“I don’t do isolation body building; I just do practical things that help me with the kind of things that are asked of me in action movies. You know, a lot of kick boxing, a lot of sparring.”
– Jason Statham
These hollywood movies have Krav Maga at the center of their combat scenes, but a real life sparring session requires a lot of preparation that you won’t see in these films.
While repetition will help ensure that your technique is on point, the same techniques are wasted unless they are put into a real-world scenario. Sparring is an essential part of your Krav Maga training as it can help you understand and familiarize the complexity and nature of combat.
As you spar regularly you will gain an invaluable experience and react or respond with precision in an organized fight with rules, or in a no holds barred real street fight as though it is second nature to you.
Sparring and Fighting: Know the Difference
Before we proceed any further you must first understand that the term “sparring” is different from fighting and both have completely different objectives too!
In all martial arts, sparring is a unique phase in training students how to apply what they’ve learned in a combat scenario. On the other hand, fighting is engaging an opponent in combat without rules.
Of course, by now you must already be aware that there are also organized fighting events such as MMA, Karate, Muay Thai and Taekwondo where fighters fight in a ring, cage or arena and they adhere to specific rules throughout the fight.
These organized fighting events often have one purpose which is to reward the winner with honors as the best combatant (typically in a ranking system declaring the hierarchy of fighters) accompanied by a medal, a belt or a trophy plus some monetary rewards.
You can get a lot of training hours from some good online courses.
Sparring for the First Time
The first time you’ll try to spar with your Krav Maga classmate you may feel overwhelmed and anxious, sometimes you may even feel exhausted and need to catch your breath. You can get started with a simple 30 minute sparring exercise like this one.
Every beginner goes through this phase and it’s completely normal for you to be this way as even simulated fighting can be quite a challenge. But know that this is just a fraction of the mixed emotions you will feel when you face a real threat on the streets.
However, the goal of sparring is to get you acquainted with such scenarios and feelings, so you won’t be shocked and freeze in real combat, which can be dangerous for you. There are a few other fundamental parts of sparring that make it incredibly useful to implement.
Be sure to check out our post about the essential training accessories you can use to prepare.
Getting Into the Zone
Depending on what needs to be learned, sparring can be done in different ways including set sparring, semi sparring or free sparring.
Before we proceed any further, let us first break down what Krav Maga is, what it should be, how it should be used and what benefit we can reap from it if we use it correctly. We’ve created a table below to showcase the different types of sparring that are usually done in Krav Maga schools.
It is divided into goals, paces, mindsets and the kind of level a typical sparring is allocated to (by level or belt color).
As you can see only the beginner’s type of sparring where the impact (hits) are allowed at 100% contact; however, the pace of the mock fighting is dialed down at 20% – 30%, which isn’t enough to cause any injury or even a concussion.
Sparring Table for Krav Maga:
- Pace: 20% – 30% Low
- Impact: 80% – 100% Full Contact
- Goal: To begin to understand the body’s movement, especially the full range of motion of the arms and legs. Learn to anticipate and avoid attacks. Using defensive maneuvers and preparatory counter attacks. Being able to understand in using the proper attack according to your distance from your opponent. Leveraging on your agility to avoid and/or block attacks.
- Mindset: Learning Phase
- Krav Maga Level: Practitioner 3 (Green belt)
- Equipment Used: Mouth guard and groin guard.
- Pace: 30% – 50% Medium – High (Depending on the belt class)
- Impact: 10% – 20% Light
- Goal: To allow KM practitioners to dial up their attacks to bearable levels, as well as allow them to experience getting hit and be able to handle it. Sensitizing the central nervous system for high-speed drills.
- Mindset: Learning Phase
- Krav Maga Level: Practitioner 4 (Blue belt)
- Equipment Used: Mouth guard, groin protection, shin guards, 4 Oz MMA gloves.
Medium Sparring/Light Fighting
- Pace: 50% – 70% High
- Impact: 30% – 50% Medium
- Goal: Increase pressure on attacks, learn to toughen up and take multiple hits and not be shaken by it. Be able to counter-attack to show your opponent (or sparring partner) that you are not deterred by his/her attacks. Enhance your agility and avoid attacks to not sustain damage or avoid them and follow up with a counter attack. Learn to handle mental pressure.
