If you want to be a good boxer, and indeed proficient in whichever combat sport you participate in, you must engage in live sparring. Nothing is closer to the real deal than sparring, in my opinion it is a must. No matter how good your technique, how good you are on the pads, if you are not taking the opportunity to spar against an opponent, it will count for very little. I don’t want to compete I hear you say, it doesn’t matter, you don’t need to be competing to spar, it makes all of your training worthwhile, it all comes together and you owe it to yourself to realize your potential, you started Boxing for a reason didn’t you? Even if you started Boxing more for the exercise and weight loss, I have yet to come across anything as effective as sparring at burning fat….
Bruce Lee when discussing Jeet Kune Do commented ‘Remember,actual sparring is the ultimate, and the training is only a means towards this.’ It would be like sitting your theory test for Driving but then never bothering to take any lessons to learn how to drive, you need to put it all into practice, aren’t you curious how good you can become?
We’ve all seen it before, someone looks great hitting the pads, or hitting the bag – sometimes they are hitting the bag so hard or the pads are producing that loud snapping sound that it makes you worry they hit so hard, what will they do to you in the ring? Well, if they haven’t sparred much, they won’t do much to you at all….
Without sparring you will be missing out on arguably the most important aspect of all – Timing. For those of you who do spar, you will know exactly what I’m talking about when I ask you to think back to a time you didn’t spar for a few weeks or a few months and then stepped back into the ring after the layoff. I’m pretty sure you were missing the small windows of opportunity to land a punch, your eyes could see it and your brain knew what to do, but by the time you threw a punch, the chance was gone. This is called a lack of timing produced by ‘ring rust’ and if you don’t spar regularly you won’t get your timing down. This results in a ‘messy’ fight, punches missing, and getting hit by shots you normally wouldn’t have.
Sparring also allows you to get used to hitting a moving target, its very easy to hit the pads or the bag which is a stationary target, but try landing a clean punch on someone who moves around the ring and it takes some adjusting to. You might land some bombs on the bag, but setting your feet and summoning up enough power is much harder when your opponent is moving around you.
You need to experience how it feels getting hit, like Mike Tyson said ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face’ if you haven’t taken a punch in the face before, you could have perfect technique but as soon as you get a stiff jab in the face or a cross, its going to knock you off your game because you are not used to having someone hit you back and are not used to throwing punches the same time someone else is trying to land punches on you. You’ll soon discover getting hit is not as bad as you were expecting….besides, when sparring you should always be wearing both a head guard and a gum shield, especially the latter. For your own safety do not spar unless you have these two pieces of equipment, if you don’t want to turning up to work the next day sporting black eyes then invest in a facesaver head guard, these are larger than your standard head guards so do present a bigger target for your opponent and can obscure your vision so takes some getting used to but they protect the nose and have more padding around the head, you will not get hurt wearing one of these.
Sparring helps to slow it down – when you 1st begin to spar, everything feels like it is going at 100mph, but the more you spar the more it slows down, with this you will notice your thinking slows down too, at the start things are happening so quickly you don’t know how to react and you miss lots of chances to land punches or counters, but the more you spar the easier it gets, you will begin to see punches coming, land counters, set traps and use feints.
You will also conserve energy once you are used to sparring, sparring is extremely tiring, but the energy I am speaking of is mental energy, these ‘nerves’ burn a lot of energy and tire you out that much quicker because you are so tense as you haven’t experienced it before, it can be daunting facing off to someone across the ring who wants to hurt you and you have no way out, but as you spar more you will notice the nerves lessen and you quickly settle into the swing of things and wont burn unnecessary energy.
Technical sparring. Everything you practice on the pads, shadow boxing or on the bag you need to practice in sparring and find out what works and what doesn’t. If you are dropping your hands on the bag, once you’ve sparred and caught a punch in the mouth because you dropped your hands, you will very quickly find you won’t drop those
hands again, pain makes a great teacher and so does experience. Technical sparring and slow sparring is a great way to ease into sparring. Newbies to sparring should ideally start off with slow sparring, this means everything is done at a slower pace to allow you to get used to sparring, it also allows you to pick up on tendencies and to recognize which punch is coming, see your opponents right hand cocking? You know they are going to throw the right hand soon, see their right hand dropping? Chances are they are going to throw an uppercut if they are an orthodox boxer or hook if they are a southpaw(technically you shouldn’t drop your hand before hooking but plenty of people do) learn the body movements for each punch. One of my bugbear’s with Boxing clubs is that many of them will often throw complete beginners into the ring for sparring which commences at full pace with an opponent far more experienced than them, this is not the way to train someone, you should let them build their confidence by slowing the sparring down, too often ego gets in the way and clubs end up losing customers because they don’t want to go back having been embarrassed in the ring by one of the clubs regulars who has been training there for a few years. If you’re going to throw a rookie into the ring for full on sparring, at least let him compete with another rookie with similar experience until they learn the ropes.
Technical sparring is great because it allows you to practice one thing at a time, I almost always start off my clients with rounds in which only jabs are allowed, its easier to concentrate on one aspect at a time and then build from there, you might for example then progress on to left hand only, so jabs and hooks and then the jab and cross. If there is a specific move you want to practice such as the jab, pivot, hook, then technical sparring is the place to try it.
Other important aspects Sparring will teach you is distance, no more throwing punches from 6ft away, you’ll soon learn when to engage and when not to bother wasting punches because you’re not in range, quick tip – try to keep yourself at a distance of one and a half steps from your opponent, then when you step in to punch you will
be in range to land. It will also help your focus and reactions, lose focus in a fight and you’ll quickly get caught out and sparring more often means you’ll learn to react and hopefully evade punches.
Sparring is great for teaching you discipline and controlled aggression, it is not a street fight or a test to see who can land the biggest punch, it will teach you to stay calm even if you get hit because if you are street fighting in the ring, that’s when you are most likely to get caught with a big shot.
So those are my key reasons on why you need to start sparring, Boxing is great for self esteem and confidence in yourself, but you can take it to the next level by
stepping inside the ring, there’s no quicker way to improve and progress than sparring, it will force you to sharpen your skills and use every one of your attributes, do it for yourself.
Boxing Coach Strength and Conditioning Coach Boxing Writer for the Ringside Report Boxing Author of: (Available for download on Amazon) The Boxing Cheat Sheet - Your Ultimate Guide to Ring Survival Strength and Conditioning for Boxing - Work out Hits to get you Fighting Fit! Forgotten Legends of the Ring - Ten Past Masters of the Squared Circle