There’s a difference between sparring and fighting. Fighting destroys you whereas sparring develops your skills! Want to get better without getting beat up? Learn how to spar correctly!
*NOW TOUCH GLOVES!
Training on equipment only develops your technique,
training in the ring develops your fighting skills!
Sparring is probably the most important training aspect of being a fighter. Sparring goes beyond punching and defense. This is where you actually learn to fight. You get to see what works and what doesn’t. You find out exactly what needs to be improved. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many beginners—they only find out how tough they are or aren’t. After seeing way too many boxers getting destroyed in sparring, it just hit me that most beginners don’t know how to spar!
You might have gone through this when you first started: You step into the gym, learn the basic footwork, basic defense, and all the punches. And then the question arrives, “When do I get to fight?!”
You’ve been fantasizing about it long ago, you’re just itching to punch anything that moves. You don’t care about sparring! You don’t want to “spar”, you want to fight! You’re tired of beating up the heavybag and now you wanna go Mike Tyson on somebody!
Or maybe you’re the different kind of fighter. You tried out boxing to conquer your fears and you fell in love with the intellectual part of it. You love the idea of having to think fast and make split second decisions. Boxing isn’t fighting to you, it’s more like a video game with you being the player.
Regardless of which fighter you are, the result is always the same. You get put into the ring and told to “just fight” the other opponent. Sure, they tell YOU to go easy but what about the other guy? You were going easy but the other guy hit you hard first…and so you had to retaliate. If you’re lucky, you were put in with a beginner that’s even worse off than you. He could barely defend himself and here you are beating up him just as you were told to do.
You might feel great about landing all those punches but one day you find yourself in his position. Your trainer puts you in with someone with more skills or size on you, and he likes to fight. This time is going to be different. This guy doesn’t care about you and will stop at nothing to destroy you. Taking punches as an inexperienced boxer is a lot less fun than you thought. This isn’t a Rocky movie anymore. Having heart means nothing. The harder you fight back, the harder you get beat up. Having to choose between getting beat and getting beat up is a tough decision to make. Unfortunately, it’s your opponent that has the power to choose, not you.
I really REALLY hate trainers that start out beginning boxers that way. Some trainers actually know how to develop a fighter from controlled sparring to full sparring. However, there are too many trainers that prefer the sink-or-swim method of testing a brand new fighter to see if he’s “got what it takes” to be a fighter. The sink-of-swim method, in my opinion, is a really messed up way to train someone. I blame the recent fall of boxing’s popularity on this practice alone. This is NOT how you train someone. Beginner skateboarders don’t jump off rooftops. Beginner gymnastics don’t start with a backflip to “test their potential”. So why are beginning boxers forced to prove a higher level skill without first being given the chance to develop their potential? Some trainers don’t want to waste their time with individuals that don’t have the natural aggression. I can’t help but argue that the same temperament that wins gym fights is the not the same temperament that wins championships. Any street thug can win a gym brawl using well-practiced backyard fight tricks. Enter the same thug into a Golden Glove tournament with his wild swings and over-confident mentality and I promise you a different result.
The practice of having young fighters destroy each other is stupid. These trainers aren’t just destroying the fighters, they’re destroying the sport.
Sparring is NOT fighting.
Sparring is to develop skills, not to determine a winner.
And therein lies the truth. Learn how to spar correctly and you will become a better fighter in much less time. Don’t waste time by trying to win all your sparring matches. Winning is easy…just keep doing something you’re already good at and do it against an inferior opponent. Sparring properly however, requires you to control yourself a bit and focus on skills that need more practice. Sure you might get hit but that’s what controlled sparring is for. Controlled sparring allows you to work on new techniques without getting beat up for making mistakes.
- Don’t be too proud to admit to people that you need the pace to be easier and that you need the shots to be lighter. if you’re scared of getting hit, you need to slow down the pace. You’re not a sissy for requiring more time to get use to things. You have to give yourself a FAIR chance in the fight to learn. Getting beat up by someone more trained (or more natural at fighting) than you proves nothing more than that you can take punishment.
- Tell your sparring partner that he’s too fast. Ask him for tips on what you should do…he’s the one fighting you, he may know you better than your trainer does! (It’s never too late to turn a sparring session into a friendly class.) Be humble and don’t act like you’re better than others (even if it’s true). Show respect and let people know that you appreciate their knowledge. Beginner boxers do not get better magically overnight without ever having to learn from more experienced boxers. Slow down the pace, so that your eyes can see EVERY microscopic detail about your opponent’s form, movement, and technique. At the same time, you will be more aware and able to focus on your own techniques and see where they might have left you open.
