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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.