The general progression of traditional combat sports training involves introduction, technique, drills, sparring and finally competition. The transition from drills to live sparring is a very daunting leap within the facet of overall training because it involves an athlete being introduced to an adversarial situation with reprisal strikes. Strikes, combinations, escapes, and blocks are all very methodical in practice, yet their actually application within the moment, and with someone actively attacking, changes every scope of an athlete’s training and thought process. Sparring should be introduced slowly and progressively to whatever outlets of combat sports that an athlete wishes to improve upon. Sparring builds endurance, reflexes, combat instinct, experience, comfort and style. This is how to introduce sparring into your training to improve your overall abilities. Whatever your opinion of the 80’s martial arts films, the undeniable fact is that bags, bricks, boards, and pads don’t hit back.
1) Stand Up Sparring- Begin your sparring with strikes from the neck-down only, at 30-40% power. This will help acclimate and transition your strikes, defense and pain tolerance from drills and bags to active sparring. Move slowly and break down the motions, and realize the dynamic of a striking exchange. Begin to instinctively defend yourself at all times, keep your attacks fast and controlled, keep your core tight in order to defend the body. Too often combat sports athletes develop over confidence from constant bag and pad work that leaves them on their back once they face an actual opponent, so as always, check your ego at the door and work on self improvement. As you develop your comfort level and application of skills with your style, use headgear and start to slowly introduce head shots with blocking and slips. The key to stand up sparring is to keep your strikes at a reduced level enough to improve, and not injure yourself or opponent. Progress your strikes up to around 75% at your highest level and keep in mind that power does not equate progression, speed or defense.
2) Grappling Sparring- Once you have developed your arsenal with an adequate level of submissions, escapes, and sweeps through training and drills, begin to expose yourself to live sparring. Set yourself at 5 minutes per round beginning to build your endurance by going through multiple rounds and opponents. The key will be to actively seek out and attempt submissions, while actively defending yourself.
3) Mixed Martial Arts Sparring- If you are pursuing mixed martial arts proficiently either for fitness, self defense or competition, you must integrate both aspects in active sparring. Use both aspects of stand up and grappling sparring but practice take downs, take down defense, the clinch and returning to your feet from the ground. To acclimate to this integration begin slow, and light. Be careful with knees and elbows during the clinch and take downs as these can really do a tremendous amount of damage due to the concentrated area of impact, and ability to open cuts easily. With ground and pound training, concentrate more on position, balance and technique on a defending opponent while developing power on a floor bag.
Sparring can be done anywhere and with training partners of any skill level. Follow this basic outline and develop your over athletic ability as a combat sports athlete.
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