- Mindset: Learning self-defense tactics and application (fighting)
- Krav Maga Level: Grade 1 (Brown belt)
- Equipment Used: Mouth guard, groin protection, shin guards, 10 Oz or higher Boxing/MMA gloves.
- Pace: 70% – 90% High
- Impact: 60% – 80% (Contact is agreed between sparring partners)
- Goal: Adding more pressure, learning to resist impact, learning to resist mental pressure.
- Mindset: Learning self-defense tactics and application (fighting)
- Krav Maga Level: Grade 1 and higher (Black belt)
- Equipment Used: Head protector, mouth guard, groin protection, shin guards, 10 Oz or higher Boxing/MMA gloves.
Full Contact/Realistic Fighting
- Pace: Maximum
- Impact: 80% – 90% (Absolutely no hitting on the head area)
- Goal: Being able to cope and function to optimal levels even under pressure both physically and mentally. All sparring routines at this point is nigh-realistic to ensure adaptability and will not lose composure when faced with a real confrontation.
- Mindset: Application of what has been learned (fighting).
- Krav Maga Level: Grade 3 and higher (KM black belt program by invitation only in elite KM clubs)
- Equipment Used: Full protective, impact reducing suit.
Take a look at this Krav Maga sparring session video, as you can see the instructor is basically telling them how to do the sparring, which is what has been discussed in the table above.
5 Important Things to Remember When Sparring in Krav Maga
Sparring is a unique method of training that given enough time to practice, Krav Maga practitioners eventually push their skills higher and higher as time goes by. Because sparring is designed to simulate real fighting the fighters not only learn, but get creative in their fighting styles which are also encouraged.
Sparring is essential in almost every sports and martial arts techniques and without it, the athlete or martial artist will never learn important insights of a fight and can never be effective.
Here are 5 things to keep in mind when sparring:
- Making Contact – the first thing you need to do when you spar is to do away with your hesitation to hit your opponent (imaginary opponent in this case as your training/sparring partner will take that form and vice versa). The bond we develop among friends or training partners makes us feel guilty if we hit them intentionally, but it is necessary for you to learn realistic striking combinations against more realistic reactions.
As you progress in your sparring sessions you will also learn how to control your attack maneuvers and precisely decide how much power and speed you need or want to put into your punches, elbows, knees and kicks. When you learn to control your attacks and your entire physical body, you’ll also learn how to control your mind, especially how you react to verbal attacks on you, or not to be too aggressive to the drunk guy in your neighborhood making too much trouble.
Since you understand that you’ve trained to hit harder than anyone else, then if you lose control over situations that you could easily get under control, you could end up hurting people really really bad.
- Taking a Punch – it’s no funny business to train to take a punch or hits to your body or especially your face/head area, nevertheless, it is very important to train for it. The rationale behind this is not because you just simply want to be tough and manly, but because it’s very easy to break the human mind with intense shock and awe. Is that term familiar? It should be because the US Military is famous for using this term whenever they attack their enemies with overwhelming firepower.
Here is a lengthy article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) about the psychological effects of war on soldiers and it’s not just PTSD that’s affecting them, but more than a dozen other mental illnesses also. Psychiatrists say that getting hit extremely hard by a punch or a kick from someone while you’re completely unaware of it has the same psychological effect as a soldier experiencing a prolonged firefight.
Sparring allows you to slowly and gradually familiarize with these kinds of traumatic experiences to ensure 3 things, which are a) you won’t freeze due to mental and emotional shock upon getting hit, b) you’ll be able to recover quickly from such hits, and c) be able to deliver a counter-offensive to defend yourself and walk away from the fight unharmed.
- Developing Your Fighting Skills – once you’re familiar with the first 2 things of sparring, then you will then start to develop your fighting skills, which is important in keeping you alive and well in combat situations. You start with throwing a punch and taking a punch, then improve by throwing several punches and kicks to critical areas while blocking or dodging your opponent’s attacks as much as you can.
Then you apply legwork, head movement and body positioning to absorb and deflect attacks ensuring you’re able to hit your opponent 90% of time, while taking only 10% or less of the damage that he’s dished out on you. As you progress further you are then able to do a combination of attack and defense maneuvers that enables you to take on multiple opponents at a time.
