Old School Sparring

By Elli Attias

Problem: Sparring between training partners tends to be more aggressive than one’s preliminary intention. Potential hazards: Physical injuries, bad training atmosphere, and ill learning process due to a usage of unnecessary force, focusing on the one big blow instead of rhythmic, flow multi hitâ combinations. Possible reasons for a rigid sparring:

  • A lack in communication: verbal signals suggest that all is well, while body language orders you to be alert.
  • Escalation in violence due to misconduct: intentionally or not, one does not act according to what is considered acceptable; the partner reacts by escalating his reactions.

Suggested remedies for rigid sparring:

I call it the Muai Tai way, just for reference. It begins by constructing the training session as follows:

  1. Repeating basic techniques alone at the beginning of the lesson, supervised by trainer. Gradually, the sequences get more elaborate and complex. This is the time in which the trainee is working alone, honing his moves while facing ever increasing physical demands.
  2. Drills, executed with a partner, require working by the book: each technique should be executed with full intention, maximum accuracy, and significant power, usually using guards. (Shin guards, gloves, etc.) One attacks, the other defends, in a role. It is common to match partners with similar physique, at first. After a while, you change partner.
  3. Heavy sparring: (Heavy = with guards) that focuses on stamina, quick response to opponent moves (tiger eye), and fight tactics. Contact is significant yet safe: one does not invest in sheer power but in speed & leverage. Techniques are tested live. In this part one can change partners often to explore various fight conditions and to defuse potentially explosive situations.
  4. Light sparring: no guards. Suitable only for partners who know the lingo, know and trust each other well enough to play.


  1. No injuries. In this level of sparring there are no "oops". Each action you took is considered to be an action you chose to take.
  2. Move! Be dynamic: no moves - no play.
  3. Minimum power.
  4. Flow.
  5. Act & react. Take turns, allows your partner to explore, let yourself in situations you wouldn’t normally do.
  6. Speed. In accordance with your partner.
  7. Contact. In accordance with your partner. See rule #1.
  8. Combinations. Low points for single hit…
  9. Rhythm.
  10. Just play.

Using an aggressive attitude in sparring makes an unimaginative, rigid fighter, while flowing/using technique/lighting up… should contribute to an open minded, adjustable fighter.The way you spar is the foundation of the way you fight.