Beginner Sparring Survival Guide

June 17, 2013 June 17, 2013 by Johnny N Boxing Sparring, Boxing Training 71 Comments

Beginner Sparring Survival Guide

A quick survival guide to help you make it through your first sparring sessions in the ring.

This is for beginners boxers, first-timers, and anybody who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Sparring is not about getting beating each other up or fighting for real. It’s about learning how to fight by practice fighting. It’s not a real fight and the goal is not to win. Learn how to survive the rounds so you can have fun and actually learn how to box!


Get Comfortable in the Ring

Stay at your level

This is going to biggest and most important step to learning how to fight (or learning anything, really). STAY WITHIN YOUR LEVEL. 99% of all beginner problems (getting beat up, getting tired, reverting to bad habits, opponent too strong, etc) could have been avoided if only they would just stay within their level.

It’s not possible to learn if you’re never given a comfortable environment to learn. Beginner surfers don’t go down the steepest hill, beginner mountain climbers don’t start on Mount Everest. Beginner boxers should not be going at full power. It’s not only stupid; it’s dangerous.

At best, the only thing hard sparring can do for beginners is make them tough, but it’s not going to give them any skills. It’ll only make them tougher at getting beat up.

So what does it mean to “stay at your level?”

Don’t get in the ring if you don’t feel comfortable. Don’t get in the ring with somebody who’s twice your size, twice your strength, or twice your experience. Don’t get in the ring with somebody who can’t control himself. If your coach or anybody else insists, you better refuse (or at least don’t cry afterwards that you got beat up).

Spar with handicaps on. Go at half speed. Or do jabs only. Or do body shots only. Or get in the ring with a pro who’s skilled enough to stay on defense only. Beginners are not real fighters. They shouldn’t be expected to perform like one. Being comfortable is what allows beginners to work on technique rather than survival. It allows beginners to test out different techniques and to figure out how to move their bodies. They need time to adjust and get comfortable in the ring.

I especially hate seeing beginners quit boxing because nobody gave them a chance to learn. This is one of the biggest reasons for the decline of boxing.

Getting beat up in sparring,
means you’re not sparring at your level.


Keep breathing. Breathe for every movement. Breathe when you punch, when you move, when you defend. Breathe even when nobody tells you to. It’s natural, it’s normal, it’s supposed to happen. If you find yourself unable to breathe, you’re probably not following the most important step—STAY AT YOUR LEVEL.


What the hell does “relax” mean? How can you possibly relax when you’re so busy trying to do things in the ring? I find this concept most difficult to explain to beginners because 1) they come from a mindset of always using tension to create power…and 2) they can’t relax because they’re being pushed out of their limits mentally and physically.

I’ll put it this way: to relax means to…

  • Not worry – doesn’t matter if you get hit, doesn’t matter if you lose, doesn’t matter if you look terrible, doesn’t matter if you can’t land anything on your opponent, or if you get tired fast, or if you make a mistake, etc.
  • Go slow – there’s no rush to jump around and land a knockout punch. You’ve got a whole 3 minutes to figure things out. Take your time, move around and get comfortable. Punch because you want to, not because you feel like you HAVE to do something. Boxing is not a race.
  • Be lazy – remember those lazy days when you sat on the couch watching TV and only got up to get food or go to the bathroom? Try to have the same attitude for boxing. That every time you use energy it’s for a meaningful purpose like punching, or defending. And all other times, you’re looking to save energy and be lazy again. Learn to rest in between your explosive movements. Don’t carry tension all the time.

Find a comfortable boxing stance

Follow every stance rule your boxing gives you; like the elbows down, and chin tucked, and yada yada yada…but find a way to make all that feel comfortable. There is no way you will ever be able to move around, let alone fight, if you don’t feel comfortable in your boxing stance.

This is why you need to shadowbox a lot. Spend time by yourself moving around from your boxing stance and make adjustments to your stance and technique. Too many beginners are skipping shadowboxing so they can spend time on the heavy bag which distracts them by making them focus on power.


Basics of Fight Sparring

Eyes on opponent

If you’re not looking at your opponent, you’re blind. And if you’re blind, you won’t know how to respond to his movements. Not being able to see what you’re opponent is doing, means you won’t be able to defend or counter it. If you’re flinching, you need to slow down the pace.

It’s impossible to aim punches or block punches,
without seeing your opponent.

Focus on learning, not winning

Anytime that you focus on winning, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll never learn anything new. You’ll constantly push the pace too hard and always revert back to your bad habits. You’ll fall back to your same old tried and true techniques instead of practicing new techniques and strategies.

Instead you should adopt a controlled pace and use that opportunity to try new things. Try new punches, new defensive techniques. Throw a few and then move around. Keep moving and keep working. Don’t try to bomb out your opponent the moment you land a few good punches.

