I have never done much sparring, I joined a new class where there is a lot of sparring in every session.

My problem is that I keep hitting one time or two and then pause. When sparring with people who have done this before they just keep coming and hitting me.

Also I feel like when I spar I just try to hit the air, my punches would not connect if I was trying to hit my partner as I am naturally refraining from hitting him.

One last issue I had is that when sparring against someone more experienced, I could not find a way to land myself a punch: as I was always defending and the next punch/kick was coming I was always trying to block the next punch and could not find any time to try to counter.

How can I improve and change my behaviour so it becomes natural ?

  • Is it a different club? As you get more used to it blocking will be more natural and finding time to get your own strikes in will happen. Ask your sensei for advice and get them to pick a partner who will help you work on it
    – BugFinder
    Aug 16, 2015 at 22:48
  • What level of protective gear are you using? if it is adequate(gloves, footpads, body, head) there is no reason for you to refrain from hitting. Other than that, it mostly just takes practice to become better with sparring, Aug 17, 2015 at 1:32

6 Answers 6


There's two issues here:

Ranging for Contact and Force

This is a problem I see with folks who train for non-contact in their drills or doing "air sparring" - you train yourself to punch 2-3 inches away from actual contact, and you end up learning to attack, and evade/block, at those ranges.

First thing, is your drills and training have to be at the correct range. If you're working with a partner, try to have them put any hit pads as close to the actual target, if not directly on it, as possible. This is where having stuff like padded body armor and helmets to train with helps. You don't have to go full force here, but you want to make sure you are ingraining the correct distance and timing.

Second thing, you want to learn to throw power, at the same time, you don't want to hurt your training partners. This is the fundamental problem for martial arts training everywhere - you want to learn how to hurt people without actually hurting them.

A useful thing I like to do before sparring is give each other a punch on the arm or back to know how hard you should be hitting each other. If you know how much you should be dishing and taking, you can go up to that level without worrying about hurting them or, if you're going really hard, you can be mindful of what's going on more. It also allows both of you to set the limits - "That's too much, I need to go easy today" "Let's do a test hit again, I think we can do a bit harder" etc.

"Tag Fighting"

As you quickly figured out - tag fighting - hitting once or twice then waiting, only gets you run over. Once you're not afraid of hurting your partner, you can go and keep going without pausing.

(You should, however, have some idea between you and your training partners when/how the sparring has a break - if someone falls down? If they're backed into the corner where the weapon stand is? You may decide certain techniques or situations count as wins - "rubber knife to the neck" Etc.)

To train this, again, having someone be a target person in armor works well. You can do drills where they only throw out one attack every few seconds while you try to go for as many attacks as you can. Or you can have them rush you without attacking, and you try to deal with maneuvering and countering, and so on... you build your way up.


Practice combinations. Doesn't matter if they're stupid, as long as they exist. E.g. try a 2 punch, one kick combo:

  1. Right Body shot
  2. Left Cross to the face
  3. Right Roundhouse to the head

or switch around if you're left-handed. But ALWAYS attack with combinations. Single attacks don't do much until you've learned to intercept rather than counter.

There is always a pause after your opponent has finished his attack. use that to start your own counter-combination. You can work on intercepting his attacks once you've mastered the counter attack.


Sparring is simply a simulation of a fight and it is done for practice. There are many types of sparring, ranging from step-by-step sparring to controlled sparring to free sparring. The instructor needs to understand the capabilities of his students before letting them attempt free sparring. Students usually begin with the most basic form of sparring. In Taekwon-do it is called the Three Step Sparring or One Step Sparring for those who are more senior.

More more details please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ei__eF438o0. At the 8:26th point there is a demonstration. Have a look.

How can I improve and change my behaviour so it becomes natural ?

Basically, what you want to do is to practice some moves. Practice your blocks, shifting around to evade attacks, and counterattacks slowly on a non-moving opponent, so you can understand where the punch/kick comes and how to act upon it. Keep practicing and it becomes muscle memory, thus you will be able to react quicker, and more naturally.

Keep in mind that you must always practice self control. If you are counterattacking with a punch, your fist must be at about 1 to 3 inches from touching the target. You may give him a light tap on the back if you are behind him.

