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Sparring Nervousness


I was called out on this last night when sparring with a few guys. I do a good job at keeping my hands up, until I get a few punches thrown at me and my hands shake a bit; and eventually drop them enough to get hit.

Shit I just told everyone my weakness!

I was hoping some of the more seasoned guys can chime in and let me know if this is just a beginner thing or what.

I've gotten hit in the head plenty to know it doesn't hurt. I think I just .... I dunno. I feel as if my mind is blank when I'm sparring and it's because there is "too much" to think of....should I throw a jab/cross/hook, is he gonna throw a jab/cross/hook, should I faint/bob/weave...

So with all that going through my brain in a flash of a second...Bang! I get hit.

I'm hoping it's a beginner thing b/c I've been told I have great hands (when using focus mits and heavy bag) and want to see it come to fruition.


You're thinking too much.
Remember your training and fight.

If you're not sure, use the K.I.S.S. method. As the sparring goes on, and you gain confidence, then mix it up.


Not enough repetition in your training, not enough real life drills on a partner hitting at 80% minimum and you're just punch shy. Keep sparring, repetition and when you think you've done enough, repeat it again, keep your hands up, relax. Forget about his game plan.... what's yours? Stick to basics, away from persons power hand/kick. I assume you're just walking into stuff you shouldn't be because you're movement like most beginners always veers them to the persons power hand.

Set up everything with a properly executed jab. Not half assed and incorrect weight transfer/balance. Finish everything with a Jab too.
All techniques with near 100% power even in sparring spar 90% and above. You're padded up for a reason, cop it sweet.
Don't be shy to let loose on your opponent otherwise you won't learn to cope with the adrenaline, fight fatigue and still executing your technique properly.
Back them up with your power. Stand your ground and when attempting to avoid don't lean back with picaboo through your mitts. Rather than going straight back, move off away to right or left away from their power hand. When they throw, cut the distance with guard up to stuff their technique/execution.

Just some basics


It is a beginner thing, and you are thinking too much.

As you fight more, you'll feel the next punch more than having to analyze the other guy's moves. Repetition in training is the best way to develop this, especially proper repetition while exhausted. As you get more experience (assuming, again, that you train how you want to fight), the openings will be obvious to you, and your guard will just be there.

The guy who leaves his ribs open will start to look like an inviting target instead of a guy whose face is out of reach. You'll put punches right down the middle of a weak/loose guard, without having to stop and think "can I get my fist in there?"

The key, as I've repeated ad nauseum, is not just training but proper training. If you work a bag with your hands below your chin, you're going to drop your hands. If you break off sparring every time you take a good shot, you're not going to be used to bouncing back from a hit. If you only spar against guys who are going 40-50%, you're going to get overwhelmed by the first nervous guy who opens with an adrenalin-dump 100% flurry.

The hands shaking also sounds like you may be tensing your arms the whole fight, another typical beginner response. As you get more relaxed in the ring you'll let the tension go, and stop burning out your arms so much. Added bonus, you'll snap your punched faster when you're not over-tensing your arms. Again, it's all about practice.

I've been assuming that you're boxing, but the above applies more or less across the board no matter what kind of striking you're doing.


i did martial arts and kickboxing for many years, and even fought in the golden gloves one year. alot of guys get nervous or scared when punches are coming at their head. tons of guys turn their back. thats the biggest thing. it just takes time, once you get used to seeing punches come at your face practice weaving under them or block them. the more you do that, the less nervous you will be. it just takes some time.


Here is a little drill you can do that might help your mind slow down a little bit:

Do super slow motion sparring. When I say slow I mean slow. Like when the action hero comes around the corner pulling out two guns while his black coat flies out behind him & the music starts. SLOW!

You will learn to see openings that were just a blur before, and as you do it a over & over things will just start to click. A guy I train with says, "slow is smooth and smooth is fast".

Make contact by touching the target & then slowly driving completely through. When you get hit allow your body to react as if the strike were hard and fast, and thereby train your eyes to recognize what will happen when the sparring is live. Sometimes it helps to have each trainee throw only one strike each, with the receiver of the blow having to decide what would be the most logical counterstrike. The time created by the SLOW training allows your brain to catch up to the openings you can exploit as well as the ones you're displaying.

Best to do this with a very experienced and patient person who has a lot of physical confidence. Newbs tend to get nervous & speed up.




I think the best method is what my father did with me, just have someone throw punches at 30% at you then learn to parry and slip them. You're having a real punch thrown at you but it's not hard enough to injure you, doing repetitions of it also makes you form a habit so in sparring it'll just be second nature. Essentially you get the benefits of a sparring session but it's more accommodating to someone learning how to do something.

I wouldn't be worried about it because it's really just a natural reaction, right now you're at a point where you're trying to apply what you've learned in training to a simulated fight. It just takes time for it to carryover.


