Scared of getting punched in the face?
Worried about wearing a body kick on your ribs?
Don’t like the pain of getting your kicks checked?
Well, believe it or not, you are not alone. Almost everyone who starts out training Muay Thai has the same fears you do. They don’t want to get hurt. They don’t want their pretty face punched in. They avoid sparring because they are worried about being embarrassed or beat up.
Unfortunately, whether you like it or not, if you want to improve your technique and actually become competent in the art of Muay Thai, you are going to have to face your fears at one point or another.
You are going to have to come to terms with pain, anxiety, and fear. You are going to have to be a little crazy if you want to be successful in the art of eight limbs.
Now I don’t mean to brag but, I’m really good at getting punched in the face (my mom is so proud). Not only that, but I’ve taken my fair share of head kicks and knees to the ribs that I’ve been able to shake off as well (I eat that shit for breakfast!). I’ve had over 20 fights without being knocked down or stopped. Hell, I even fought 4 rounds with a broken arm and was able to win! What do I attribute all of this to?
Not just any training, but specific types of training that help me toughen up, learn how to take hits, and force me to learn how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. If you want to learn how to take a punch, here are the best Muay Thai sparring tips I have for you:
Nothing will get you more accustomed to being hit than being hit. Although this is a relatively obvious observation, many people neglect to do simple partner sparring drills. Not only will drilling with a partner improve your ability to take a hit, but it will also improve your reaction speed, counters, timing, footwork, defense, and overall Muay Thai technique. Here are three Muay Thai drills that I find to be very effective:
Light, Simple Combos (1 for 1) – These types of Muay Thai drills are great for beginners since it will get you used to actually using your techniques in an actual fight scenario. Before you start, you and your partner should have your sparring gloves on (ideally 16oz).
Start by standing in front of each other and exchanging single strikes. You throw a jab, then your partner throws a jab. If you want to work on getting hit in the face, let the jab land on your nose… just make sure you and your partner aren’t going 100%! If you want to work on defense, then either parry, slip, or block the jab. Whatever you do, try to see the punch all the way through.
From there you can start to mix it up by using crosses, hooks, and uppercuts. Work on either taking the punch or on your defensive Thai boxing techniques to avoid getting hit. As you and your partner become more and more comfortable with each other, feel free to add multiple strike combos and/or more power to your strikes. Once you get comfortable with your hands, then start to add some kicks to the drill.
This is an intermediate/advanced boxing drill, but can be used with beginners as well as long as they have some control in their boxing technique.
Nothing will get you better at taking a hit than not being able to get out of your opponents striking range. This intense drill not only will force you to stand and exchange with your partner, but it will also help you become comfortable even when you’re in an uncomfortable position. A really tight defense is key if you want to avoid getting hit hard, but even with a tight defense you can expect to take your fair share of shots.
Have you and your partner strap on sparring gloves and headgear. Use a rope to tie you and your partner together so you are both in each others boxing range. Now box! (No kicking otherwise the rope can get tangled). I like to do 100% to the body and 50-75% to the head, regardless whether or not we are wearing headgear.
Check out the video to watch me get beat up:
The dutch are famous for their hard sparring sessions, but what most people don’t know is that they go equally as hard in their drills.
If you consider yourself advanced (or at least intermediate) then working on counter drills with a partner is a great way to build muscle memory. Nothing is as cool as automatically returning your opponents strike with an effective, powerful counter. Doing drills like the one below is a great way to toughen up your body, learn to take hits, react with solid counters, and build your entire skill set simultaneously.
Wait, you can learn how to take a hit when you are working pads? Yes – but only if you have a solid pad holder.
I see way too many people neglect working on their defense when they are hitting pads. This isn’t necessarily their fault as much as it is their trainers/pad holders fault since it’s up to them to keep you on your toes. If you watch a quality pad holder you’ll notice that he/she is constantly checking their student’s guard with hooks, straight, and uppercuts.
Not only that, but they are constantly throwing kicks, teeps and even knees to make sure they are defending them, or at the very least, getting used to wearing them.