- Do not be deustchbag. Give your sparring partner a chance to fight. This improves YOUR SKILLS in 2 ways. One is that you’re giving him a chance to learn, so he’s going to get better…which in turn makes you better because you’re now training with a better opponent. The second is that you WANT to spar with a confident opponent. Let him fight back and give him a chance to test you.
- You want to spar against a more capable opponent, right? Then give him a chance. Don’t shut him out by over-powering him or using tricky moves that scare the crap out of him. Give him a chance to fight so that you have a live opponent that throws punches against you and tests your skills better. There is no need to show off against a beginner…doing that only impresses other beginners anyway.
- Save your tricky tactics and KO power for competitions. Competition opponents are the guys you want to knockout and shut out of the fight. These are the guys you want to beat up and not even give them a chance to come back at you. Respect the sparring partners in your gym. They will respect you in return and always be willing to help you in any way they can. They may even give you some helpful tips since they are not afraid of you using them to beat them up.
I’m not asking for you to tie your hands behind and make things unnecessarily challenging for you. I’m simply asking for you to allow your opponent’s strengths to shine.
You always want the best out of your sparring partners
so that they may bring out the best in you.
Yes, I understand that sparring should at least mimic real fighting and prepare fighters for real fights but this higher level of sparring should only be for fighters that are USE to fighting. Beginners are nowhere near their fighting potential and their sparring intensity should be controlled as much as possible.
So you understand it now: Sparring is supposed to be easy and controlled so that both fighters get a chance to learn and improve. Here are some great basic sparring routines used by gyms to develop great beginner boxers! Take your time and enjoy each one. I’ve been boxing for years and still enjoy simple jab sparring by being creative and goofing off with my sparring partners.
Getting Comfortable In The Ring
Punching VS Trained Fighter
A great way to start off a beginner is to have him throw punches against an experienced trainer or fighter who will not punch back. Don’t pit the beginner against someone only slightly better. The beginner might land a good punch which challenges the other fighter’s ego into firing back. It’s better to put the beginner in with someone muuuuuuch better who can take the punch and defend without returning fire. Adjust the beginner on form, breathing, offense, defense, etc.
Shadowbox in the Ring
First time boxers aren’t use to standing face to face across another person. In this drill, two beginners will shadowbox against each other in the ring. You move around like a real fight, except you’re 6-12 inches out of range so nobody actually connects with any punches. This can be done with just handwraps on (good for warming up), or with gloves on so both of you can get used to the weight of gloves.
You’re not throwing just random punches whenever you feel like anymore. You gotta pay attention to the man in front of you. Respond to his punches as you throw your own. You have to move when he moves at you, and you throw punches when you see openings. This should be your first exposure to spontaneity in boxing training where you’re no longer throwing punches when you feel like (like you would on a heavy bag).
Here’s your first chance to practice making contact with each other, but very lightly. Move around the ring and take turns catching each other’s jab. Each person takes a few steps in any direction and then throws a jab as the other one catches. Be calm and smooth. Don’t worry about scoring. Pay attention to your balance, your stance, and form. Try not to get out of balance when you throw a jab or defend against one.
You guys are not supposed to hit each other hard, no “rocket jabs”. Both fighters are not allowed to get closer than arms length. The goal is to get use to throwing and catching each other’s punches. The goal is not to actually land jabs, so the fighters should be throwing easy jabs at each other to make catching easier.
5 Jab Drill
It’s like the catching jabs drill but now each boxer throws 5 at a time before they switch. This time you want to get a little more creative in throwing and defending against the jabs. Don’t always aim for the head. Try aiming for the body, chest, shoulders, or elbows. You can throw your 5 jabs anyway you want. 2 quick ones and 3 slow ones. Or all 5 thrown one at a time. You can throw the jabs anyway they want but you have to keep arms distance when you jab.
The defender can avoid the jabs anyway he wants. He can block with the right hand or right arm. He can parry if he wants, it doesn’t matter. The defender is also free to move entirely out of range if he wants and just let the jab hit air. As long as the defender isn’t jumping out of balance to avoid the jabs, moving in and out of range is a great boxing skill to learn.
Another good variation of this drill is to just throw 2 jabs at a time instead of 5. Each boxer will take turns throwing double-jabs at each other. The defending boxer has to catch the first one and slip or out-maneuver out of the way of the second one.
