One of my most difficult problems, as a martial arts coach, particularly in the disciplines of Muay Thai and MMA, is trying to convince my students that sparring should be carried out at a level that is manageable by practitioners and at a level that they can learn from. Unfortunately, with the majority, it becomes an ego driven battle executed at the level of a full competition fight.
I often find myself, as the coach, (I still spar with my students), starting a round with one of my students, with the objective of helping him/her to develop their ability, and then having to fight for my life as I am caught in a full power assault from the student, with little control, trying to prove himself; in fact I suffer more injuries from fighting inexperienced students then any other student. While I am willing and capable of rising to the challenge, I find it very frustrating as I cannot realistically teach my student much while he/she is locked into this full power attitude.
There is little to be gained from sparring with a more experienced and stronger opponent, using full power and speed in a sparring match, as the less experienced students just get smashed and become disillusioned. That is very old school and does not produce technically proficient well-rounded students.
In the early stages, of a competition career, this will work as the student is fighting other competitors of limited knowledge and technical ability. However, as the competition level increases so does the experience and technical ability. Whereas, in the early stages of his/her fighting experience a blitzing, full power attack would have destroyed the opposition, as the experience level of the opponents increases, so does the ability of the opponents to effectively counter such assaults.
Sparring is certainly important but it must be carried out correctly, otherwise its value is seriously compromised.
There are training schools that place the major emphasis on fighting and sparing as the means to learning the discipline that they specialize in. Their students may do well in competition initially, but their students are few and limited to those that survive. A school with that culture has developed an innate filtering process for culling students that are not going to be very successful in competition. In addition, in my experience the students that do well in these schools have usually come from a previous background where they were taught the technical skills and already have quite extensive experience learning the fundamentals.
The correct and most effective sparring cultures are found at the highest level of competition. Recently UFC fighters Johny Hendricks and Robby Lawler have both related in interviews how they do not go 100% full out in sparring, when preparing for a fight, as they cannot risk the damage that may be sustained.
By sparring at a moderate level you can think through what you are doing and identify problems in your game a lot easier. Skill at the unconsciously competent level takes time and a lot of training to develop, especially in the martial arts disciplines. Sparring is the peak of the learning methodology as it is essentially random and lacks planned control, therefore to learn from it, and progress your game, you must work at a level that allows trial and application of your learned skills.
Rob Kaman, a former world Thai boxing champion demonstrates the correct pace and power to be used in sparring in his very informative Thai boxing instruction program.
I have observed effective and good quality sparring often with a group of good friends or a couple of well adjusted brothers who have a good approach to developing their game.
At the Academy of Combat we have a culture that is focused on students developing a high quality and technically proficient overall game in the particular discipline that they wish to learn. To do this requires that students work together with an attitude of helping each other so that they can safely train and enjoy their learning experience.
Those that have a greater interest in competing undertake additional training in Fighter’s Classes that provide higher level conditioning and sparring training, however, even in these classes the sparring does not exceed a level that would compromise their learning from the sparring bout, this is usually about 80% speed, power and ferocity. Our very successful competition record testifies to the value of developing good technique and the use of controlled sparring in training.
You must enjoy and look forward to your training sessions to gain the most from them. Developing an attitude of learning with enjoyment, focused on developing your ability and working with your opponent so that both of you develop, is not only beneficial but essential if you want to maximize your ability in your chosen discipline.