In Thailand, most pad holders will constantly test your defense by slapping you hard with their pads and throwing full force kicks (ideally with shin guards on). In the states, the top trainers do this, but it is very common for many to neglect this crucial aspect of pad holding. You also have to consider the fact that in most classes you have to hold pads as well. So, when you find yourself holding pads for someone, be a good partner by throwing some strikes at your partners face to help build their defense and overall awareness.
On the other side of the coin, make sure to speak up when working with someone who is just going through the motions and not testing your defense!
I know I said it before, but it’s worth repeating; nothing will get you more accustomed to being hit than being hit – and there’s no better place to work on getting hit than during a sparring session.
People ask me all the time how they can stop being afraid of getting punched in the face. My advice is almost always the same and it’s as simple and obvious as it can get… get punched in the face!
Think about it this way. You’re watching a scary movie and almost shit your pants 10 times throughout the two hours you watch it. Since you’re a badass you decide to watch it again, but this time you only shit your pants 7 times because you knew more of what to expect. A week later, you watch it once more and now your only going through 4 pairs of boxers. The more you watch it, the more you know what to expect… I know it’s a weird analogy, but it’s the same concept with sparring.
When you first spar, you have no idea what to expect and chances are you suck at it (it’s ok, everyone sucks when they first spar. I actually got my nose broken my first ever session). You get owned and take more than your fair share of body kicks and face punches, but you’re still alive, right?
After sparring consistently for another month, you start to get more used to the anxiety before a sparring session and you get more used to taking a punch to the face. You still get hit and you still get your ass kicked, but it’s not nearly as bad as when you first started. But you’re a tough mother fucker and you know that in order to be successful in this sport you gotta be tough as nails.
Six months go by. You’ve been sparring consistently although you have had your fair share of bruises, sprains and injuries… but you don’t make excuses because that’s what weak people do.
Since you’ve been working hard and are incredibly determined to get better, you start to pick up on the habits of your sparring partners and now you start to do the ass kicking. You start to counter off your partners jab and see more openings when your partner throws a roundhouse. You start to see and do things that only experience can teach.
If you stay consistent, persistent, determined, and mentally strong through your training, it will just be a matter of time until you start to see serious results. Experience is the best teacher, whether you want to believe it or not.
You have to take a beating before you can give one.
Acceptance, Perseverance and Having No Ego
I’m assuming you train Muay Thai, right? Well, sorry to break the news to you, but you’re going to get hit a lot. If you wanted to, you could avoid sparring or fighting all together, but then are you truly learning the skills and techniques of Thai boxing? Unless you test out your skills in real scenarios, it’s hard to say whether or not you actually are capable of using the techniques you learn in training.
Learning to accept the fact that you are going to get beat up every now and then will make it much, much easier on yourself when it actually happens. If you are naive and think you’ll never get beat up, you are going to be in for a very rude awakening when you get clocked with an overhand straight to your dome.
Along with acceptance, you’re going to have to develop a strong mind in order to reach your goals and succeed in Muay Thai. You can’t give up after a tough day of training where you get your ass handed to you. You can’t keep making excuses to why you miss class or avoid sparring. You have to hold yourself accountable, learn through experience, and persevere through the obstacles that are inevitably going to try to stop you from reaching your goals.
In order to succeed in any aspect of your life, you are going to have to overcome obstacles, face your fears, and step out of your comfort zone. Muay Thai is no different. I can guarantee that every successful fighter has taken their fair share of beatings and have had horrible training sessions where they’ve doubted their abilities (I know I have).
These same fighters are constantly battling inner demons that are trying to hold them back from reaching their goals and are faced with challenges on a day-to-day basis… but do they give up or make excuses to why they can’t achieve their dreams?
They use bad training sessions as motivation to work harder the next time. They take their beatings and try to learn whatever they can from them. They embrace their fears and love being challenged on a daily basis. They understand that it’s a constant learning process and without tough sparring sessions, they wouldn’t be improving.
If there wasn’t adversity on the journey to your goals, would it really be that rewarding when you reach them? I don’t think so.
You can read as many Muay Thai blog, articles, and magazines as you want, but if you don’t apply what you are learning into your training sessions, it completely defeats the purpose. All of these Muay Thai sparring tips and drills can be very effective in improving your game and help you overcome the fear of get punched in the face, but only if you do them.
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