1-2′s (three punch maximum)
Both boxers are now allowed to use their right hand, but combinations are limited to only 3 punches. Both fighters will take turns throwing 1-3 punch combinations using a straight right if they wish. No hooks or uppercuts allowed. The defender is not allowed to counter, he can only block. This prepares both fighters to absorb right hands. Again, the power should be light!!!
Now the boxers are free to spar using ONLY their jabs. Again, no powerful rocket jabs allowed! The boxers don’t have to go back and forth taking turns anymore. They can attack and defend at will. Pay attention to form and balance. Make sure the back hand doesn’t drop while they are throwing the jab. Use offensive jabs, defensive jabs, and counter-jabs. Don’t just aim for the head, throw some at the body or even the other boxer’s guard to test his defense.
Very light sparring using only jabs and crosses. Use only 25% power. But how do you define 25% power?! I’ll make it easy: your punches should be light enough that the punch doesn’t hurt at all if it lands flush on the face. The moment one hits too hard that an impact sound can be heard, there should be a trainer to immediately stop them and slow the pace down again.
The focus is on offense, not defense. Both fighters should be throwing more punches than moving and try to stay without punching range. They are not allowed to jump in and out of punching range. They are also not allowed to flinch. If you see one fighter closing his eyes, immediately slow the pace down again. In the very beginning, this pace can be frustratingly slow. Both fighters may even feel like they’re fighting in slow motion but it has to be done. It gives them a chance to really see what their opponents are doing. You want fighters to learn how to box using their eyes as opposed to using their memory and just ducking punches in anticipation.
Same as 1-2 sparring but both fighters are now allowed to use the jab, cross, and hook. Again, very light and performed at 25% power.
All punches allowed! Jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts, everything! Again, 25% power and controlled pace. Not allowed to move to use quick offense or quick defense. They are not allowed to flinch or quickly jerk their head out of range. If they missed the block, just take the shot (it shouldn’t hurt) and worry about the next one coming. No flinch blocking allowed! They are definitely not allowed to outspeed each other. Allowing 2 fighters to spar with speed very quickly becomes a game of power and then straight brawling not too long after.
Going slow is the proper way to work individuals into sparring and give them a chance to use what they learned, instead of them destroying each other like a bunch of wild animals.
How to know when fighters are going too fast or too hard.
They are hitting hard.
- This is pretty obvious. If you hear a giant smacking sound when punches land, stop the session immediately and make them lighten up by just throwing touching punches again. Tell them to think of their punches as “tagging” each other instead of loaded punching.
They’re flinching (or closing their eyes).
- Flinching is not a good thing—closing your eyes in a real fight leaves you defenseless against punches you can’t see. Make sure they’re going slow enough that they can keep their eyes open and not flinch in anticipation. Keep slowing down the fight so everyone has a chance to see what’s going on right in front of them. Another way to keep fighters from flinching is to disallow tricky tactics. Everyone is supposed to just throw the classic boxing combinations. Lots of jabs with some right hands. No crazy uppercuts and long range left hook leads!
They are making panic movements.
- This is the same as flinching but instead of with the eyes, it’s with the body. You can always tell if it’s a panic movement when you see a boxer jerk his head out of the way or quickly try to slap a glove away. Again, control them. Tell them that if they didn’t see the shot, don’t worry about it. Let the punch land and just focus on the follow-up shots which are probably more dangerous. Block what you can and don’t worry about the rest. Do NOT chase down every punch and try to slap or out maneuver every punch.
They spend more time running than punching.
- There’s nothing wrong with moving and using footwork. The problem is that the fighters are probably going too hard or too fast and so they don’t want to engage much. For the sake of getting accustomed to sparring, you want them to be at arm’s reach more and work with each other. Instead of jumping in and out of range and fighting only one punch at a time, you want them to stay in range and fight in combinations. Again, they should be sparring so light that they can take entire combinations without getting jarred.
They’re getting tired.
- If you’re getting tired and getting injured, you’re going too hard! You’re also not supposed to be scared! So make sure you’re man enough to turn down the pace where both fighters can enjoy sparring for 8-10 rounds easy. Even on days I’m tired, I can still go 15 rounds of sparring, work on techniques, and still have a great time in the ring. I achieve this by simply slowing down the pace. Every now and then I have to ask my opponent to slow down and he does it happily because he wants to keep sparring too! Remember…
Training on bags and mitts only develops technique.
Training in the ring develops fighting skills.
So if you want to become a good boxer faster, try to spend more time in the ring; but this will only be possible if you slow down the pace so that you don’t get tired too quickly. I think it’s so silly that people will train on a heavy bag for 2 hours and then completely gas out in the ring in just 3 rounds. That’s only 9 minutes of skill development! And they wonder why they work so hard yet make little progress over the months.
