A Guide to Sparring Etiquette

Sparring should be one of the most enjoyable parts of any session. It is an opportunity for you to assess how far you have improved as a martial artist and to try out any new tricks or techniques you might have learned.

Sparring should not be viewed as a competition or a chance to prove you are a better fighter than your sparring partner. Neither pride nor ego are assets in a sparring situation and you should look at every sparring session as a learning experience rather than a testing ground.

Check out this video of former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua sparring current UFC heavyweight contender Junior Dos Santos:

Although the sounds of their strikes are amplified due to the acoustics of the room they are in, it is still obvious that they are striking each other extremely gently. Their shots are not hard enough to hurt let alone bruise or cause lasting damage.

It does not matter whether you are rolling on the mat during a BJJ class or sparring with big gloves at the end of a Muay Thai session, the first rule is that you should be relaxed. If you are worried about winning or losing, then you will be tense and this will have an adverse effect on your performance. If you are worried about being hurt, then you will be afraid and this will also have an adverse effect on your performance.

Sparring is not a test of strength. A common mistake amongst beginners in BJJ is to try and use strength rather than skill when they are rolling. This is counterproductive for two reasons; firstly, if you can’t execute a submission without using sheer force, then you are probably not doing it properly and, secondly, if you rely on power instead of technique you will quickly become exhausted.

Having superior strength can make that little bit of difference when it comes to helping you finish certain submissions, but you should think of successfully executing a submission as being like turning a key in the lock. Some keys are awkward and you only really get the hang of them after unlocking a door multiple times, but attempting to use brute force will only break the key; it will never open the door.

Experienced professional fighters have the ability to mimic a real fight by throwing shots at speed, but without power. Beginners generally don’t have the necessary technique to control their strikes sufficiently to be able to throw them fast, but not hard.

For this reason it is a good idea to start out slowly and gently. Get into good habits by putting together combinations rather than just throwing one shot at a time, but make sure the impact is absolutely minimal, closer to that of petting a dog than landing a full blooded punch.
If you are sparring with someone who is much less experienced than you, then try and set the tone by demonstrating how gentle you are going to be right from the start. This will make them feel comfortable, give them the confidence to try new techniques and, crucially, make them much less likely to try and take your head off.

There are rare occasions when a trainer might want two students to spar hard, for instance, if someone is coming towards the end of their training camp and has a professional fight coming up. However these are exceptional circumstances and you should never attempt to hit your sparring partner hard unless you have been specifically told that a session should consist of hard sparring.

If you want to make the most of your sparring sessions try and remember the following rules:

1) Stay relaxed

2) Be technical (Don't use power)

3) Be gentle to your sparring partner

4) Sparring is NOT about winning and losing. It's about learning and self-improvement.

Evolve Mixed Martial Arts® is Asia's premier brand of MMA academies. With World Champions in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, Boxing, and No Gi Grappling, Evolve MMA is the top martial arts training organization in Asia. It ranks among the best martial arts academies in the world.