When it comes to fighting, there is no argument that it’s one hell of a tough sport. But how is toughness really built into fighters? Is must be all the long hours in the gym rotating through countless sessions of hard sparring, right? How many UFC and boxing highlights have we seen featuring fighters battering their sparring partner in the days leading up to a fight?
“Pain is the best way to learn,” they say. “Iron sharpens iron… Spar hard, easy fight.”
These adages are as old as time and exist across disciplines and sports. If you’ve ever trained to fight, you know these push-through-the-pain maxims by heart, mostly because your coach has shouted them at you in the middle of hard sparring sessions. Encouragement like this has been shown to help fighters move past their limits, mentally condition themselves to eat hard shots, and alleviate the fear of contact.
That said, hard sparring is...
Recently, kickboxer “Bazooka” Joe Valtellini and former boxer Paulie Malignaggi got into a spat on Twitter over whether hard or light sparring is the way to go. Joe’s argument was that hard sparring leads to unnecessary brain trauma going into a fight and it’s part of the reason why he had to retire quite young.
Paulie’s counter argument basically amounted to: “Don’t be a pussy.”
It’s a debate that will never really have a clear concrete answer, largely in part because we simply don’t have enough research into brain trauma, especially in regards to Muay Thai fighters, and partly because there are inherent benefits to both.
Sparring The Thai Way
The common argument in favor of sparring light, in the same way that professional fighters in Thailand do, is that less brain trauma sparring means more potential...
Without hard sparring, is a fighter truly ready for the ring?
Sparring should always be a technical, learning experience. It should not be a bi-weekly event where you have a 90% chance of getting a concussion for no good reason. That being said, there are benefits to hard sparring, but only when it is controlled.
What does “controlled” hard sparring mean? Controlled hard sparring is sparring with more power – enough to make your sparring partner move a bit and make them think twice before eating another shot. What makes this different than just regular hard sparring is the control part, meaning you’re not aiming to knock them out or break their ribs. You are constantly gauging the situation to prevent any disasters from...