Throw punches

Just throw the punches. It doesn’t matter if they’re slow or ineffective or you feel too far away. The worse thing you can do in a fight is nothing. Throw anything out and from there, you can adjust them. Maybe you have to get closer or you have to throw from a different angle, or you have to throw a different combination. But throw something out so that you have something to adjust. You don’t have to be a wild brawler but at least put some shots out there.

Exhale with every punch

The exhalation adds power and speed. Release an exhale with every punch. If you want a sharper punch, use a sharper exhalation. A quick little burst of air is all you need, don’t empty out your stomach on one shot.

Toes pointing at your opponent

Your feet have to be somewhat facing your opponent in order for you to aim your body’s power at him. Keep the front foot pointing at your opponent’s center and your back foot at a 30-45 degree angle. Anytime that your feet off turned away from your opponent, you won’t be able to fire from that position.

Keep your head at chest level or above

Don’t keep your head down so low, it’s hard to punch from that position. Don’t fall into your opponent.


Sparring Tips for Beginners

The jab is your longest fastest weapon

Use the jab if you need to reach in from far away, or to keep your opponent far away. Your opponent cannot reach you with his right hand if your jab is in his face.

When in doubt, trade punches

Can’t see him? Can’t keep him off you? Don’t know what to do? JUST FIGHT! It’s better than eating punches. At least you can hit him back while you eat punches. The closer he gets, the harder you throw. The farther he is, the more measured you can become. If you’re too scared to trade punches, you’re probably not fighting at your level.

The best way to throw blind punches is to aim for his chest. Start your punches there and then start aiming more towards his head once you know where he is.

Block or lean away

The easiest way to defend is to block or lean away. Slipping and footwork is too difficult or too tiring for beginners. I suggest you put your hands up and/or lean your upper body away slightly. You’d be surprised at how many beginner opponents will swing themselves off balance. Throw your counters after he falls.

Circle away from his power hand

If you don’t like his right hand, circle around to his left side. If you’re afraid of his left hook, circle around to his side. It helps to change directions every and now to keep things unpredictable. (If you don’t have any energy to move away, at least keep walking away from his power hand.)

Watch out for one hand

If you can’t see both his hands, try watching for only the left one or the right one. If you want to watch for his right hand: keep your right glove by your face to block jabs and left hooks while you focus all your attention on his right so you can be ready to evade and counter it. Or you can do the opposite, keep your left glove in and wait for him to throw his left hand so you can throw over it. When I was starting out, I would use my guard to block jabs and hooks so I could focus on slipping or ducking the right hands. It was a very simple tactic that worked very well.

Punch at unexpected intervals

Assuming your right hand is the power hand, imagine that your left hand is the small beat and right hand is the big beat. KEep switching up the rhythm to confuse your opponent. For example, you might start with: left-RIGHT-left-RIGHT. Then you switch it to left-left-RIGHT-left-RIGHT (extra left confuses him). Then RIGHT-left-RIGHT. Then left-RIGHT-left-left-left-RIGHT. This way, he has no idea when your power hand will come.

The best way to make this effective is to have a good left hand. Fast sharp jabs and good left hook technique to make him respect your left side. This is what takes his focus away from your strong right hand.


How to Deal with Getting Tired

Beginners suffer from the biggest problems for getting tired: 1) poor conditioning, 2) wasting energy. Now I can’t help you improve your conditioning in one article but you can definitely stop wasting energy with just a few tiny adjustments.

Main causes of how beginners waste energy:

1) Throwing yourself off balance with every punch

This is the number one reason. Most beginners don’t know how to stay balanced when they punch. They throw their entire body weight with every punch and while it’s easy to feel powerful this way, it’s damn near impossible to pull yourself back after the punch (ESPECIALLY when you miss). You’ll find that many beginners use a lot of energy to stay balanced whereas the more advanced guys are always balanced and use all their energy for punching.

You can test your technique right now by shadowboxing. If throwing punches with full power at the air makes you tire quickly, your punching technique needs some serious work. Throwing off-balanced punches at the heavy bag is easy because the bag holds you up and bounces your energy back at you.

2) Using tension to create speed and/or power 

Imagine yourself quickly slapping a fly in the air with your hand. Now imagine yourself FLEXING your entire arm first AND THEN slapping away the fly in the air. The problem with beginners is that they punch with unnecessary tension similar to that second example. And because the tension actually hinders their movement, they have to use even more energy to overcome that tension. Use a strong core and relax the rest of your body to create power. If you don’t know how to use your core to punch, just remember that you don’t need tension in the upper body to create power.

3) Throwing when you’re out of breath

A beginner’s breathing will only allow for 3-5 powerful punches at time. Anymore and it’s like you’re trying to sing a long note when you’re already out of air. Trying to generate power when you’re out of breath only exhausts your core. Later as you get better, you’ll become more efficient and learn how to generate the same power while using less air.

