A dignified approach to sparring beginners

Image Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

Image Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

A couple of weeks ago I was having a chat with a friend who started white collar boxing in a local Cambridge club late last year.  He described his first day in that club in a way that many would depict as a horrifying experience. He was asked to enter the ring to spar with 5 established, fit and trained athletes from that gym, just to see “what he’s got”.  Result was, unsurprisingly, that he had a black eye and bruised nose.  In my opinion the above described event could indeed be a good approach to check who really has the guts to step into a ring without necessarily being prepared for that kind of confrontation; it’s also a great way of losing, by the dozens, potentially good students and future promising fighters, by discouraging them to continue training.

As a martial artist and a coach I find this kind of attitude very much old school and outdated; I like to teach, instil and apply what we could define as a dignified approach to sparring beginners, a methodology that encourages a novice student to starts her first steps into sparring without unnecessary risks of getting hurt.

Sparring is about putting in practice what technical lessons are teaching: techniques, combinations, foot work, attacking, defending and blocking; it all gets mixed together at fast pace and without precise order.  At first this is all very confusing and often overwhelming; for some people sparring triggers nearly irrational violent instincts while others simply freeze and get frustrated, feeling incapable of delivering decent performance.

We must assume that any decent martial arts club will have a bunch of senior students and members who are skilled in sparring and fit for fighting.  Some of them are perhaps competing at local, regional or national level.  These people have both the skill and the fitness to potentially hurt, seriously hurt, a beginner if just they wanted to.  However it makes very little sense to do that; I educate all of my students to avoid exploiting the advantage they have on beginners.

A dignified approach to sparring beginners is simply about setting your skills at a level that is slightly better than the beginner you are training with and showing her how you can score on them starting from a fairly soft level of contact.  Pressure of contact can and should be increased as and when applicable.  This methodology ensures that the advanced student is winning the round and maintains its technical superiority while it offers a list of advantages to both people sparring:

  • Better control of the fight
  • Reduced risk of injuries from both sides
  • Fostering an increasing self confidence for the beginners that ultimately helps to improve her technique and sparring skills

In some cases the dignified approach to sparring beginners becomes difficult to maintain because:

  • The beginner is learning and progressing a lot faster than expected and her techniques from one session to the other improves to a much better point
  • The beginner builds up a false illusion that her sparring skills are now sufficient to put in difficulty the advance student
  • The beginner gets enraged and starts hitting without any control

In the above cases we usually approach the problem with a few words of advice; if the beginners still misbehaves out of logical control we suggest increasing the pressure until it is enough to win the round and educate her.

So if you are a beginner you can be assured that your first sparring sessions will not be traumatic and testing what “you have got” but be aware that there are usually many people in the club that can potentially harm you so respect for your opponent is always a must.

Three key strategies for winning a kickboxing fight

Image courtesy and copyright of Duncan Grisby 2013

A kickboxing bout can be regulated by different rules and levels of contact; what seems to be growing fast and well applying to amateur athletes is the so called Light Contact or Light Continuous.  In my experience the term light probably had a different meaning when this style was first defined 20 years or so ago. Light contact was originally created as a softer version of a continuous full contact bout but, in 2013, light contact kickboxing is not as light as its name suggests.

To the contrary to what inexperienced people might assume winning a light contact fight is not about knocking somebody down but applying a strategy that aims at scoring more points than your opponent.  In fact a KO victory is just possible by accident and anybody trying to finish a fight early by KO, as it could be applied when fighting in other styles, will be subject to disciplinary actions.

In light contact the winning strategy is about keeping a nice level of pressure with attacks that actually score and a guard/defence that avoids much scoring from your opponent.  Judges will score all attacks landing in scoring areas but also take into account who is actually attacking most and who is dominating the fight.  It is always preferable for you to set the pace and the style of the bout you are fighting but, if your opponent starts very aggressively since the beginning and tries to impose his/her strategy, you might need to quickly control his/her enthusiasm.

As we are talking about kickboxing fight we should remember that a good looking fight should have attacks that combine and alternate both punches and kicks.

Here a few strategies that could help you winning:

Machine gun attack

If you have lots of stamina you could simply keep attacking and putting positive pressure on the opponent; if you are facing a less fit opponent he/she will soon close into a defensive guard and you’ll have an easy victory. If your opponent is as fit as you or more you might need to adapt your strategy to one of the next ones.


It a simple strategy based on keeping the distance and launching attacks based on combinations of kicks and punches; you blitz into reaching distance, hit a few times possibly scoring once or twice and get back out of range.  If you manage to impose your own attacks and force the opponent to accept your strategy you will look as the dominating fighter in the ring and, as long as you land a few scores per round while keeping a decent guard, you will win.  This second strategy works well if your fitness is good but not enough to implement and maintain the machine gun attack

Wait and counter

This strategy requires excellent timing skills so that you can intercept or anticipate your opponent’s attacks and score while he/she is attacking you.  You should have enough speed to catch them unprepared and enough power to disrupt their strategy when they are trying to implement a machine gun or blitzing attack.  This strategy could be the one requiring the least amount of stamina but you should never underestimate how fit and powerful your opponent might be and where he/she will be pushing the fight.

I cannot think of a fight where just one of this strategies could be applied on its own; also you can make all plans of this world but if they do not fit with your opponent you must be prepared to have a plan B.