On Sparring: A Guide for Beginners
"The path is long and difficult, that of Hell leads to the light." - John Milton, Paradise Lost So you have started your walk on Bushido, the path of the warrior, and the time...

"The path is long and difficult, that of Hell leads to the light."

- John Milton, Paradise Lost

So you have started your walk on Bushido, the path of the warrior, and the time has come for you to put your newfound abilities to the test. Your trainer or sensei has decided that it is time for you to step into your martial art arena, be it the cage, ring or mat, to spar for the very first time.

My first fight when I was 14 was like peeling an onion. The more layers I had peeled off, the more it hurt. The deeper I went, the more tears flowed, not from the pain, but from the illusions of myself that I had that were stripped.

I won't lie to you. It'll be hard. You will feel more emotions than you could imagine in a combat sport. But that's the warrior's way - to be able to peel off those layers of yourself and find out who you really are.

Sparring is one of the best ways to do this. There is no substitute for the glove or the glove and setting foot in controlled chaos. Sparring is the philosophical equivalent of looking at yourself for a long time in the mirror and finding courage in the heart of your being.

Let's see what to expect the first time you work out.

It will hurt

When I say it's going to hurt, not everything will be physical. Any preconceptions you might have about yourself in terms of harshness and badass will be done away with in an instant.

The second the first punch connects, your mind and body go haywire, descending into panic mode. Reality will sink quickly and quickly; but the warrior, the warrior welcomes suffering, the warrior embraces the sucking. We grow from it.

You will probably feel humiliated afterwards. Do not worry. Be grateful for the courage you had to step up. The lessons and knowledge you have gained will be invaluable. Be mindful every time you practice - the more you will learn about yourself and your true nature as a warrior.

Leave your ego at the door

Living life on the path of the Path gives you a certain enthusiasm. Do not succumb to it.

Just because you're walking doesn't mean you have to walk with a swollen chest. It's silly. The warrior is humble. The warrior is peaceful. Your teammates are on the same path as you.

Be humble, kind and generous. Going into a workout carrying ego with you is a recipe for disaster. If you are a beginner, your training partner is probably more experienced than you. If you come in and start trying to prove yourself, you're in for a rude awakening.

Check the ego at the door. And always be nice… even when you get beaten up.

"One hit 10,000 times, not 10,000 hits once"

"Yesdon't listen to the man who practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I'm afraid of the man who practiced a kick 10,000 times.

- Bruce Lee

It might seem counterintuitive not to learn as many new skills as possible, but just don't.

First master the fundamentals. Don't try to do anything fancy or overly technical in your first fight. Information overload is a real thing, and it will exhaust you both physically and mentally.

You will physically overwork yourself from the constant tension and all the punches you throw, most of which probably won't land, and the intensity. This intensity stems from the mental aspect of the fight. You will relieve yourself if you overwork yourself. You might be wondering, "Why isn't all this working ?!" Keep it simple. Practice the basics that you know given your respective martial art.

Use simple combinations like the one-two, double leg indent, or leg sweep, etc.

Learn to breathe again

It might sound silly because you are all breathing while reading this. Breathing is an automatic function for humans, yes, but a lot of things happen to the body under the extreme stress of combat.

During the fight, we become tense. We are subconsciously holding our breath, as we constantly prepare for impact. It's like driving with the brakes on. Fine motor skills are sidelined instead of untrained gross motor movements. To remedy these hard-wired physiological responses to combat, learn to guide your breathing.

It is ancient wisdom that cannot be fought without air. This also applies to you. Taking long breaths of air through your nose instead of your mouth will help keep your jaw stabilized against the kinetic impacts of heavy hits and drops. If you can keep breathing, you can keep fighting for longer than you imagined.

"Show your teeth"

Sparring is more than practice. These are simulated conditions of one of the most stressful things a person will ever encounter: combat. In a fight, you can do two things: "show your teeth" and go until you complete your mission, or resign, which is tantamount to death.

Winning or losing doesn't matter to the warrior. What the warrior mentality instills are the virtues of bravery in the face of overwhelming obstacles. It is a long and difficult process to become a warrior, make no mistake about it. However, mind over matter is the key. The body will leave long before your mind does. Show your teeth and embrace the chaos and you will never lose the mental battle.

Closing thoughts

Congratulations on your journey. You are among the brave few who have had the courage to put it on the line. By training you are on your way to accomplishing what you set out to do when you first walked into a combat gym or gym. dojo. Sparring is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. I give you my word that you will not be the same person you come in as you leave.

“I love the man who can smile in trouble, who can muster the strength of distress and become courageous through reflection. It is the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles until death.

- Thomas Paine

Contributed by Timothy sholtz.


For just over 3 years I have been training in Kung Fu and Muay Thai. Learning any martial art is a physically and mentally challenging process that takes years of practice to master. Here are 4 tips I wish I had known that can improve your training and reduce the time it takes between novice and grandmaster.

Flexibility is a fundamental trait of any good martial artist. Having this early on in your training will help boost you ahead for many reasons. Firstly, the more advanced techniques in martial arts require you to be extremely flexible, it’s impossible to begin learning them without the required flexibility to do so, and thus you will be learning advanced moves earlier in your training if you’re already performing a perfect split. Secondly, you need to kick high, sometimes higher than your own head. If you’re training in a martial art that is fight orientated, such as kickboxing, being able to kick your opponent in the head is one of the best moves you have in your arsenal of attacks. If you are studying an art such as Kung Fu, flexibility will dramatically improve your technique in forms, helping you to score those extra points in competitions for your technical ability.