4) Moving with panic attitude 

Unnecessary tension is very much a psychological problem. You will always have unnecessary tension if you’re always being pressured to move. There’s a difference between moving fast because you want to be fast and moving fast because you’re afraid something’s going to happen. Imagine yourself turning your head over quickly to look at something on TV, vs turning your head over quickly because something startled you. In both cases, you turned your head quickly but in the second instance you had tension because something scared you. Be fast but without panicking.

5) Unpurposeful tension

All energy that you generate should do something. All explosive energy should be used for attacking. Too many fighters waste their explosive energy for defense or movement, even the skilled ones. Defend calmly, defend slickly….but then attack explosively. If you waste your explosive energy on defense or movement, it’ll make your punch less powerful. This is why you need to become slick with your defense. I take a quick step or a quick slip with my head and then I counter with an immediate sledge hammer. What I don’t do is jerk my head with all my back muscle and try to reverse that momentum with a counter-punch.

Getting Tired is Part of the Game

Getting tired is normal, natural. It’s part of boxing. The stronger you get, the more strength you will use. The more energy you have, the more energy you will use. Asking me how to avoid getting tired in the ring is like asking me how to avoid getting tired after a workout. It’s not possible. The better you get, the better your opponents get. Getting tired is part of the fun.

I can’t stop you from getting tired and I’m not even sure I want to. Instead of focusing on energy conservation, try instead to think about effectiveness. Learn how to use your energy in the most effective way possible.


Making Positive Assessments after Sparring

The only thing worse than an opponent beating you up is you beating yourself up. I don’t get why people like to put themselves down. Don’t waste your time on negative thoughts that won’t improve your boxing performance–it’s not necessary. Focus on what you did wrong. Focus on what you did right. Improve what you can. That’s it. Any energy that you spend thinking about ANYTHING ELSE is a waste of energy.

Don’t waste your time wondering if you have what it takes to be champion. Don’t waste your time crying about why you weren’t fast enough or good enough. Don’t waste your time complaining that you didn’t feel as good this week as you did last week. That crap doesn’t matter.

Find out what you did wrong. Find out what you did right. Improve what you can. Try again. Repeat.

What did I miss? Got any more tips for beginners?

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Herkko Vuorinen June 17, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Thanks a lot again. Extremely useful stuff for me, and for others, too, I’m sure.


Pedro June 17, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Really helpful article, thanks man.


Scott June 19, 2013 at 6:35 am

Great article. These are the things I’m thinking about when I’m sparring these days. I’m sparring with guys that are better and faster than me, but I’ve learned that I can take their punches without getting hurt. So now I’m trying to learn everything I can from each engagement and increase the number of clean punches I land on them even though I eat a lot of punches in the process.

Keep up the good work Johnny!



charles brown June 19, 2013 at 8:43 am

Having been involved in the fight game for over half a century my judgement may possibly be somewhat impaired from catching too many punches, but if I was anywhere near LA this coming Saturday I would already be registered for your boxing workshop. A couple of my buddies are on a fight card this Friday. One of them will headline the card which will be on ESPN. I feel guilty, because I haven’t told him to go to since last Saturday. In the gym I was in Saturday morning there was not one trainer or boxer regardless of their experience level that could not benefit from your presentations. The most difficult thing for me in working with trainers and boxers ( I’ve given up on promoters) is to get them to open up their minds in order to expand their arsenals. Thanks for the great product that you share with us all. Some of the guys are probably sick of me saying, “Johnny says …..” and go to, but I’m going to keep feeding them the medicine they need. If they wish to open their minds and improve that’s in their hands. Our own one track minds can be the toughest opponent we ever face.
Thanks again Johnny for the great product,


Johnny N June 20, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Good to hear from you, Charlie! BTW, are you going to Tucson?


charles brown June 22, 2013 at 11:15 am

At the moment it does not look like we will be in Tucson. If you go have a great time for all of us.
Let me know how the workshop turns out. I wish I could have been there.


Alex W August 25, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Hey Johnny,
I`m trianing boxing for about a year,and when some coach(not my coach) saw me he says that I am pretty good.
My problem is that i spend lot of time working on my defence but i still got hit during sparring(any tips to overcome that)
And other thing is that i am too passive any tips to be more agressive fighter.


Johnny N August 27, 2013 at 12:32 pm

It helps to spar at your comfort level if you want to practice being more aggressive. It’s never easy for beginners to get aggressive because they lack the skills to protect themselves during exchanges.

When “being more aggressive” becomes synonymous with “getting hit more often”, being aggressive doesn’t feel like a great idea.


Alex W August 28, 2013 at 2:43 am

Thank you Johnny !!!
BTW are you planing to make some new videos on youtube?


