Sparring can be a confusing and maybe even intimidating prospect for new martial artists. It takes enough courage and determination to walk into a dojo for the first time and to begin your training journey. Adding to that by having to test yourself against your training partners can be a bit overwhelming. In striking-based martial arts and combat sports, safety can also be a concern, especially for rookie martial artists.
Done safely, with the proper sparring gear, under the guidance and supervision of your instructors, and with training partners that you can trust to be responsible and respectful, sparring can be a fundamental part of your growth as a martial artist. It can improve your skills, sharpen your mental focus, increase your fitness, and possibly even shape you into a contender (if that’s what you want from your training). Here are five reasons that sparring matters in martial arts training:
1. Sparring improves your skills.
This isn’t to say that technique training is not enough on its own. If you’re not interested in sparring, you can still make meaningful fitness and skill gains from repeatedly studying and practicing moves either alone or with a training partner who will hold pads and/or break down grappling moves with you. However, there is nothing quite like applying those techniques to a less controlled (but still safe) situation like sparring. The act of taking what you’ve carefully learned and applying it in the heat of the moment against someone else who is trying to do the same thing can quickly and significantly improve your game.
2. Sparring sharpens your mind.
It’s not just your skills that will improve from this type of training. Your brain will also get a boost from sparring, provided that you make sure to take care of it by sparring safely with the proper sparring gear. The act of taking skills that you have learned in a controlled setting and applying them to a situation with far more variables will force you to think on your feet and make quick, smart decisions in order to improve as a martial artist. Which is an excellent way to develop mental clarity, focus, and agility.
3. Sparring increases your fitness.
Nothing about martial arts and combat sports training is easy. The warm ups are often more challenging than most fitness classes you’ll find in regular gyms. Even the most studious and focussed technique training can start to test your body after a while. But sparring takes those cardiovascular and strength demands to a whole other level. Between the endorphin rush, the excitement, and the sheer physical demands involved, applying your carefully honed martial arts training to partial or full strength sparring at full speed will test your body in ways that few other training regimens can match. Sparring, with the proper sparring gear will make you stronger and increase your endurance in a fun and safe environment. For more information on this point, see our recent blog Why Sparring Is One Of The Best Workout Routines.
4. Sparring can help you apply your techniques to real life situations.
If you are, like this blogger, someone who tends to overthink every step of their martial arts lessons, then you might find that a dose of sparring will become a particularly important part of your training. Sparring forced you to get out of your head. Or, more accurately, it forces your head to team up with your body to take what you intellectually understand about martial arts and test them out in an unpredictable environment until they become more instinctual. Safe sparring is actually a surprisingly effect mind/body exercise.
5. Sparring prepares you for competition.
This might seem like an obvious point — of course sparring, an activity designed to help you prepare for tournaments and fights — would help you prepare for competition. But it’s still an important point to discuss. Honing your techniques and developing your game plan(s) with trusted coaches and partners with the proper sparring gear will help you mentally and physically prepare to compete. The mental aspect of sparring training will help you focus in intense and high stress situations like a tournament or a fight. The physical aspects of this work will help you survive the extreme physical demands of multiple rounds — or even multiple tournament matches. And all of the above will help you take everything you’ve learned and all of the hard work you’ve invested in your training and apply all of that to the challenge of defeating someone who has put in just as much work and wants that win just as much as you do.