Sometimes, Training Goes Out the Window When Getting Punched in the Face
There is more to sparring than just throwing leather. Sparring is an excellent way to practice what you’ve learned in training and put them to use. You’ve just got to do it in order to get better at it, which is the physical side of it. The mental side is a whole ‘nother ball game. When sparring, be aware and be mindful. Consider the following:
1. Block incoming strikes
It’s incredibly easy to get caught up being offensive while sparring. Aggression is awesome, but too much focus on offense takes away from defense. As many points as you score being aggressive, your opponent/partner will match or exceed, especially when blocking your strikes.
Having good defense helps to avoid damage and prevent the person you’re facing from scoring. Block kicks by raising your shin, catch and dump, and try out long guards if your opponent likes to punch.
2. Kick when they punch & punch when they kick
This is common advice for beginners, but it shouldn’t be understood as a binary choice. Basically, don’t only use the same weapon your opponent is using. This is Muay Thai—you should utilize your weapons effectively (with control and proper padding, of course).
If they like to punch, slow those hands down with some kicks to the legs, arms and body. The kicks will have them thinking twice before coming in with an aggressive hand combination. If kicking is their game, look for a dropping of hands to land a punch. Prevent your opponent from seeing and timing their kicks with effective simple combinations such as jab-jab-cross.
3. Counter & move
When your opponents moves forward and attacks, your priorities should be to defend and then attack. When you get to a higher level, you will be able to attack simultaneously as a way to counter (E.G. a teep to disturb an opponent’s balance after throwing a roundhouse).
After you attack, move out of the way so they won’t be able to hit you right back (but this does not apply if they keep backing up!) At the end of the day, Muay Thai employs a scoring system and you have to play by the rules if you want to win. In a fight, you can’t win unless you score more than your opponent (knockouts aside) and sparring is no different.
If they land two kicks on you, reply in kind with three stiff kicks in return.
4. Test yourself
The only way to get better at anything is to learn outside your comfort zone. Sparring against partners with a higher skill level will bring you to that uncomfortable place. You may feel like you’re getting your butt kicked (literally and figuratively). You may feel frustrated, like you can’t land anything you throw.
That’s a distraction from what’s really happening. You are improving and you will see more in terms of holes in your game and how to plug them.
5. Breathe & relax
It’s amazing how often people forget to breathe.
By breathing, you get to relax your shoulders and your muscles are generally much less tense. When they’re not as tense, you waste less energy on being antsy/nervous. It also allows you to strike much faster.
Relaxing will force you to use your eyes and technique IQ and, in turn, will improve your timing. Many people don’t realize that they can be both relaxed and active at the same time. It’s a crucial quality to possess if you want to improve technique. Move, look for openings—and strike when you see them.
Consider this: fighting is as much a mental test as it is a physical one. As your legs, arms and face must withstand the test of your opponent’s strikes, so must your mind stay focused and vigilant.
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.