Johnny N September 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Definitely! More videos on the way.


Mark October 15, 2013 at 6:20 am

Hi love your site , my son who is 11 years old has just got into boxing he’s been going for a month two times a week His trainer put him in the ring last night for his first sparring session , the other lad was slightly older slightly taller but much more Advanced which Resulted in my son getting hit very often and hard , just not sure what he was Meant to learn from this ? Do you think I should pull him out of the club and find another one ?


Johnny N October 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm

What happened to your son will happen to just about every boxer. He will eventually at some point in his life, and quite often, get his ass kicked. But what happens afterwards is important. Does your trainer teach him effective skills for the next session. Is the other kid told to go easier next time? Do the sparring sessions seem controlled for the benefit of learning?

I would say a few lost sessions here and there are fine. Boxing was never meant to be easy, but unnecessary punishment is not ok. Because he’s your son, I recommend that you do your homework anyway and check out other gyms.


Mark October 20, 2013 at 6:55 am

Hi jonny thanks for the reply , his next sparring session is monday night so will see how the session goes . I was just put off about his first sparring session because reading your article about Beginners and sparring you said to go slow and at only 25% power which wasn’t the case on his first session ,thanks again for the reply .


R McAlister October 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Excellent article! This sites been such a great help, thanks. I’ve got my first real sparring session tomorrow morning can’t wait!


Johnny N October 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Good luck! Let me know how it goes.


R McAlister October 19, 2013 at 5:25 am

Thanks man. It was a mixed bag but I really enjoyed it. The first bout was against someone of my experience and I came off really well. In the second match I was up against a more experienced guy and I just couldn’t cope with his body shots; I kept looking down and getting caught to the head. At least I know my level though and there’s only one way to improve.


Begainner October 25, 2013 at 5:39 am


You talk about the phyiscal side of sparring but what about the psychological side for begainners.. Would be nice to know what the typical mind set is for boxers at different levels



Johnny N November 8, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Psychologically, you shouldn’t be a mess if you know how to train at your pace. Be calm, spar calmly. Take your time. You won’t have psychological issues if you know how to train at a proper pace. It takes time to develop a fighter, mentally and physically.


Big Oggy October 28, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Hey Johnny,

Really appreciate your advice. I have a question. I’m truly a beginner, and being at the heavyweight weight category, I find myself getting laid into like a punchbag, often leaving me with bruised ribs etc, and every punch I throw gets countered, which is the most frustrating thing. I love the sport but feel I’m not learning anything, sparring at the moment feels like trying to have a full conversation in a language where I only know a handful of words. What’s the best way forward, taking a break for a few months to sharpen my skills outside of the gym, shadow boxing etc, getting my body conditioning sharp beforehand, so that everything feels second nature, and I’m able to move quicker and handle the punches, or is it just a case of hanging in there until learning to box becomes second nature.


Johnny N November 8, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Slow sparring! Take your time! Getting beat up and forced beyond what you’re capable is not really the way to learn. That stuff is for the movies.


gian November 11, 2013 at 11:12 am

How do I find people or gyms to spar at a comfortable level? How do I go about asking them?


Johnny N November 22, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Look around for newer guys or really skilled guys and tell them you want to spar at a really slow pace. And then after you start sparring, keep saying, “LIGHTER, please, LIGHTER.” And if they still don’t get it, thank them for their time and say that you want to stop. Maybe work with one of the younger kids that don’t have anybody to spar with them. Or find a guy much lighter than you.


Mark November 19, 2013 at 6:18 am

Hi jonny I wrote on here a few weeks ago about how my son got beat up on his first sparring session since then I changed his gym for another one but the same thing happened but much more worse . His first time at the new gym the trainer put him in with a lad much much better than my son so Basically the lad Chased and punched my lad all around the ring after the first round my son came out with tears in his eyes , the trainer put him back in for a second round this time my son asked the other lad to go lighter but he didn’t and hit him even harder now my son has lost all of his Confidence and dosent want to box anymore which will be a shame because even though he has only been going 8 weeks he was getting better and enjoying it . Can you or anybody make any Suggestions on how to build up his Confidence again ??
Many thanks for reading and any Suggestions very welcome Ps my son is only 11


Cameron November 19, 2013 at 8:59 am

Your son is a tough kid. I don’t know ANY 11 year old that can go through that.

You can’t win every fight. It just won’t happen. Some fights will be embarrassing too. But, if he is going to be better and win, he has got to be dedicated. And it really is up to him as well. You can show him some pro fights, and tell him that the winner was in the same exact shoes as your son. And it’ll be true. Get motivated with him as well. After that, it really is all up to him. Boxing isn’t for everyone, but I think your son has what it takes if he can just stay dedicated to the sport.

I really hope this helps.


