Disclaimer: Sparring is dangerous and unpredictable. Do not attempt without proper training, protective gear, and capable supervision. Just because the gloves are bigger, doesn’t mean you aren’t getting hurt. Figure out how far you want to go in this sport than carry on.
I have to start out saying this as I know she warns me every day before I go to the gym not to let anyone punch me in the head. It’s difficult and probably near impossible to advocate getting socked in the face to a mother, but maybe by the end of this post it’ll be clear.
I put forth the extra money and commute time to join a martial arts gym at the start of the month. It was better than the single heavy bag in the corner of my local gym and catered to my progression and health much better. I partook in some classes, some personal training, and kept consistent throughout the first half.
On the first day I met a guy and got to talking about our favorite boxers, fighters, and what not. By the end of it, he suggested we spar sometime. I’ve been training boxing and Muay Thai for over a year but not on a professional or even amateur level, so I was nervous but anxious to get some real deal training under my belt. So after a week or two of focused training, we set a date to get it on.
We got together on a Wednesday morning and after a solid warmup and pad work, got in the ring.
Sparring is about learning, it isn’t about winning or losing, but there’s no denying the competitive aspect of it. You don’t spar to lose, but learn how to adjust and win. The first round was as most fights you see on television go. Both of us were hesitant to engage, feeling out our range and looking for patterns we both used.
With my luck, I was the first one to get hit. I over extended and got caught square on the jaw that sent me back a bit. He stopped and asked “You all good?” and we got right back into it. Safety is key here, since it was my first spar the power and pace was at 50% at least. And yet, that was the first time I had ever been punched in the face willingly. I felt a rush, not that I enjoyed it, but with the reality carried by that cross. I’m a human and vulnerable with my actions. It’s not like training on a heavy bag where you envision demolishing your opponent and you always dodge every shot and knock out every opponent. It’s a real deal fight and there are consequences to your actions.
When it comes to sparring vs. other training, the value of focus is second to none. People workout and train to get into a zone and block out their world, to get lost in the action and not think about what you have to do today or work hanging over your head. And while I felt that during my workouts, sparring put it on a euphoric level. I couldn’t think about paying student debts in the ring, I can’t think about my weekend plans while slipping a punch. The whole experience was meditative in a sense.
Anywho, after 3 rounds of 3 minutes, we shook gloves and sat our asses down.
The adrenaline everyone talks about with sparring was apparent. 3 rounds felt like 6 and we were gassed afterwards. There were many habits that were literally transformed throughout the session. At first when I took hits, the natural body reaction is to turn away and look for an exit (ironically leading to more punches and damage). By round 3, I was no longer turning and running, but putting up a better defense and dodging more.
That’s what I mean about sparring and the value it brings. You learn to adjust and to push through pain more than anything you can do. The focus and zen state required to spar is second to no other training.
It was frightening, awkward, and painful at times.
So mom, if you’re reading this, yes I got caught with some good shots. Yes, they hurt. No, I don’t enjoy getting punched in the face. But sparring is an experience that creates a foundation for strength and mental sharpness. I don’t plan on fighting amateur or professional, but I plan on sparring more and encourage anyone that is willing to do the same.