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Sparring is very important for everyone who is interested in being able to defend themselves and their loved ones competently. It is only through practiced combat (sparring) that you can develop the skills necessary. For example, timing, distance and strategies can only really be practiced while sparring. It is very important to directly apply what you learn in training to your sparring. However, it is very common for people to forget everything learnt. You have probably seen it before: 2 people who look skilled in training start to spar each other. All skill goes out the window, along with all their practiced techniques and combinations. The sparring match looks like a mixture between a sloppy schoolyard fight and 2 orangutans fighting over a mate!

The following is a list of the Top Ten Tips to improve your sparring.

Sounds simple but very few people breathe correctly when they spar. This is why you get tired really fast. It is also the reason why situations on the street seem to last only a matter of seconds and then it’s a battle of who can get their breath back first in order to finish the fight! We tend to hold our breath when fighting and this is what tires us out. Even though you may be able to hold your breath for a long time it is very different during a physical situation. Make sure that you breathe out when you strike. It should be a short sharp exhalation coming from your diaphragm and lower abdomen. When you breathe like this it also keeps your muscles tensed so that you are better protected against attacks.

Guard Up:
Another simple one in theory. Make sure that your guard is tight. Practice with heavy gloves to condition your arms because there is nothing worse then not having the strength in your arms to hold your guard up during a fight. Your guard is extremely important before you launch an attack. Most people at beginner and intermediate level get struck when they are trying to strike. Keep your guard tight when you attack and this will minimize your opponents counter attacking capabilities.

Don’t stand in the one spot. A fight is not determined by who is standing in the centre of the ring. The fighter that moves controls the fight. Even if you are bigger and stronger than your opponent, keep moving. You can stand toe to toe with your opponent and battle it out but this way always tires out and injures both fighters. There are specific times during a fight when you should stand your ground but all other times you should be moving. When you are on the balls of your feet, you have a much faster reaction time too.

Multiple strikes:
Follow up all strikes. Don’t look for the one strike wonder. When you launch a strike and it hits, capitalize upon it and continue to strike. If you throw a strike and your opponent blocks, continue to strike at the areas that your opponent isn’t blocking. You increase your statistics of winning/striking by throwing multiple attacks.

Legs to hands to legs:
Use combinations of kicks and punches. This makes it a lot harder for your opponent to defend. If you are a distance away from your opponent then use a kick to bridge the gap. This should then bring you closer so that you can strike with your hands. Also, if you are close already and using your hands, you can break away with a kick to give you distance again. Try to make the exchange between legs and hands flow without missing a beat.

Don’t Rush in:
Too many people just charge in. This may work against inexperienced people but aggression alone will not beat an experienced opponent. Take your time. It is important to attack but make sure that you never neglect defense for offence because this is when a lot of fighters get knocked out.

Its is very important to think during a fight. You need to be able to strategize and figure out your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Can your opponent fight equally from both sides? Do they drop their guard when they kick? Are they mainly a puncher, kicker, grappler? Etc. You need to analyze it all and in a short period of time. This process starts before you even enter the ring. Watch your opponent and study them. All information helps you to form a combat plan.

Work on your weaknesses:
Make sure that you work on your weaknesses during training. Things that are weaknesses now will be strengths in the future if you work on them. Don’t be afraid to try new things in training. Obviously when the pressure is on (street or competition) you should only use what you know and what you are good at. All other times increase your abilities.

Alternate targets:
Keep changing targets because this makes it very hard for your opponent to defend against. A lot of people starting out tend to ‘head hunt’. As you get a bit more experienced and confident, start to work the body. Strikes to the ribs, chest, solar plexus and kidneys can take the wind and the will out of a fighter. Striking to these areas also creates openings in other areas. It is impossible for your opponent to block everything at the same time, so use this to your advantage.

Spar as many different people as possible. The more diverse the better you will become. Spar people who are lighter, heavier, taller, smaller, experienced, inexperienced etc. Try to spar using different rules and spar people from different styles. This will turn you into a well-rounded fighter, making you more versatile and giving you greater skills.

Hopefully, the above has given you a few new ideas and helps you to become even better at sparring. The only real way to get better at sparring is to spar so give them a go the next time you are in the ring.

By Robert Devane

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