Mark November 20, 2013 at 6:36 am

Thanks for the reply Cameron he does want to carry on with the boxing he’s just scared about getting back into the ring and sparring again , so not sure on how to go about getting him back in do I tell him to man up and get back in or do I go slowly slowly ????? is it like a bike once you fall off you’ve got to get back on ? don’t want to push him to hard and he gives up all together but don’t want to leave it to long and let the fear set it for to long , so just need some advice on which way to go


Cameron November 20, 2013 at 9:53 am

I don’t think he should immediately jump back into the ring, but maybe have him work his way up, physically and mentally. Working the heavy bag, mitt work with someone else, anything to help make him feel better about going back into the ring. It’d be dumb to jump back in the ring when you haven’t improved since last time. So if he did want to continue, then yeah, I’d push him, but not too much. Help him train, get hyped up with him, if you have any focus mitts, use those with him. I think one of the best things to do, but is completely optional, is have you to do the sport with your son. Fewer things make a boy feel better then his old man kicking butt along side him 😉

Anyways, once again, I hope this helps out. Let me know if there’s anything else!


Mark November 21, 2013 at 5:26 am

Thanks for the reply Cameron the thought did cross my mind about training with him in the gym but being 43 think I’m to far over the hill to take boxing up

Johnny N November 22, 2013 at 9:02 pm

For one, stop putting him into situations of failure. Give him time to enjoy the sport and grow with it. Nobody is supposed to like getting beat up, no matter how young or old. There’s a difference between taking on a challenge and getting destroyed and not being able to do anything about it. As his father, you have to be more responsible and stop the fight if you know deep down that he doesn’t want to be there. Give him time to grow. If he was meant to be, he will get there eventually.


Mark November 21, 2013 at 5:31 am

Not sure why but my last comment didn’t all show up ? what I said was think I will try and build him back up slowly and see how he goes , he’s training tonight but won’t be sparring because on a thursday night he trains with the Adults which I think will help him build up his Confidence again


Nicolas November 24, 2013 at 11:16 am

Thank you Johnny for this article, everytime when we have sparring session at the gym i don’t like sparring with one guy, he always hit very hard he’s trying to kinda knock people out and he don’t let me throw any punches, for me it’s like a torture.
I try to think it’s good for me because that way i will learn better, for example last week he punched real hard on my face and my nose is still hurting today,so i tell myself it’s my fault, maybe my guard wasn’t high enough or i need to pay more attention because i didn’t see that punch coming…

noone wants to sparr him at the gym so im the one who is the most courageous and accept to work with him thinking its good for me.
what do you think? i should continue or should i stop and find someone else ?


Johnny N November 26, 2013 at 8:54 am

Don’t work with him. He’s not giving you any opportunities to learn. And it’s not like you’re helping him learn either. Go spar with somebody else so you can actually practice different things and enjoy boxing a little bit.


Gian November 27, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Hey Johnny, thanks for the advice. Can you put up a video showing what slow sparring is supposed to look like at different levels? I have tried some slow sparring but am always confused as to if I’m doing it right. I’ll try letting my partner hit me more if he or she’s newer than I am, but I would like to see what a slow-sparring session would look like as a base of reference.

Thanks again Johnny.


Johnny N December 4, 2013 at 10:11 am

If you need to go slower, go SLOWER. And if you need it even slower than that, go even slower. Even if it’s such slow motion that there’s no impact and it feels like you’re doing slow-motion contact shadowboxing.


Sergio Sanchez February 2, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Great tips johnny ‘ started sparring after only 2 weeks of starting the boxing gym’ I’m in el paso tx , but I think I have the basics down because I boxed for about six months in middle school , anyway I’m 5;7 170 pounds and have lots of muscle but I’m wondering if it will slow me down to be big, I understand that power comes from the way you throw a punch but does it hurt to add. Some triceps?? Also I have a resistance rope that I shadow box with will that help in being faster ,hit me back brother


Johnny N February 12, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Being big is only a problem if it’s not your natural weight. Now if it IS your natural weight, then you will simply have to work with what you’ve got. For speed, you need more technique and specialized training. Please check out my other guides and Youtube videos for tips on developing punching speed.


Mark February 13, 2014 at 5:13 am

Hi jonny even though my son has only been going boxing now for 5 months it seem like he’s been on such a long Journey at the beginning with all the lows so this is really just a quick update on how he is doing . After the initial set backs we decided to return to the first gym he is now on a all time high and loves sparring with a Passion he still takes the odd punch but now has the defensive moves and confidence to deal with them he has now turned 12 years old both of his trainers and myself are so proud of him for over coming his fears his boxing skills have come on leaps and bounds so much so his trainers are going to take him on a gym tour and arrange sparring sessions between a few different gyms at the end of the month so this will be his first proper fight / sparring session I have even given him a nick name now which is TOMMY TOO SMOOTH
Many thanks for reading will post again after the fight


Johnny N March 4, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Hi Mark, I’m happy to hear about your son’s progress. I wish you both a great future together. Keep on punching!


