Muay Thai Sparring: It’s okay not to want to get punched in the face

I still remember the first time I got hit really hard in the face. During a Muay Thai pad work session my coach hit me square in the nose with a Thai pad and I froze. As I felt the blood trickle down the back of my throat and tasted the salty liquid. It took me a minute to register that my coach was yelling at me, “Hit the fucking pads, Roxy! Keep your hands up.” I suddenly came to and returned fire with a jab cross kick and at that moment I had several realizations…

1. The guys must be going easy on me in sparring cause this was more pain than I had ever felt before

2. Getting hit sucks

3. I was angry about it

4. I really wanted to hit my coach at this point, but knew that was unacceptable

 

Girls that punch each other in the face and then hug and smile? Not so "normal" ;)

Girls that punch each other in the face and then hug and smile after? Not so “normal” 😉

I know now from years of coaching that that sequence of thoughts was not exactly “normal”. Normal for a fighter maybe, but fighters are not “normal” people. I mean, wouldn’t a normal person be like, “Damn, that hurt, I’m getting out of the ring.” Maybe a more sane reaction would have been for me to go cry in the bathroom and then cancel my gym membership when I got home. Sounds like a perfectly reasonable reaction. But no, there’s something different about fighters and those who want to fight… they go towards the pain, toward the challenge, and there is something you should know about that – we are all a bit crazy.

Muay Thai Sparring is a choice…

If you decide you want to spar I’m happy for you. It’s an amazing, learning, life changing experience, but know this – you don’t have to and if you don’t want to, it doesn’t mean you are any less than. Since Muay Thai is gaining popularity many more people are taking it up as a hobby or a sport. I think that’s fantastic. I love Muay Thai. It changed my life and I want to share it’s benefits with as many people as possible. But with this new found popularity comes some elitists and purist and some people may make you feel like you are not a true Muay Thai fan or hobbyist unless you spar. I think this is bullshit. Sparring is not for everyone. It took me a while to realize this, but as a teacher I have come to embrace everyone’s reasons for taking up Muay Thai… and guess what? Different reasons are okay.

 

Here are some thoughts and questions to consider when deciding if sparring is for you:

 

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Muay Thai training has many benefits, so there are many reasons behind training

Know your “WHY”

What drove you to take up Muay Thai training? Is your main goal fitness? Confidence? Learning a new skill? Meeting friends? Challenging your self? There are so many reasons to train Muay Thai and those reasons CAN CHANGE as you grow in the sport. Evaluate your reasons before you decide to spar. Ask yourself: Does sparring help me reach my goal?

Define what you love about Muay Thai

I am reminded many times a day what I love about the sport. Every time I see a student’s elated face after a workout I remember why I love it. It gives me purpose, confidence, passion, ambition, strength. It made me who I am today. I can’t forget that. Define why you love the sport, it will give you insight into sparring and your goals.

Through meeting challenges in Muay Thai I gained strength

Through setting and meeting challenges in Muay Thai I gained strength

 

Ask yourself what you hope to achieve through sparring

What is your goal with sparring? If you are doing it just to look cool in front of your classmates perhaps you need to rethink it. Sparring is a serious commitment, and fighting an even greater one. My reason for sparring was an insatiable need for the challenge of it. I wanted it to change me, make me stronger, meet the challenge of my fears head on. I was willing to make lots of sacrifices for this goal. No goal is without sacrifice.

 

Are you willing to risk injury?

Injuries do happen. A good school with take all the necessary precautions to make sure injury risk is minimized, but they can still happen. Most are injuries are minor, bumps, bruises, rolled ankles etc but some require time off training, or even work. Is this something you are willing to risk for you goal of improving at sparring? You really need to think about this.

 

Roxy_Balboa_Sparring_MuayThai

Sparring during training for a fight in 2010 while my boyfriend Dustin watches

Are you willing to sacrifice a busy dating life if you are female?

While guys may get more dates being fighters (and this is not a good reason to spar either, guys), women will automatically cut their dating prospects by 50% or more. I’m not kidding. It’s not just that your legs will be bruised and you can’t wear that LBD on your date without questions arising, it’s also that most (not all okay, I know there are some good ones out there) guys who don’t train Muay Thai or another combat sport will be slightly put off by your new aggressive, face punching hobby and they will probably come to resent your dedication to the sport and all your male training partners.