One of the best ways to learn, I have found, is directly from the horse’s mouth, in this case your master. Typically, in your classes, your master will demonstrate a technique that they want you to practice with a partner. If they don’t ask for volunteers before performing each technique, go ahead and tell them before the chic starts that you would like to be involved in the demonstrations. This will help you get a real feel for what they’re trying to show you, as you can miss subtle techniques that may be out of your vision. Volunteering to be demonstrated on can seem scary, but remember that they are a master of what they do, and they won’t actually be performing the move with the intent to hurt you.

Hitting pads is good for when you’re learning a new move, but you will find you begin performing the technique in a much different way when faced with something that will hit back. Simple things like remembering to cover your head when throwing a kick or punch will become second nature after being punished for dropping your guard, even for a split deuxième. You may be asked or required to participate in a fighting tournament at some point of your martial arts journey, and the best way you can prepare for this is sparring. Remember that it is for the purpose of learning, not knocking each other out as quick as you can. You will begin to learn how to spot and react to your opponent’s openings, and how to defend against different moves. Forget being stronger or faster than your opponent, being an éclairé fighter is what will give you the advantage come fight night.

Your training doesn’t begin and end when you enter and leave the doors. My Kung Fu master always told us that “practice is good, but perfect practice makes perfect”. When you train at home make sure you are performing each technique properly, as if you were in chic, bad vêtements form fast and are extremely hard to be undone. Purchasing a large mirror is a great investment so you can analyse yourself at home. Also watching scènes of other people performing techniques will help you to see how different techniques should look when you’re not at class.

Did you set a new year resolution this year ? If so, do they happen to be martial arts related ? Do you think you will actually achieve them ?

Statistics for failed New Year’s resolutions run anywhere between 45-80%. Now that another new year is here, it’s time to focus and set our eyes back on the prize in order to not become part of this rather bleak data. to help you, on this post, I’ll be highlighting a couple personal tips that may help make both your short-term and long-term goals stick

Focusing on small milestones, following your détermination, challenging yourself, and finding what inspires you can help you make improvements for the rest year and meet or even surpass your martial arts goals and beyond !

You’re much more likely to stay motivated and make improvements if you’re doing something you enjoy. What is your absolute favorite thing to do at your martial arts school ? If you love to spar find ways to push yourself harder. Ask your instructor for pointers. Train with higher-ranking students. Seek out tournaments in your area for a challenge.

What if you’re doing what you love, and you’re already good at it, but you don’t know how to improve ? Avoid stagnation by digging deeper into your favorite activity. Find ways to go out of your comfort zone. Ask for help and feedback even in areas where you feel you are at your best. For example, if you enjoy doing forms, ask your instructor to work with you on finer details.

Play around with timing and emphasis. Enter or at least attend a tournament to see how other martial artists practice forms and see what you can learn from them. Seek out master classes, seminars, and clinics in your area. If you want some fun and relaxation while you practice consider taking a martial arts holiday.

Alternatively, you can also work on your training from the comfort of your own home by joining an online martial arts training. As you won’t even have to step foot outside, there’s simply no excuse not to keep up your practice !

Think about your long-term goals and then break it down into small milestones. Do you want to be able to do fifty push-ups in one set, but right now you can only do ten ? Don’t burn yourself out on day one trying to do all fifty. You may injure yourself or simply become discouraged that you can’t reach your goal immediately.

Slow down. Scale back. Try adding five extra push-ups per week, and over time you’ll build up the strength and stamina you need to meet your goal.

Maybe you have transferred schools and need to relearn the particular forms or self-defense techniques practiced at your new school. I have seen this happen with black belts and higher-ranking color belts who have transferred to my dojang. For example, a fellow black belt practiced Taeguk taekwondo forms at her old dojang, but now she needs to learn the Palgwe forms that we practice.

Rather than trying to learn everything at once, which will likely feel overwhelming, start with one technique or one form. Ask an instructor or another black belt for help. Watch videos online. Move on to the next technique when you are able to perform the first one without any guidance or prompts.

Sometimes you have to do things in martial arts that you don’t enjoy as much but you still have to do due to coutume, class schedules, and keeping your practice well-rounded. Martial arts may be the hardest thing you do, but it shouldn’t feel like drudgery. Think about what you don’t enjoy as much in class or what you dread doing, and try to figure out why you avoid it. Perhaps you don’t like it because you’re not very skilled ( yet ), you don’t do it very often, you find it stressful, or you simply find it boring.

Challenge yourself. Find the “fun” in something that has simply felt like work. It’s easy to get better at something you enjoy and you’re naturally good at doing. Just think of how it will feel when you make improvements in an area where you have continuously struggled.

Leveraging your strengths can help you develop skills in areas where you struggle. For example, if sparring is particularly challenging, be mindful of other times when you use blocks or strikes such as in forms or self-defense. Make them as sharp and powerful as you would in a faster-paced sparring match. Ask your instructor to incorporate quick reaction drills into classes. Attend extra sparring classes, and if you are a black belt or higher ranking, attend lower ranking sparring classes and offer to coach or referee. Teaching a skill can help you make vast improvements in your own practice.

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