Almost every martial art will include sparring in one way or another. Some may start it right of the bat, while other schools may wait until the student is more familiar with techniques; but either way, it is very often incorporated into training. Sparring can be a great tool for applying techniques learned in class in a less rigid and more organic activity. Despite its usefulness, many of us are not as skilled at sparring as we would like. Here in Sparring Weaknesses: A Checklist are some of the most common sparring weaknesses and how to avoid them:
Sparring Weaknesses: A Checklist:
Dropping your hands
This one is a no brainer but happens way too often. Fighters will drop their hands when they back away from the opponent, thinking that they are safe – and then get hit with a kick. Or, even more likely, they will drop their hands while kicking. Focusing on the legs and forgetting about the arms, making you a bigger target for a follow-up attack or even a simultaneous one. Keep your arms up at all times and check to make sure that those arms aren’t telegraphing any of your moves (i.e. twitch or downward movement before a kick, pulling back or clenching before a punch, etc.)
This is when the fight swings back and forth like a pendulum. One fighter will attack, then the other, going back and forth as if the opponents were taking turns. In any sparring match, you want to avoid getting into a predictable rhythm. If your opponent is more experienced, he or she will exploit that rhythm and attack off-beat catching you in the middle of a sequence. To counteract this weakness add more variety to your attacks. Maybe charge the opponent without giving them the opportunity to hit back, add in combos, or dodge their next attack and move in.
Too many people come in with a single jab or front kick thinking it’ll get the job done. While it is okay to employ some single attacks throughout your match, make sure that you aren’t relying on them. Try adding in a low and a high strike, or a combo that includes both hands and feet.
Many of the more timid fighters may focus on their defense in the beginning, looking to minimize the damage rather than gain advantage over their opponent. This may be a good place to start but if you are looking to improve your game, their needs to be a good balance of both defense and offense. Other people, however, may focus more on offense and neglect their defense. This weakness may not be much of a problem in the dojo, but would certainly be in a real fight. Increasing your awareness of the problem should lend to solving it. If that isn’t enough, shift your entire focus to the opposite problem. If you are a defensive fighter, try to go a round entirely offensive and vise versa. Your muscle memory should kick in and make it a fairly balanced fight of what you know and what you are focusing on.
Similarly to the offense/defense problem, some people find that they are more comfortable with either their hands or feet and will focus in on one or the other. It always comes down to balance. Entire martial arts will prioritize hands over feet or vise versa. It is really up to the individual to find what works for them within his or her style. If you feel like you are too frequently using your hands or feet, find a good technique you like and drill it like crazy. If you are more of a foot sparer, find a good hand technique and practice until it flows in easily with your sparring. From there it will be easier to add in more techniques, creating balance.
Sparring with an ego
This one is probably the most dangerous of all the weaknesses. Sparring should be used as a tool to learn and better oneself, not as a means to assert dominance or ‘win’ a match. When you focus on whose better or winning a match, the focus shifts from inward improvement to outward comparison. And although competition can be healthy and helpful, if it’s used in the wrong way people can get hurt.
Consider the last time you sparred. Do any of these sound familiar? Frequent assessments of your strengths and weaknesses are healthy in order to develop as a fighter. Don’t ever settle for average, constantly strive to be better.