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The only thing I would add is to look into visualization and relaxation techniques for enhancing athletic performance. Many people find these very helpful. Simple "tactical" or "4 count" breathing (look it up) prior to a session can help control the physical effects of stress and in turn calm the mind. Breathing is great because it's a voluntary action that you can exert direct control over much more easily than you can, say your heart rate. In the ring try to keep your breathing as deep and even as possible between flurries, focusing on the exhale (the inhale tends to happen on it's own). People often to hold their breath when under stress or exertion, which makes things worse in a hurry and contributes to anxiety.

Visualization is great because it allows you to get in way more reps than recovery or scheduling would ever allow for in "real" training. You can also use it to "rewire" negative patterns in your performance which tend to be self-reinforcing. For instance you could visualize yourself beginning to tense up and over-think things and then, in your mind see yourself settle in and begin to really flow, landing nice, clean shots on auto pilot. It never replaces real practice but if you get good at it (which takes study and practice) visualization can be an amazing training aid. Just make sure you visualize yourself training correctly (hands up, chin down etc) - you can practice bad habits in your mind as easily as you can in the gym.


No, I got it. Wrote you back.


You do realize that that quote is commonly used?


Ha, no, I had no idea. I'd never heard it before my friend said it, but I sure have been saying it to myself a lot since.


That was directed at Chushin, Miss Parker.


Thanks for the advice. As I figured. Back to the ring, again and again and again.

I always try to pick the bigger/faster/longer armed/more experienced guys to spar with too, I figure that will only help me along.


I always did this, too, for the same reason, but was advised by a guy who is much more experienced than me to also spar with people my size/strength/experience, and also with people newer than myself from time to time. He said its important to do this because to always spar with people who are larger/more experienced than yourself (and for me, always sparring with men) will eventually erode one's confidence and become counterproductive. You can't really check your progress if the cards are stacked against you every time.

I pretty much ignored his advice, convinced I was correct. I also became convinced that I just sucked at sparring. Then in class the other day I found myself against a female my size, with lots of courage but a little less experience, and I owned her. Okay, so maybe I don't COMPLETELY suck, and maybe that guy was right.


Spar with guys your size... they're the one's you'll be fighting.


I do the same. Always against the toughest, meanest, best son of a bitch there is.


Another reason it's important to train with different skill levels/physical statures is that you never know who you might have to face in a real self defense situation. People without formal training will do things that you will probably never see from highly trained individuals. Their timing might be completely different, they might throw strikes from angles and in ways that are completely unorthodox, etc...

If someone is only interested in competition, then I think it makes more sense to just train against people your own weight (since those are the people you are likely going to face in the ring), although I still think that other weight classes will improve certain aspects of your game. It's also generally a safer bet to assume that they are going to be formally trained, and therefore do things a certain way.

Yeah I've had this experience before myself. It's sometimes tough to gauge how much better you're getting if you're always training against people who are better than you. Once you go with someone less experienced (or someone who was previously at the same level, but who hasn't been training against better fighters) though you realize just how much progress you've made.


B Rock, from your reactions it sounds to me like you need to take things down a notch in terms of your sparring intensity. Your goal should be to learn how to do things right, and it sounds like you don't have enough confidence/practice in your skills at the intensity you're sparring at to execute your skills correctly. Bring things down to a speed/intensity where you do feel confident and then slowly build up from there.

Different people have different temperaments, tolerances to stress, pain tolerance levels, and even life experiences which can cause them to respond differently to certain situations. Therefore, the same level of intensity might be just right for one person, way too much for another, or not enough for yet another. The same cookie cutter "you should spend the majority of time training at X intensity..." approach may work great for one individual and horribly for another.

I'd suggest starting out your sparring session at 10% speed/intensity, if that feels fine, go up to 20%. Still fine? Then go up to 30%, and so on until you reach a level of speed/intensity where you start to feel tense, panicky, start to "think" too much, and stop being able to execute your techniques effectively. Then drop back down just below that level. Work in that intensity/speed range for a while until you really start to feel comfortable, and then every now and then test to see if you can ratchet up the intensity and still be able to keep your cool. Eventually over time you will get comfortable at greater and greater intensity levels and eventually be able to go full speed/intensity comfortably.

Once you get to that point, then it's a matter of maintaining your comfort in going full speed, but not doing it too much that it starts to wear down your body or possibly have adverse affects down the road (hard strikes to the head can cause bruising of the brain, which, if done too often can lead to nervous system problems, like Parkinsons, down the road). Even professional coaches like Freddie Roach don't advocate going all out all the time. So no need for someone who isn't a professional fighter to do so IMO.

This is of course also going to require that you find a training partner who is capable of controlling themselves, not ego driven (isn't going to ratchet up the speed/intensity if they get hit or start to "lose"), and comfortable training at or above your level of intensity.