Finally, you use the environment to your advantage in fighting and you’re able to put down your opponents in the most efficient manner with absolute control of yourself and over your opponents. All of these things including your timing, coordination, reaction, speed, defenses, attacks, fighting tactics, control, breathing, and fighting spirit will be factored into your fighting abilities, which will make you a force to be reckoned with.
- Using Techniques in the Correct Context – excessive force is only done by novices that’s why in Krav Maga you train to be efficient in your attacks and defenses. A master understands exactly when to react to an attack. What kind of response he will put forth, what precise measure of force, speed and timing he needs to put into his counter-attack. Which limb or limbs (arms or legs or a combination of both) he’ll use to attack the opponent and from what angle he’ll attack. How close he’ll need to be to deliver the attack, and estimate whether he’ll only need to use the attack once or twice or several times in order to put his opponent down.
It wouldn’t make sense to attack with a flying kick against an opponent armed with a knife. What you’ll need to do is to use a piece of cloth or towel like a rope to capture and restrain his hand that’s wielding the knife, remove it from his hand, and then do a counter-attack to put him down. Or you can also use a 2 x 4-inch wood or baseball bat to fight against a knife-wielding opponent.
Your priority is to use a weapon or everyday objects that can be used against such an opponent, never fight him with your bare hands unless absolutely necessary. This is how you use techniques in the proper context.
- Conditioning – Sparring is also good for when you want to prepare for a real fight, whether it is in an organized fighting event or a street confrontation. By practicing with your sparring partner daily or almost daily you will, in essence, simulate the conditions of actual combat scenarios and not only strengthen your body but also your mind. You’ll be able to identify people around you who start to develop aggressive behavior and predict exactly when they’ll burst out in rage and attack people. You will not feel fear or run away, because you are prepared for such an event and be able to handle the situation and pacify the aggressor via verbal means or physically dominate him.
Also read our article on the perfect Krav Maga training shoes to get started.
Common Sparring Rules and Tips for Krav Maga
Even though Krav Maga by nature is a no rules martial arts technique, instructors do not encourage it while practicing or sparring. It is quite self-explanatory as you are doing light fighting or mock fighting and you’re sparring with your classmates and friends.
Also, the goal of sparring is to enhance learning and not become aggressive or fight in the literal sense. After all, every sport and martial arts techniques practice sparring for the same reasons as Krav Maga practitioners do.
Check out some essential sparring rules for Krav Maga below:
- Your sparring partner is there to help you learn, so don’t treat them as your enemy. You two mutually benefit from your sparring sessions and as you learn to be better so will your partner.
- Don’t go at 100% percent power when sparring.
- Respect your sparring partners.
- Do not bring your ego into the dojo.
- Be considerate of your sparring partner’s space.
- Have your protective gear on at all times.
- Get fit for a purpose.
- Have a game plan and stick to it.
- Chin down hands up.
- End your fights with a kick.
- If you’re not doing it on the pads or the heavy bag then don’t try doing it in sparring.
- Exhale on the effort.
- If you’re aiming for the head, dial down your attacks by 30% – 40% from what is allowed even if your partner is wearing protective gear.
- Do not hit the groin area. It is reserved for real fights and it does not need to be demonstrated during sparring, because it is easy to aim for and hit.
- Review your tactics after each session and improve on them in the succeeding sparring sessions later on. If you have to, video tape all your sessions to see whether you are improving in your fighting skills or not.
- Pay attention to what your instructor is saying every time you take breaks from your sparring sessions or after. He is giving you important insights to your fighting skills and ways on how to improve them.
- Speed trumps power.
- Try to be unpredictable.
- You control the fight by controlling the distance between you and your sparring partner.
- Never trade blows as it can result in some injury, or worse, it could cause your emotions to spiral out of control, which is NOT the goal of sparring.
Preparing for Your Sparring Sessions
Even though sparring is not as demanding as a real fight situation you still need to do some prior preparations for it. Because it is the next level of your martial arts training, you need to devote extra time and effort in order to keep up physically and mentally.
Although you could go above and beyond and follow the preparatory procedures that I recommend below.
- Watch Martial Arts Fighting Videos and Get Tips From the Pros – if you’ll watch Krav Maga sparring matches above and get pointers from the instructors and the fighters, then you’ll gain valuable insight about the fight. Knowledge is the precursor to greatness and you will never excel in anything if you know nothing. So first arm yourself with useful information, and then get to the physical aspect of sparring.