Mark June 15, 2014 at 8:29 am

Hi jonny since my last post my son has had his first fight even the the other lad was 2 years older he did really really well and loved it , would love to show you the video I took of his fight bit not sure how to , would love to know what you thought of him as he has only been boxing for 7 months have you got a email address so I could send you the video ?


Johnny N July 23, 2014 at 12:41 am

Upload it to youtube and share it on the ExpertBoxing facebook page. 🙂


Albine February 26, 2014 at 11:58 pm

I sparred with my coach for the first time today. He is a champion boxer from the army. I have been boxing seriously for about 4 months.

We sparred 5 rounds. I kept throwing single punches and when I was taking damage I would throw wild right hooks that did little damage. He was throwing 3-5 punch combos that were knocking my headgear out of position and leaving me dazed.

At the end of the session I had a black eye, bruised/bloody nose, bruised/swollen chin. I learned 2 things; keep my guard up better, circle out when he’s got me in a combo and exploit my range for straight punches.

I felt overwhelmed and powerless during the session and I found it difficult to stay relaxed with my headgear sliding off my head and taking uppercuts and hooks repeatedly. How can I keep my composure when I am outgunned and taking heavy damage?


Johnny N March 4, 2014 at 6:01 pm

There’s no easy answer for this. I don’t believe you should even be sparring with him in the first place if he’s not going to give you a chance to learn. There’s no way for you to keep composure if you don’t have the tools to make it a comfortable fight.


chris March 3, 2014 at 3:38 pm

hey johnny iv recently found a trainer whos great to spar with, hes an ex pro and a lovely fella, gives me such a buzz when i land a good right hand on him, last time i kinda rope a doped him, he had me covered up in the corner pummelling me and i threw a right uppercut hit him right on the chin, hes very modest and always compliments you when you tag or evade him, i think its important to find a trainer your comfortable with.
im 26 hoping to fight armature in the near future, iv been at it for a year but the passion has only just took hold thanks to a good trainer


Johnny N March 4, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Chris, your situation is a dream come true. It’s awesome when you get to move around with a pro who won’t destroy you in there. You learn so much more and come out feeling so much more experienced. I’m really glad for you and wish everyone could have a trainer like yours.


Samuel March 4, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I’m 5 9 and 135 I’m trying to put on some weight what’s a good workout out to do after boxing I’m not trying to get huge just my healthy weight


Johnny N March 4, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Boxing alone will put you at your healthy weight. If you want to gain more than that, you’ll need to do lots of resistance training and eat a lot more.


chris March 5, 2014 at 4:27 am

thanks for the reply friend


Manny April 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm

I’ve been reading your articles since 2010 and I read this one for the first time today. I’m an amatuer boxer I’ve fought in smokers for the navy and competed locally and of course had tons of sparring sessions but I never felt the way you described. I was going to a gym where I was starting to get worried about sparring cause I knew I was going to war but I didn’t feel like I was learning. I really appreciate you writing this your understanding of this sport has really helped me train better and I won’t be getting beat up in the gym wars anymore. I actually avoided a sparring match that could have gone bad thanks to your advice. It’s kind of crazy I meet a lot of trainers that tell me that no champion learned how to box on the internet which may be true but every time I do something off this website everyone in the gym always asks “where’d you learn how to do that!”


Johnny N July 15, 2014 at 9:24 am

Hehehe…good job, Manny 🙂


ali April 16, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Hi johnnu i wanna ask im more of a defensive mayweather stance but
says hands up 2 cheeks but not comfatable wiv it shall i jus listen
nd take that coz im sure wen mayweather started boxing he started wuv hands up
plzzz johnny give advice


sahil April 30, 2014 at 8:26 pm

So after 2 months of training up here in toronto(cabbagetown boxing), i decided to give sparring a try, because hey you cant learn fighting without sparring right? so i wanted to learn, so i gave it a try, i told the trainer that its my first time sparring, even told my sparring partner, we both told him to go easy on me, we started, he started hitting me, it sure didnt feel like he was going easy on me, i lasted 1 round in there. his punches were pretty hard, after about 15 seconds or so i went on the defensive, it was obvious, anyway i think when he sensed weakness he went crazy and started hitting me like crazy, eventually i felt some funny liquid on my face, i turned around to look in the mirrors there was blood from my nose all over my face, dripping on the ring, hands etc. Its funny but today i realized what boxing really is, in the ring people are being trained to be killers, there was no mercy whatsoever, it was obvious i was in pain and hurt but the guy probably started hitting me even harder after that, anyway after the blood was in the ring the trainer stopped the fight after the first round, i didnt really feel pain, but it was a strange experience. The guy i was sparring was bigger than me, but afterwards i found out he had been fighting for 10 years and this was my first time sparring. There wasnt so much physical pain but it was a strange experience…

