6 Sparring Drills to Improve Your Martial Arts Training

The martial arts were created as a means of weaponless self-defense. That's why almost every art has sparring at its core. By taking the basic martial arts techniques you learn in class and applying them in controlled fighting situations, you'll learn how you react under pressure.


Unfortunately, many students are afraid to engage in uncontrolled sparring with another student. They don't want to get hit, and they don't want to do what it takes to learn how to counter and defend themselves.

The following drills were designed to help reluctant students work their way up to free sparring and thus enhance their performance in combat and competition.

Training Drill No.1: Focus Sparring

Find a partner to hold and move the focus mitt as you strike it with two- and three-punch combinations. It's important that he orient the mitt in the guard position and not show you the surface until he's ready for you to strike it.

Note that this drill also works with kicks, but your training techniques will need to be precise or you'll miss the target.

Training Drill No. 2: Shadow Sparring

This is a form of shadowboxing that's performed in front of a mirror. Throw kicks, punches, elbows and knees and use proper footwork while you study your reflection. Try to maintain a flowing motion as you determine which parts of your repertoire need to be corrected.

Caution: If you spar with another person in front of a mirror and attempt to watch yourself, you will get hit.

Training Drill No. 3: Heavy-Bag Sparring

Striking a heavy bag gives you an idea of the force and speed you'll need when you face an actual opponent. Standing in front of the bag, freely throw kicks, punches, elbows and hand strikes. When the bag starts swinging back toward you after a strike, you know you're making progress.

For more fun, pretend the moving bag is an angry opponent trying to smack you and take evasive action.

Training Drill No. 4: Dummy Sparring

When you're trying to develop trapping, parrying and centerline-defense skills, a wooden dummy from wing chun kung fu can be useful. It teaches you how to create free-flowing offensive and defensive combinations and how to use both hands at the same time.

Training Drill No. 5: Point Sparring

In the early days of point sparring, the action was limited to punching, kicking and sweeping. Now martial artists frequently add trapping, grappling and throwing. No matter which techniques you choose to include in your workouts, use mats and protective gear.

Training Drill No. 6: Circle Sparring

This drill encourages you to remain aware of your surroundings. Three to six people form a circle around you and attack one by one. You have no time to think about the attack; you simply react. If your skills are sufficiently advanced, you can have more than one person charge you at the same time.

Your Turn

What's your favorite way to spar? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Story by Willie Johnson and Nancy Musick

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