“How much could you possibly know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”
- Tyler Durden, Fight Club 1
Even if you never intend to compete at the amateur or professional level, sparring could turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself. In his book, Box Like the Pros, Joe Frazier says, “Lot’s of people in this world like to think they’re tough and like to think they’re fighters. They’re not. Unless they’ve been in that ring throwing leather and trading punches, they have no idea what it’s like. But now you do. And win or lose, you’re never the same person again… You did it. And no one can ever take that away from you.” 2 Even a single sparring experience can imbue extreme confidence in a person.
In his book, Boxer’s Start-Up: A Beginner’s Guide to Boxing, Doug Werner sums it up best: “Sparring is intense. It’s an adrenaline-drenched, crashing, almost dream-like experience. Hey, it’s combat.” 3 Therefore, a good trainer will ensure that you have a good conditioning base and a solid foundation of skills before he puts you in the ring. Normally your first opponent will be much more skilled than you and will be able to control himself so that you do not sustain any real punishment your first time out.
You will notice several things when you begin sparring. First, you stop being afraid as soon as you get hit for the first time. Usually the fear that builds up in anticipation of a sparring session dissipates as soon as the first engagement occurs. It is just a normal human reaction to think about all the negative things that can happen while waiting to spar. Will I get hurt? Will this guy embarrass me in front of everyone in the gym? These are common thoughts that echo in the minds of first-time fighters. But as soon as you start fighting, you won’t have the luxury of thinking about all those things. Second, you’ll realize right away that landing and evading punches is a lot harder than it looks. You’ll finally understand that those idiots at the bar who yell “Come on [insert name of fighter], just hit the guy!” have no idea what’s its like in there. And finally, you’ll feel that you’ve never been so tired in your life. The level of exertion during actual combat is a multiple of the effort used when hitting the bag or the mitts. The reason? The fight-or-flight response of your body causes you work harder to defend yourself than when you’re just practicing on an inanimate object. Again, just another normal human reaction.
If you are training to fight, nothing can prepare you more than sparring. Remember, bag punching and mitt work are good practice but you are not training to punch bags and work combinations on mitts. You are training to fight. Therefore, the best preparation is actual fighting. Sparring will improve timing and reactions more effectively than any other form of practice or exercise. Understanding how an opponent reacts to what you throw is essential to a fighter. That type of knowledge can only be learned in the ring.
1. Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perfs. Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter. DVD. 20th Century Fox, 1999.
2. Frazier, Joe. Box Like the Pros. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.
3. Werner, Doug. Boxer’s Start-Up: A Beginner’s Guide to Boxing. San Diego: Tracks Publishing, 1998.