I felt ashamed, humiliated and embarrassed that i lost to that guy and kind of felt abused, my nose stings a little bit, the blood is gone the physical pain was almost non existent, but emotionally its really weird

Afterwards i spoke to some of the people there, one of the other guys there seems cool, said yeah they shouldnt have put me in there with him, hes a psycho who just likes to ‘smash people’ and next time he’ll train me in the ring while sparring etc actually teach me and stuff etc… Maybe i should sparr with others, its gonna be tricky finding sparring partner(s) as a new guy who dont try to bash my head in over and over again, while i try to cover up and backpedal away


Johnny N July 15, 2014 at 9:26 am

Unfortunately, there are cowards like that everywhere. Keep talking and working with different people until you find one you really connect with. From there, you’ll improve very quickly. Every fighter is different and might respond better to a different kind of trainer.


sahil April 30, 2014 at 8:37 pm

my body feels ok, head feels ok, nose stings a bit, but my spirit feels pretty battered up


Ruben June 16, 2014 at 6:26 am

Sahil I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience. If the coaches did not do anything aboutt this sparring instance then I strongly recommend you to leave that gym and find another gym. There is just no way that any beginner should spar hard. This could break your spirit and make you negative towards boxing. Find an experienced boxing trainer who knows how to spar with you. Keep your head up. Don’t get negative. Unfortunately tis is not the first time I’ve heard a story similar to yours. You should be sparring against a professional who will at least make you pay for when you make a mistake but he shouldn’t aim yo knock you out. Just quickl tap you when after you’ve jabbed, you bring your left hand back to your shoulder and not your chin for instance. Just light sparring and the coach should let you practice your combinattions thatt you learned on the hand pads. This will allow you to do well in sparring and it will build your confidence. Keep training


JayCee November 6, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Hi there Johnny. Love the site by the way. I have a question about sparring and I hope this is the right place for it.
I have been training boxing just over a year and have been enjoying it. I started mainly for fitness but I also really enjoy sparring. I would like an amateur fight at some point but I’m in no rush and want improve my skills first. We do some sparring at the club and I’m starting to get used to being hit. It doesn’t scare me like it used to although obviously I try to avoid it as much as possible. I do have a bit of an issue with pulling my own punches. I train to get better and I don’t enjoy hurting people. Also there is an understanding when sparring that you don’t use full power.
The issue I have is this: how am I supposed to practice power punches and knockouts if neither of us is willing to go full on? I feel when I’m sparring its more like we spar for points than power. This is all well and good but when it goes to a real fight I know the other guy won’t be pulling his punches, and I know I want to go for a knockout, so how can I train for this in a controlled way?


dexter April 4, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Ive been sparring a few times a week for about two months so im still very new to it. I will offer some advise for the guys who want to start. Just get in there and do it. Tell your partner its your first time and to go easy. If you think they are going to hard ask them to tone it down. Sometimes as beginers we dont know how hard we are punching. Im 6 3 200 pounds. I can hit pretty hard and im always the biggest guy there. So if i get a good shot in i dont realize that my punches hurt so the other guy goes harder. Thats just how it goes. Ive learned i need to tone it down. Just something to think about.


luke August 21, 2015 at 7:43 pm

sparred my first time today.. dude (6’3 240) was a beginner, but not as beginner as me.. i was on my bicycle the entire time.. he touched me with about five jabs that hurt.. i forgot everything id learned and was completely gassed after about 40 seconds in the 1st of 3… good times.. my only advice is its not gonna go exactly how you plan.. keep calm (unlike me).. n dust yourself off.. youre not supposed to feel great about your first time.. its not easy.. its rewarding.


luke August 21, 2015 at 8:23 pm

oh, n dexter.. somebody did mention after the 2nd, that the harder i punch the harder hes gonna punch.. after i saw stars, i sped my punches way up.. which i assume, made him angry.. i didnt notice tho.. i thought all of his punches felt like an aluminum bat.


luke August 21, 2015 at 9:06 pm

jaycee, im a beginner so take my advice for what its worth, but the guys i know arent so i have 2 points..
1. it seems pretty easy to reach johnny on the comment section of his newest youtube videos.
2. talk to the guys you spar with , n say, hey lets get it this round, or just the last 30 seconds, or whatever theyre comfortable with… dont break your toys… i saw a pro tonight spar guys way under his lvl, n he was firing, but he knew how to not break em. he gave them the position advantage n would only work on countering for a while, then hed use footwork n not throw any punches for a bit, but control distance n position.
oh n 3. let them switch out, so youre always tired n theyre fresh.


