I’ve watched a lot of beginners spar for the first time. Usually it takes only about 30 seconds for all thoughts of defense or strategy or finesse vanish and the exercise quickly devolves into two people trading giant haymakers.
This is totally understandable – sparring is stressful especially if you’re not used to it. But throwing heavy leather on your first time in the ring is just plain dangerous and does not build any kind of refined fighting skills.
Most of the time when we’re sparring we need to conquer nature with science and control our instincts to just swing wildly for the fences.
My friend Ritchie Yip is an expert kickboxer who has introduced thousands of people to sparring over the years I picked his brain to get his top tips to successfully start a kickboxing sparring program.
Here’s the video we shot on that topic…
Tips for First Time Sparring in Boxing or Kickboxing
Let’s summarise some of the top takeaways from this conversation above…
The Number One Goal of Sparring is Safety
Boxing and kickboxing sparring is essential, but also inherently dangerous. So you have to do whatever you can to keep yourself and your training partner safe.
You do NOT want to get injured, especially when it comes to getting kicked in the head and punched in the face.
If you get totally banged up and concussed in your first sparring sessions then it’ll impede your progress, make you less able to train, and likely result in you doing less sparring, not more.
Training is about surviving the training and then being able to come back for more the next day.
Let’s take a look at 3 big safe sparring tips from Ritchie Yip…
Tip 1: Spar Under Supervision
Most giant sparring battles start off in one corner of the gym. Two guys are sparring lightly but then get more and more amped. Before you know it they’re in a full fledged war without anyone nearby to jump in and calm them down.
It’s really easy for sparring to escalate. I might be perfectly willing to go light, but once you hit me in the face, dammit I’m going to get you back!
It’s critical that first timers spar under supervision You just need to have someone experienced and level-headed enough to intervene and dial things down if the sparring get too heated.
Tip 2: Don’t Focus on Landing Punches
Ritchie recommends that when you’re new to sparring you actually NOT be too concerned about landing punches.
The ultimate goal is to land strikes of course, but there are a ton of other skills to develop in boxing and kickboxing before you start thudding punches into your opponent with any regularity.
It may seem totally counterintuitive but you’ll actually improve much faster if you focus on those other skills first, including distancing, staying relaxed, head movement, defense, fakes, etc.
If you work on those things first thens you’ll actually end up landing MORE punches, not less.
Tip 3: Warm Up with the Susan Drill
Ritchie starts almost every sparring class with something he calls the Susan Drill.
He calls it this because his mother’s name is Susan. In this drill you behave like you’re sparring a tiny, elderly Asian lady, which is to say with great control and no power.
This is a great drill to use as a warmup because it gets your body ready for harder sparring, teaches you to keep your eyes open, and puts you and your partner into the right mindset
(Ritchie is not the only one to advocate training this way – for example, Thai boxers are famous for doing lots of light, ‘technical’ sparring and saving their hard banging for the ring.)
Here’s another video with a detailed breakdown for the Susan sparring drill…
The Susan Drill in Sparring
More Kickboxing Techniques, Combinations and Drills
The Precision Kickboxing Masterclass with Ritchie Yip and Stephan Kesting is finally available!
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In this resource of course you’ll learn how to throw punches, kicks, elbows and knees with speed, accuracy and power.
Even more importantly, though, you’ll also get the defences, counters, combinations, training methods, drills and strategies used by the pros so you can actually functionalise this material in a real match or on the street.