How to Be More Aggressive in Sparring

A while ago, I asked people on my Facebook Page if there was anything they were struggling with in their training so I could do a blog post about it. Here’s what Jonathan said:

I find it challenging to develop an attacking mentality – I tend to be quite passive in sparring. Any advice on how to develop that?

A great question and this “How to be more aggressive in sparring” article is my answer to it. Let’s start with some basics first.

how to be more aggressive in sparring

Sparring with one of my students.


Why are you passive during sparring?

There are a bunch of reasons why you might not feel like attacking your partner when you spar. It’s hard to say with certainty which one is the case with you as each person is different, but here are some of the most common reasons:

  • You’re scared. Getting punched in the face hurts and it can be scary if this is new to you. When it happens during a sparring session, many people tend to become passive and defensive to avoid receiving more of those punches. This is perfectly natural human behavior but it doesn’t help you get better. You need to work through the fear and conquer it.
  • He hits too hard. This is similar to the previous. Not only are you scared of getting hit because it hurts, you’re scared of getting injured because he hits really, really hard. Fear of injury is also a natural reaction, but you need to accept it at a gut level as martial arts and combat sports are contact sports. Injury is always a possibility, no matter how hard or soft you spar.
  • He counters everything you do. Even if he doesn’t hit you hard, if he hits you every time you make a move, it can be so frustrating you just stop attacking. Frankly, if this is the case then you’re mismatched. If your partner is so good that he lands every technique at will and avoids all of yours, there’s no upside to sparring him. In this case, I would suggest going slower or getting another partner.
  • Your defense sucks and you keep on getting tagged. This is a biggie. Look at a muay Thai or MMA match: in most cases, a fighter gets hit through the holes in his defense as opposed to inherent openings in a technique. E.g.: every time you throw a right punch, the right side of your body is open, nothing you can do about that. But you can keep your chin low, your other hand high and raise your shoulder to protect your chin. It’s usually these technical details that people make mistakes against and the opponent sees it. And then he uses those against you.
  • You don’t know what to do. Sparring can be overwhelming and make your brain freeze up to the point of almost paralyzing you. Especially if you are afraid, it can be extremely difficult to figure out something as basic as picking the right technique to throw next. Getting used to adrenal stress and having a strong grasp of the basics goes a long way to solve this.

These are some of the most common reasons that get in the way of being more aggressive when you spar.  Fortunately, there are solutions for these and I’ll give you a couple of them here below. Let’s take a look at those now. [Read more…]