Mark November 3, 2015 at 7:20 am

Hi Jonny great site , my lad who is 13 years old been boxing for just over a year , the problem is because he’s a big lad for his age 65 kg he always get picked to spar against 18 years and older guys , what’s your thoughts on juniors sparring against adults?


Mark November 3, 2015 at 7:30 am

Sorry forgot to add its meant to be touch sparring but the amount of times he comes out with a black eye or nose bleed I don’t think the older guys are pulling their punches much


Johnny N November 3, 2015 at 10:54 am

It’s not a fair match and they either need to hold back or you should prevent him from getting in there. There’s a massive strength difference between 16 and 18 even. So 13 and 18 is simply way too much.


Mark November 4, 2015 at 1:18 am

Thanks for the reply and the advice johnny , will speak to his trainers tonight , The thing is because of his size they wont put him in with lads hes own age because he would be to much for them and as he is a good boxer his trainers want him to go amateur very soon !!! So his trainer its all about him looking good moving about and not brawling , but when he spars against another club all they want to do is try and take his head off and hes supposed to just move and look good !!! Which is hard when the other guy is just trying to brawl , thanks again for the reply and will talk it out with his trainers later


Mark November 4, 2015 at 2:20 am

I johnny ive posted my lads last gym show to your Facebook page would be great if you could take a look and offer any advice
Thanks again johnny great site


Chav December 21, 2015 at 11:01 pm

Wow thank you so much. I’ve been boxing for some time and want to start sparring. My first intro was horrid, as my trainer was not “at my level” and o I’ve shied away but today I spoke with some classmates and now reading this article, I feel ready to try again. I’m really grateful for the focus you give here. Superb superb tips, I’m so appreciative, thank you!!


Karma March 29, 2016 at 3:24 am

Hey there, Iv been learning boxing for a year now but I have moved to a new city for work. My trainer sparred with me on a regular basis, which I felt has helped me improve a lot. We had a sparring session right off the bat, from my first lesson onwards. I noticed that punches hurt, because they are meant to. What is 50% for someone can be 75% for someone else even at the same weight category and that if it gets too much you need to stop. However he would always show me what I did wrong after each session and how to correct it. I am now at a point where I can withstand and trade (at 50%) for at least three rounds without getting battered. A good sparring partner and a good sparring session is exactly what you described. Love your site…


Bruno March 29, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Good evening Johnny i startes boxing in february i love the sport and all. My resistance is regular i can handle the entire training sessions. Today i had my first spar and my opponent was a boy maximum age of 15 (im 19) said boy fights in tournaments and all but the thing is… I just coudnt hit the boy! I threw lots of jabs and all but he always found and opening. At my gym they want us to use the most basic stance where you put both hands up and lean down a bit but i feel confortable fighting using thomas hearns’s stance (big fan of his haha). When i changed to said stance the boy backed down and i could hit him! But soon the teacher told me to go back to the basic stance. What should i do? I told him i feel confortable with stance but he told me all the weakness from thomas’s stance and then i had to return to the basic stance and then the boy which i cannot blame destroyed me again. So uuuh you recommend i follow his style or i try my own which i feel confortable? Im 1,73m 60kg. Sorry for my bad english haha. Keep on punching!


Bruno March 29, 2016 at 8:53 pm

Also im southpaw


Lucas January 24, 2017 at 5:47 pm

I had my first sparring session last Thursday and got banged up pretty bad, I even thought my nose and ribs were broken but luckily they were just bruised/swollen. My first round was decent but I was so tired in the second round I could barely even punch let alone move around the ring. Mid way through the second round my sparring partner had me against the ropes unleashing a barrage of punches, I wasn’t throwing anything back so my trainer stopped the session. I’m not afraid of sparring but I’m afraid of getting a broken nose or broken ribs, it would be a burden on my family since I don’t have a job right now but I don’t want to quit boxing.


Johnny N January 24, 2017 at 5:48 pm

Wear headgear that has a facebar and spar lighter until you’re more able to protect yourself at higher intensity.


Michael February 7, 2017 at 6:12 pm

Thank you for this. I brought myself down after sparring last night and I needed someone to tell me what you wrote here.


Pretty February 23, 2017 at 4:35 am

I had a sparring session and the dude hits abit too hard man especially when you eat a right straight or a jab. Cudnt do anything i was very hesitant to throw my left coudnt even land my jab felt pretty useless in a the first round got beat up for 4-6 rounds i was pretty calm everytime i got hit i dealt with it pretty well but i felt like a hopless the whole 6 rounds and embarassed but i tried to remember what works.. two techniques worked the whole night. I start southpaw shift to orthodox throw straight right to the body my head is out of the center of attack it worked several times and landed too many times . And parry right throw left but yeah jus felt so useless
Thanks for the article johnny i look at these all the time


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