Recently I’ve been discussing the importance of sparring in developing the technique and skill level of new students. Will students actually improve if the do lots of sparring in place of actual technique work?
Sparring Versus Training
I believe that sparring is necessary but I have seen countless example of aspiring fighters who did lots of rounds of sparring every week but didn’t do enough actual technical training. These fighters don’t go far. They usually have very bad technique, poor defence, and most importantly they had no idea that they weren’t learning/improving/benefiting from the ‘training’ they were doing. They believed that if they just turn up every week to get beaten up by better fighters that eventually they will get better too.
Developing Bad Habits
It doesn’t work like that. Improving at any activity requires conscious deliberate practice. What actually happens if you just spar all the time without working on your technique is that you develop bad habits which become hardwired into your muscle memory and are then hard to break. It is easier to build good habits from the beginning rather than break bad habits years down the track.
Common bad habits that we see include, dropping hands when throwing punches, not properly checking kicks, winding up or telegraphing punches and swinging punches with your eyes closed. There are lots of these types of habits which you can get away with because you are just sparring with your friends and teammates and are unlikely to get knocked out or seriously hurt, however what you are doing is training your body to use bad sloppy technique which will cause you to get beat up in a real fight.
Balance Sparring with Technical Training
I believe sparring has a place in training but you should do a minimum of five technical sessions for every one sparring session you do to maximise your progress. That means if you are training 5 sessions a week then only one should be focused on sparring while the others are spent on technical skill development during class time.
Sparring is a Practice Test
Sparring is like a practice test in your Maths class at school, it’s not as serious as a real fight (your final end of term Exam) but it’s a good way to gauge your improvement and how much you’ve learned since the last practice test. If you just turn up and do the practice tests every week without having attended any Maths classes in between then you probably don’t even know what a PLUS or a Minus sign looks like.
Here’s another article I wrote about getting the most from your Sparring Sessions: