of strikes upon the offending human in front of me. Alas, this does not always work, and when it does, the result is someone being dead and me being sanctioned by the sparring authorities.
When you break your toys, there is nothing left to play with, you see? Oh, and control is a thing that will mark you as a more advanced student of Muay Thai. So there’s that.
Steer Clear of Grandmaster Ass-Douche and His Brain-dead Sparring Habits.
This particular point isn’t so much advice as it is a warning to any and all individuals who don’t know how to navigate the animal kingdom just yet.
It’s inevitable that you end up getting paired up with someone who fits into one of the following categories. Luckily, for every category that a bad sparring partner can fit into, there is a solution. Here are your designated, albeit shitty, options:
The Gym Bully: This guy sucks a lot. This is the dude who thinks a baptism in fire for the guy who’s sparred a collective nine minutes in their entire life is the best way to make them better.
Everything he throws is hard and he’d rather huck punches at your head like a belligerent hobo than keep himself composed when teaching you the in’s and out’s of contact. This guy can also be attributed to going too hard with female students, wearing MMA gloves when everyone else is in 16’s (really, clown?), and having a complete disregard for the student’s safety.
Luckily, this dude usually gets outed fairly quick and the instructor responsible for overseeing the session will happily step in for a round or two just to give this shitbag a taste of his own medicine.
The Spinning Fuckboy: A distant affiliate of the gym bully. This is the person who probably came from some other martial arts background like Tae Kwon Do or Drunken Crane Turd Monkey Kung Fu and tries implementing his weird brand of bullshit any chance he gets.
I’ll be the first to admit this guy is really fun to hit hard because he lives in la la land and thinks the stuff he’s doing looks badass. When it comes to the fuckboy of sparring just do your best to maintain composure and keep your cool. I promise that you’re not the first person to notice his ridiculous antics.
SPARRING IS LIKE WRESTLING A GORILLA: quit, and you’re gonna be a gorilla Dorito.
There are a number of things that I will accept when it comes to my sparring partners.
Crying, I can accept. Sparring can be emotional.
Puking, yes, alright, okay, you can puke I guess. If you’re going so hard that you’ve got to run to the nearest trash can, I will accept your gastrointestinal weakness.
Quitting, however, is NOT acceptable.
Suck it up all you want, whimper a little bit. The only reason for quitting a round is being fully and completely unconscious or dead.
If you’re in a fight, are you going to turn your back on your opponent? “Oh, thank you, yes, I am done now please.”
No. This is a recipe for being elbowed in the back of the head. Do you like the back of your head? Would you like to decorate it with a nice, bloody crater? I guessed as much.
Sparring is a game. It is as mental as it is physical, and like anything, the more you do it, the better you’re bound to get. I know–mind blown, right? In summation, my budding warriors: PULL UP, SQUARE UP, AND DON’T YOU DARE GIVE UP!
The Bruise Brothers
Spar With Confidence, “The Muay Thai Guy” Way
In less than one month, you’ll find yourself with sharper vision, exact timing & a craftier fight IQ.
- Steve Eisman is a recent graduate from the University of Colorado, an aspiring amateur fighter and an assistant coach at The Easton Training Center in Boulder. Steve has trained in Thailand on two separate occasions where he fought in both Phuket and Bangkok. He loves Chipotle almost as much he loves seeing people progress in their training. Steve's passion for the sport is contagious and he will happily talk your ear off about the fight game, movies, books and food.