 

Just because you spar doesn’t mean you have to fight

This is a huge misconception, especially for beginners. If you decide to spar it’s not a requirement to fight. Fighting takes a huge commitment and a level of skill and toughness that only some students have. Choosing not to fight, or not being ready to fight even if you do spar is okay. There is a huge amount of honor in simply being a member of your team and helping with the students and fighters. Don’t let anyone push you into something you don’t honestly want to do.

 

You can still be “tough” if you choose not to spar.

Don’t let anyone belittle you for choosing not to spar. I have plenty of clients who have been training with me for years. They are proficient in their strikes and combos, they can block during pad work, they love watching fights on TV and support the gym’s fighters at events, but they don’t want to spar. No one has the right to tell you are a wimp for not sparring. It’s a personal choice. Strength comes from the inside out. We are all in a different place in our journeys. For some simply the act of working out is a HUGE accomplishment. Learning a new skill? Even bigger! Having the courage to develop power, technique and a commitment to Muay Thai means the world to some people. Let only yourself be the judge of your accomplishments. If you set goals, work hard and meet challenges you are tough, no mater what those challenges are.

 

You’re allowed to change your mind

Maybe you try sparring and after giving it a go in a few classes you decide it’s honestly not for you. Fine. No big deal. Don’t let it mean something more than just that simple fact that you changed your mind.

 

Whatever your decision be ready to let go of the judgment

We are so hard on ourselves sometimes, often harder than the world is. It’s true that our choices define us, but if you have taken an honest look at your choice and asked yourself the questions I posed, then be ready to choose and let go of any self judgment.

 

Inside or outside the ring, I always remember why I love Muay Thai

Inside or outside the ring, I always remember why I love Muay Thai

No matter how far you go always remember what you love about Muay Thai

Lifelong hobbyist, amateur fighter, professional fighter, coach – no matter where the sport takes you, some reflection about your love for Muay Thai is always good. Sometimes it’s hard to remember love for the sport, when you are cutting weight, tired hungry and cranky a week out from the fight, but that’s the best time to remember. The same goes for when you are feeling lazy and don’t want to get to your workout – remember what you love about Muay Thai think of a positive memory training and let that be your inspiration to get to the gym and train with strength, passion and dedication.

  • ldf

    Love your perspective and this piece. There’s so much unrestrained ego to be found in many muay thai gyms….definite recommended reading for beginners.

  • Cedric

    Nice insight about sparring in muay thai, I totally agree with what i read however I am getting frustrated with that “fight sports” trends where people boast practising muay thai or jujitsu or free fight but they won’t do some parts of it like sparring or go up the ring. I mean if you decide to take a sport you have to take whatever the coach tells you to, to really get the wholeness of the discipline and some kind of understand why each and every move is important. For example when you warm up the coach will often call throwing jabs but still keeping the guard which at this precise moment is meaningless but it is only when you spar that you realize such important things to ALWAYS have your hands up on guard. So I believe that when you go for a discipline you should give it a 100% try at the beginning and may be let it down later on if not appropriate but being picky on what I want to train or not is way too easy even for sport level practise, fun at most…

    • Based on your comments I see you don’t actually agree with me that it’s okay not to spar and still practice Muay Thai. That’s fine you are allowed your own opinion. However I choose to respect my students wishes who don’t want to spar. It’s not my place to attack them with judgement and fists if that is not something they are comfortable with. I am not angry or frustrated by this. As a teacher I am compassionate and understanding of people’s differences. It’s not ruining the sport to include these people. In fact the acceptance of everyday people who have no desire to spar into the gym culture of Muay Thai is only helping the sport grow, increasing the fan base and popularity. Without these people, who love the sport, for difference reasons than others perhaps, there would be no opportunities for the fighters, no shows, no pay checks, no career. It is not my place to tell someone HOW to love Muay Thai.

  • sonia

    As a lesbian I must say that muay thai does in fact help with dating lol.
    Anyway I think of that point as a plus, I don’t think nobody would want to be with that kind of guys…

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