Tips to Improve Your Sparring Technique

I’ve been sparring (kickboxing style) for the last six months. It’s been exhilarating and eye-opening. And it’s been doing a great job of keeping my ego in check.

When I first started, I felt myself pinwheeling my arms in front of my face, chin jutted out, feet heavy. Luckily, my partners knew I was a beginner. We went slow and light.

These last few weeks, I’ve been improving in a noticable way.

Here’s what I’ve changed, practiced, or paid attention to in the last month:

  • I study fighters and fights. I’ve been watching more mixed martial artists, especially kick boxers and boxers. I’ve been watching their footwork and combinations. Specifically, I’ve had my eye on Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Holly Holm, and Valérie Létourneau. These fighters came at the recommendation of Jeff, a more advanced martial artist and someone I highly respect.
  • I focus on one technique per sparring hour. When I became aware of my poor foot work, I focused on keeping myself light, fast, and balanced on my feet. I found myself dodging more strikes just by moving out of the way.
  • I listen to my instructors and other students. When someone makes a note of something I could improve I try out the change. This hasn’t failed me yet. I work with really smart people.
  • I record sparring sessions to see my mistakes. Having someone tell you that you pin wheel your arms is one thing. Seeing yourself do it is much more effective (and embarrassing!).
  • The fundamentals always come first. I keep my chin tucked, hands up (this is a constant struggle), breathe throughout the whole session, and try not to fight angry. No fancy techniques until I’ve got these reset.
  • I spar as many fighters as I can. It’s helpful to practice against different styles, sizes, and experience level of partners. I learn something about myself or the way they fight every single time.
  • I pay attention to my bruises and scrapes. My nose was sore after a few classes and it helped me realize I’m letting people hit me right up the middle. Ouch! In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to see where you leave yourself open to attack. The bruises and sore muscles will teach you what to watch for next time.
  • I try to throw more than two strikes in a given exchange. It finally clicked in Amy’s sparring glass that I’ve been treating sparring like I do drills. Two strikes and reset. Two strikes and reset. Instead, I’ve been focusing on throwing three, four, fix strikes in an exchange. It means I’ve been landing more hits. I’m more successful.
  • I move my head even as I’m throwing strikes. This one is really hard. It requires coordination that feels similar to playing the drums. Feet move forward, hands strike out, keep chin tucked, move head left to right. This is a huge work in progress.
  • I’ve been watching YouTube videos for tips. A few of my favorites: FightTips, Sensei Ando, and Mitt Master Matt.

It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been working on my sparring every week. It’s hard not to when it’s so darn fun.

What else can I do to improve sparring? What’s helped you? Have you never sparred before? Why?

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