There’s a difference between sparring and fighting. Fighting comes with the goal of winning and destroying your opponent whereas sparring is focused on developing your skills! This post is dedicated to those who are relatively new to sparring.
Training on equipment only develops your technique. Training in the ring develops your fighting skills!
As soon as sparring starts, you might realise that everything is happening too fast. You might be at a lost and just trying to recall on what you’ve learnt. It’s a total different game when you are now trying to apply all those techniques you’ve been doing on the bag on a live opponent. Read on for tips that can help you focus and get into the rhythm.
Breathe, get comfortable
Yes, breathe! Do not hold your breath when you punch or take a punch. Remember to breathe in between moving and throwing your punches or combinations. This is a very simple tip but surprisingly difficult to do for beginners. Not breathing will make your body tensed up and you will get tired faster.
What you want to do in the first 30 seconds or 1 minute of the round is to familiarise yourself with the feeling of being in a “fight” and to get comfortable with it. Surely there will be some pressure, especially when you have people watching and knowing that you might get punched in the face, but focus on the opponent in front of you and what you should do. Be present in the moment! Be aware of the space you have, how close or far you are to the ropes, whether you are positioned where you want to be etc.
This comes to what you’ve been working on in training. At this stage, I assume you should have some understanding on distance control. Meaning you know where you should be to be able to hit your opponent without getting hit or minimising the chances of it happening.
If you feel you need to be using your reach, make sure you keep your opponent at the end of your punch. If you feel you need to be close and cut the ring, then you probably need to be mid range or close range to land the short compact punches. There is an in depth study to distance control which I will cover in the future.
A boxer that controls the distance controls the fight
The jab is the most basic and important punch. This only means that your opponent will surely throw the jab. With the training experience that you have, try to time and anticipate your opponent’s jab and defend against it. You can catch, slip, duck, lean back, basically make him miss. If you are able to do this, you can minimise the chances of your opponent controlling you or to set up for more punch combinations. Taking away your opponent’s jab takes away his confidence and also gives you the confidence to do more.
Throw your Jab
While you are busy defending against your opponent’s jab, don’t forget to throw your own jab. Make your jab your strength and weapon. When you are able to land your own jab(s), you will get the upper hand. You will get a better sense of distance and control over your opponent. Focus on landing the jab and everything else will fall into place. If you can’t land the jab, it will also be very unlikely that other punches can land too.
If you need to move away from your opponent, don’t just retreat going backwards because you might end up on the ropes. Which can be bad obviously. Try to go one or two steps back while in your stance and choose to go right or left depending on the situation.
If you don’t like his right hand, circle around to his left side. If you’re concerned of his left hand punches, circle around to his right side. It helps to change directions every and now to keep things unpredictable. Don’t let your opponent to settle down and do what he wants to do to you.
It’s only normal to keep doing what works. Sometimes, you might end up doing the same thing even if it doesn’t work and you have to be aware or have someone in your corner to remind you to break away from this cycle. Therefore variety is important. Variety in punch combinations, in your movement, combining going forward and back, variety in your timing or punch selections etc.
To have variety, you need to prepare some weapons in your arsenal. Meaning you must already have practiced them in training before stepping into sparring.
Now with all these tips, try to apply them when sparring. Don’t be too rigid or textbook and get stuck in a certain game plan. Be firm but flexible. Be like water. Boxing is fighting and fighting is unique because no matter how prepared you are, the situation can change at any given time. Always think and be ready to adjust accordingly, and adjusting itself is an art which takes years to master.