- Train for Strength, Speed, Agility, Imperviousness and Endurance – you can choose to develop these attributes as you go through the sparring sessions in your dojo, or you can train for it ahead of time to be more than prepared. Training for strength and speed enhances the power of your strikes and kicks. Training for agility improves your overall balance and ability to dodge, block and counter your opponent’s moves. If you train for imperviousness (being able to take a hit), you will be as tough as a tree trunk and won’t be easily deterred by your opponent’s attacks. Finally, training for endurance ensures that you will not pass out after 10 rounds of the fight. That’s because you need to consider the possibility that in a real fight scenario you could face 10 – 50 or more opponents at a time and you’ll need to make sure that you can stand your ground until you can find a way out. You can’t negotiate your survival you have to impose it on those that would do you harm!
- Put a Lot of Effort Into Practicing Your Moves – remember earlier when I said that you need to have a game plan before you hit the dojo for your sparring sessions? Well, you practice it on the punching bag and the dummy first and assume that the dummy is a moving target and that it will hit you back. You can simulate the fight in your mind based on the videos that you’ve watched earlier on Krav Maga sparring matches and apply it to your own game plan.
- Plan Your Combat Tactics Ahead – get 2 action figures or draw characters on a piece of paper and pretend that those things represent you and your opponent in a match. Plot out their combat stances and moves, write it down on a notepad, dissect the tactics and think of ways on how you can beat your opponent from those moves. If you can do that, then you’re already 2 steps ahead of him even before the sparring begins.
- Meditate and First Workout the Fight in Your Head Before You Do it in the Dojo – every martial arts master knows and understands that they need to visualize the battle in their minds first before engaging their opponent. In essence, combat is more of a mental thing rather than a physical thing, because that is where you develop your battle tactics. So meditate and picture the fight in your head before you step into the dojo, then it should all fall into place and you’ll know what to do once you get there.
- You are Now Physically and Mentally Prepared to Spar – if you’ve successfully completed the above requirements, then you should be more than ready to spar. Remember what you’ve learned, but always keep an open mind as there is more to learn as you go along.
Benefits of Sparring
Some of the benefits of sparring have already been discussed in the previous paragraphs of this article; however, we need to break it down even further for you to understand them clearly. Just like riding a bicycle you will never learn to balance and move the bike if you’ll only read its instruction manual or watch YouTube videos about how to ride it.
As it turns out riding a bicycle is not that easy after all as this BBC article says, however, the way we learn to ride a bike coincides perfectly with how we develop our fighting skills in Krav Maga, in other martial arts, and in sports. Amazing, isn’t it?!
Apply Your Techniques in Real-World Situations
Basic Krav Maga drills are all linear attacks and defensive maneuvers and they are easy to learn, but even if you could master their execution there is no way to be sure whether or not they will work in real combat situations.
Sparring can get you as close to the real thing as possible like no other drills can and from there you will learn things that you never could in basic drills.
The benefit of real-world applications for your fighting techniques is that you’ll only need to do minor adjustments in the way you fight in order to defeat your opponent and get out alive.
Gets You Mentally Prepared to Defend Yourself
As we’ve already discussed above the link between traumatic experiences and psychological problems that soldiers suffer, and how it is similar to what ordinary people experience in confrontations and street fights; sparring has certain mental benefits that are critical for martial artists to achieve.
Sparring helps removes psychological barriers that cause you to hesitate to engage in confrontations.
But it’s not just purely a mental issue as it also has to do with what humans naturally feel about hurting another human being intentionally. Besides fe,ar there is also empathy going back to the safe zones of being a pacifist.
Still, sparring is a way to deal with these issues and helps you prepare mentally for challenges that may affect your emotions and psychological functions.
Helping with Impact Control
Another benefit of sparring is that it puts a virtual dial on your attacks that you can scale up or down as you see fit in hitting your opponent or sparring partner.
When applied to real-world fighting scenarios, you can decide with pinpoint accuracy whether you want to knock the living daylights out of an aggressor, or just hurt him enough to make him understand that he’s doing something wrong and that he shouldn’t mess with you.
Without sparring the martial artist will not be able to control his attacks and may hit someone so hard that he’ll send him to the hospital. Precision and the effectiveness of hits is what impact control is all about and you learn that only in sparring sessions.