Don’t mess up a good workout by getting tired!
They’re not enjoying it.
- The is the biggest error of improper boxing sparring, and boxing training in general. If you don’t enjoy sparring, you are not enjoying boxing! Sparring is the closest aspect to boxing-fighting, it’s truest form of the sport. You have to love sparring! It’s beyond winning or being tough. It’s about the skills, the technique, and the beauty of it all. Learn to love sparring…not because it’s manly but because you have fun even when you’re tired or outclassed or not having a good day. This is only possible by enforcing controlled sparring conditions.
Controlled Sparring Theory
Controlled sparring is what skilled boxers use to develop their boxing skills. That’s the secret. The best gyms I’ve seen spar softly. Sure, they might look like they’re going intense but they’re really not. It’s fighters who are comfortable with each other and trust each other to pull back when exchanges are won and so they are able to go a little faster and a little harder. However, their increased intensity is STILL controlled. They are not wailing on each other or chasing each other into the corners and trying to get a KO. They are landing beautiful combinations and avoiding many punches along the process. Their footwork isn’t panicky, it’s smooth and relaxed but swift when it needs to be.
Let me give you another reason why you don’t want to spar hard:
If you spar too hard,
you will tire prematurely and get less sparring practice.
Think about it. You can be foolish and burn all your energy in just 3 rounds by sparring at 100% intensity. Or you can slow down the pace so that you can work in the ring for 10-15 rounds easily. I’m going to bet all my money that the boxer that spars 10-15 rounds in one session (testing his skills) is going to get better faster than the one that only spars 3 and tests only his conditioning. Sparring is when you practice and develop most of your boxing skills. So you want to be able to spar as long as possible. Once you get tired, you won’t have the energy to practice your skills. The sparring simply turns into an endurance workout, which does nothing for your skills. Anybody can get in shape with just 2 months; developing boxing skills will take years.
Don’t try to win a sparring match.
Push yourself physically in sparring, but not the point to where you can’t learn anything. Develop your skills, correct your weaknesses, and get use to “fighting”. But don’t spar with the attitude of trying to “win”. When you’re a beginner without developed boxing skills, it’s too tempting to want to use anything other than skills to win. You might decide to rely on your superior endurance, or size, or that hard right hand shot. If you win this way, you’ll learn nothing. You won’t be any better after the sparring than you were before you got in there.
You also shouldn’t be trying to knockout your opponent. If you blow your opponent out early, your workout is too easy and you don’t get to work on the higher level skills. Defeat your opponent too easily and you will have only gotten a heavy bag’s worth of exercise. Give you opponent a chance to move with you and you benefit from a greater workout! Let that sparring become a dance, with both of you getting more and more comfortable with each other. Using more punches and using more movement. You want a partner who will get better and test your more so give him a chance to fight back.
The worst part about destroying a fighter in sparring is that you might have destroyed his spirit forever. This sounds cool in the movies but in person it’s horrible. Back when I was younger, I use to be the jerk that tried to destroy everyone. I don’t know what the hell was wrong with me but I made many fighters quit and I never saw them in the gym again. They might have loved the sport but they sure as hell didn’t enjoy it in the ring. Sure, boxing isn’t for everyone but I still feel terrible for making people quit a beautiful sport forever. Nowadays, I refuse to brutalize anyone in a sparring match and I’m very proud of having grown past that. I NEVER throw a punch above 75% power anymore, and the beauty is: I don’t need to anymore. Beating up sparring opponents using only power is a cowardly way to train. Just find anybody weaker than you and you will have yourself an easy day.
Now what if you’re on the losing end of a sparring match? Is your opponent being a jerk and just trying to KO you? He’s a coward if he’s doing that. Just stand up for yourself and let him know, or your trainer know that he’s going much too hard. And that he’s not giving you a chance to work. If you feel uncomfortable, just get the hell out of the ring. You do not owe anybody an ass-beating to prove anything to anybody. This is your health and your experience in the sport. If your sparring is taking away your ability to learn and enjoy boxing, you need to take responsibility and just step out of the ring. A real man respects his limits and accepts the responsibility to protect himself.
Sparring is a time for you AND your opponent to help develop each other’s skills by practicing real boxing moves in a real boxing environment. It is not the time for both fighters to try and beat each other up. Having an opponent close up his defense and run from you will not develop your skills in the ring. Give him a chance to work and be the best he can be, so that he may push you to be the best you can be. Save that “winning” attitude for competitions.