Sparring in Krav Maga

by Cal Garbini (Urban Roots Self-defense)

Sparring in Krav Maga is an extremely useful training method for anyone who wants to push their skills to the next step. When you try sparring for the first time you may feel overwhelmed anxious, exhausted, and you may forget to breathe. These are completely normal and very healthy responses to have when you are about to exchange strikes/attacks with someone. This is likely a very minor version of what you may feel in a real self-defense situation. Getting acquainted with this feeling and creating confidence that you can continue to function in this state is one of the most important reasons to spar. There are a few other fundamental parts of sparring that make it incredibly useful to implement.

1- Making contact

In your self-defense training, one of the hardest things to do for most people is to intentionally strike an individual in a vulnerable area, who is most likely a highly-respected training partner. This training is incredibly useful to bridge the gap from striking only pads or only targeting in self-defense drills. Making contact in a sparring setting also will allow you to start practicing realistic striking combinations against more realistic reactions. The other reason making contact in sparring is important is that it will improve your control, meaning you will be able to be highly adrenalized and still be able to decide how much speed, power, and aggression you are going to put forth. Not only will you have more training partners willing to spar with you again, but it may give you the extra control you need in a self-defense situation. For example, to not immediately and hastily respond to something someone said about your girlfriend, or to allow you not to take someone’s head off with a powerful right cross simply because they were a bit too intoxicated. Training with a good instructor while sparring can give you the extra edge you need to function well under stress.

2- Taking a punch

Being able to take a punch is not as simple as it might sound. Although it is about as unpleasant as it sounds, it can and should be controlled by the rules of the sparring session. You may be saying: “Taking a punch? That’s why I’m training, so I don’t take a punch.” Yes and no, the majority of your training should allow you to defend a greater percentage of strikes and impacts, but the truth is that it is only a matter of time until you do get hit both in training and in a fight/attack. We need to experience this first in training to give us the best response possible to taking an impact. When an untrained person takes an impact for the first time, especially to the face and harder than expected, you may feel a strong emotional reaction and very likely freeze even for a short time. This is completely normal. We need to keep in mind this training is 100% necessary. As an individual, sparring on a regular basis will have much less intense responses to an impact, as it is something they have already experienced. Having the opportunity to be hit accompanied with good training methods and partners, is a recipe for a quick aggressive response to an attack on the street.

3- Developing Fighting skills

Sparring at first can be very overwhelming, but keep in mind there are a lot of actions being made. Over time, you will improve your timing, coordination, reaction, speed, defenses, attacks, fighting tactics, control, breathing, and fighting spirit.

4- Using techniques in the correct context

Being able to use the correct technique at the right time is an extremely important skill. This is where great instructors, good training partners and relevant training really aid in your appropriate response for the situation.

5- Conditioning

There is no better conditioning than doing the thing you want to condition for. Sparring is a great way to get fit and condition you mind and body for a specific purpose. Many people think of sparring as ring fighting and that can be true. In the case of a Krav Maga practitioner, you must look at how you want to use your training. There are most certainly useful facets of kick boxing, MMA and other sport martial arts that will help us with many skills, but it cannot be the only one we use. For instance, one major difference between sports sparring and Krav Maga sparring is the sense of urgency. In these training rounds, you may have short duration rounds with a high frequency of strikes (imagine how you would want to fight if a bad guy is trying to abduct your child and fashion your attack after that). You may also have rounds that are much slower and lighter in fashion however. Rounds may include stimulus that you may face in an uncontrolled environment such as hard surfaces, verbal de-escalation/aggressive language, a friendly and or aggressive third party, weapons and common objects. It is important to understand there is a large difference between self-defense and “fighting” and to be successful in self-defense you may need to have a bit of both.

Sparring is a fantastic training tool, it can prepare you for real life altercations and get you into the best shape of your life. Although sparring may seem intimidating initially, it is too valuable a tool to not implement into your training.

Train hard and be safe!

-Cal Garbini-