A Healthy Form of Anger Management
Did you know that there are anger rooms now available in America? According to experts in order to lessen stress which may lead to aggressive and dangerous behavior or behavioral patterns that may lead to suicides it is better to unleash them to keep a healthy state of mind.
That is a great way to do anger management! People pay a considerable amount of money for this kind of therapy and it works. But you can get an even better anger management/aggression therapy from Krav Maga sparring or any other martial arts sparring for that matter for half the price.
Not only will you keep a healthy state of mind, but you’ll also stay out of trouble as you won’t feel suicidal or become aggressive for no reason.
Sharpens Your Techniques
As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect,” sparring matches are, in essence, mock fighting and it can help you prepare for the real thing – it can also help you become exceedingly proficient in your skills.
The problem with basic drills in martial arts like the kata for karate and the chi sao for wing chun is that they are static self-defense techniques. Much like the basic punches and kicks in Krav Maga they are useless when you will fight a moving target that can also retaliate.
It is only when you spar that you instinctively figure out a way to beat an opponent who has got dynamic attacks. As you match with his rhythm and movement you can then anticipate his attacks, be able to defend yourself and launch a counter attack almost immediately after he dished out his attacks.
As time goes by you review your sparring matches in your mind and be able to think of techniques to apply in your succeeding match to outmaneuver him.
It Familiarizes You with the Unique Situation of a Fight
Did you also know that we human beings have three minds? Scientists found out that besides our brain as our primary nervous system (NS) we also have a secondary NS in our intestines, a tertiary NS in our heart, and probably even a fourth, albeit passive, NS in our muscles!
Now take a look at this incredible YouTube video about people with awesome knife chopping and cutting skills and how that relates to the 3 brains in our bodies. It is very clear now that the 3 nervous systems and possibly even the neurons in our muscles (i.e. muscle memory) works in tandem to allow us to have stunning abilities like this.
Sparring essentially trains all of your nervous systems to get familiar with various fighting scenarios and apply the appropriate response ta o near-surgical precision that makes you an awesome fighter.
For example, you’re able to discern when a person gets aggressive by simply observing his speech patterns, eye movements, breathing and body language. Upon also engaging him in physical combat you can further discern whether he’ll attack with a punch or a kick by processing his movements.
Then, like what Bruce Lee does, you beat him to the punch-through shear power and speed, or you do like the kung fu masters would do. You draw him in while blocking and deflecting his attack and deliver one or several devastating counter attacks that will put him down.
Bruce Lee’s tactics emphasize on strength and speed while kung fu warriors’ tactics focus on the mesmerizing effect of the martial arts dance (their loose clothing is also part of the illusion that will confuse the enemy where they’ll attack next).
Creating just enough space between the kung fu fighter and his opponent, and forcing the enemy to expose his vulnerable points for the kung fu monk to exploit later on.
True the kung fu method is far more complicated, but is also very effective compared to brute strength alone. This is exactly what familiarizing the fight means.
The kung fu fighter used deception making his opponent think that he was winning, because his attacks were almost connecting and that he only needed to exert just a few more effort to put his annoying enemy down.
However, what he doesn’t realize is that the kung fu warrior has been studying his moves all along, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
Improves Footwork and Fitness
You must have seen it in films that involve a lot of brawling, fighting and martial arts on how fighters assume the proper fighting stance. They normally place one foot forward while balancing their bodies with the other foot on the back, as they raise their hands forward in either open palms or closed fists posture.
Later on as they engage they use a lot of footwork whether they’ll perform an offensive or defensive maneuver. The important thing during a fight is to keep your body in an upright position for striking and clenched position for defense.
Place one foot in the wrong position could mean your defeat and this is why footwork is also emphasized in sparring. Although sometimes instructors do not mention it outright, but you do it instinctively nevertheless.
Another benefit of sparring is it keeps you fit and agile which is also very important in a real fight. Having all those extra pounds as fat in your body will likely slow down your attacks by 30% or more allowing your opponent to see your punches coming.
And if they can see it coming, then they can definitely block it and deliver a counter attack to you, then probably put you down instead of the opposite of what you’ve expected. Non-combat wise sparring will keep you healthy and prolong your lifespan, which is even better.