Your first sparring session is always a bit nerve-wracking. You’re a low ranking color belt who’s only been training a couple of months and you’re surrounded by black belts of varying degrees who’ve been at it for years. How could you possibly survive a sparring session with them? This is something every newcomer to the Dojo will experience.
So, how do you survive your first sparring session?
1: Pay Attention
Pay attention to everything that’s being said and done on the mat. When the instructor is explaining the rules, listen and make sure you understand them. Don’t focus exclusively on your sparring partner and remember there are other matches going on around you.
2: Avoid Patterns
Patterns, in sparring, are habits developed over the course of a match. If you keep doing the same set of moves in the same order every time you spar, it’ll make you predictable and easy to beat.
3: Keep Moving but Pace Yourself
If you don’t move, you get knocked out! This is what tends to happen with rookies, they’re not sure what they’re supposed to do and so they tend to freeze which results in them basically spending the whole session getting beaten up. That said, you need to pace yourself. Don’t blast through all your energy at once. It’s better to conserve your energy and survive multiple matches than to burn through it all at once.
4: Follow the KISS Principle
KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t try anything flashy going into your first sparring session. I see this all the time with newbies. They watch a couple of videos on YouTube, come to class, and try some ridiculously complicated technique and fail. This results in them getting beaten up, but it can also lead to some nasty injuries.
You can’t go off half-cocked because you think you can do something you saw in a video. Keep it simple: front, side, and roundhouse kicks will do the job just as well as any spinning or jumping kick.
5: Don’t Think Too Much
I’m not saying you shouldn’t think while you fight, but you shouldn’t overthink what you’re doing. Go with your momentum and do what comes naturally. If your weight and momentum are carrying you forward and turning your body, go with it – a kick with extra momentum behind it has more force when it connects.
Bonus Tip and a Word of Warning
As a bonus tip, communicate with your partner. Your partner is going to put some pressure on you. If you can’t handle the pressure, ask them to back off a bit. Most experienced guys will only meet force with equal force. However, as a word of caution, don’t make your partner angry!
You’re trying to learn and score points; you’re not trying to kick your sparring partner’s head off his or her shoulders! If that’s your approach, you’ll end up frustrating and angering your partner and they’ll be more than happy to raise the level of contact from light to moderate or from moderate to full contact. If you’re a rookie, this can be a big issue as won’t be able get near them to score points or land a hit without the risk of receiving a nasty kick or punch.
Want to be respected on the mat? Respect your training partners.
I should stress that these are things that come out of my personal experiences. Your experiences will differ from mine. That said, your first session is going to be a bit nerve-wracking, and the first few sessions will suck in general because you’re always being beaten up. I hope these tips will help you get through that initial sparring session and help you to enjoy it as much as I do.
In closing, I’d like to say thanks for reading, keep safe and I’ll see you for the next one!