Do remember that sparring is for practice and it is better to be tactical about it instead of hitting each other senselessly. I see people beat up each other until they bleed, but in reality they bring home nothing but injuries. Learn the proper way to spar and control your strikes.

Martial arts is not only about using your limbs for protection, but also the usage of the mind that makes it complex and beautiful.


Sparring is absolutely essential to learning how to deal with live energy. I would like to caution you though. Sometimes sparring can create bad habits what I mean by this is:

To often a practitioners go into sparring with the wrong mindset. They simply try and unload on their opponent.

If you are doing this without protection gear someone is going to get hurt pretty quickly and if you are doing this with gear on, then you aren't realistically experiencing the reality of fighting.

The example I would like to give you is put head gear on and a mouth piece. Then have your training partner put gloves on, then have him punch you as hard as he can.

In that example you will be able to take the shot for the most part. Obviously a shot to the nose can still break your nose. The point that I am trying to make is that it's not realistic.

Sparring is a tool to help prepare you for a tournament, it teaches you how to respond to a violent situation and develops your timing.

Now back to your current issue:

The best time to attack someone is when they are attacking you. Because in order to attack you they have to close the distance.

It sounds like you are reaching in to try and get a strike, when someone does that it's easy to read and it doesn't take to much to shuffle step out of range or cut an angle out of range.

The #1 thing sparring teaches you is timing. You have to develop the ability to time your strikes whilst your opponent is invading your space.

If you chase the person they are the ones choosing where they want to fight. Think about that for a moment. There is a difference between chasing your opponent and making a calculated attack. That's for another discussion though :-)

Finally, unfortunately there are people out that don't respect technique and will keep coming and coming.

The only way this type of person will stop coming is if you hurt them enough to slow them down. Unfortunately I've had this happen to me, eventually I gave the guy a black eye. Not out of anger but he really gave me no other choice. After that happened, the sparring sessions got lighter.

I don't recommend that approach though because it can create bad blood. I recommend trying to resolve any problems before they even occur.

Before you start sparring with someone you should talk with the person about what is acceptable to you and what is not. Your martial arts training is about YOU so you decide how much you want to take.

Your partner should respect that. There is nothing wrong with extreme training however it's not for everyone and the truth is it's not needed to learn how to defend yourself should the situation comes up.

The most important thing to consider here is communication. Both you and your partner should know the objective of the sparring session.

Some of my sparring sessions where battles of endurance, some of them where for working on timing and sometimes they where just to see how much punishment I could take... In all cases it's important to understand what the goal is of the training session.

One final bad habit to avoid. It's important that you don't create habits like leaning forward or throwing sloppy punches to just try and get a strike.

If there is one thing that is true, you will fight how you spar. So if you aren't constantly working on having good technique, when you fight your technique will be poor.

Hope this answer helps some...


Looking at your description of the problems you have, there are three things you can do:

  1. Practice
  2. Practice
  3. and Practice

Really, all those are rookie mistakes, to put it bluntly.

The fact that you hit one or two times and then stop, means you lack understanding of the feel and flow of the fight that only comes from seasoning and constant practice. You may learn however much theory of the particular martial art you study, but you will not be able to use it in the ring if you don't have the practice.

Hitting the air in front of your opponent is another typical mistake that comes from lack of practice. One part of it is the ability to learn to evaluate distance between you and your opponent, so that you can effectively deliver a hit (an understand when you are vulnerable to an attack from an opponent).

Also, being afraid to hit your opponent stems from the fear of getting hit yourself and the associated pain. Natural empathy can be stronger or weaker for each individual, but whenever you enter the proverbial ring, you need to be able to block it out to some degree. This comes from experience of going into the ring, getting hit and knowing that this is not the end of the world...

Thirdly, fighting anyone above your skill level, is Hard™. If they are good, they can make the experience feel safe. If not, it can be devastating. In any case, they have in abundance, what you are lacking — namely experience. To get to their level, you just have to persist.


I wont claim to be a sparring expert, but I've had a lot of fun playing with the information-theory side of combat (how to avoid telegraphing and such), and I see some patterns in your questions which cropped up in my work with information-theory.

It takes a surprisingly long time to make up your mind. It's estimated it takes 100ms-300ms between receiving a stimulus and having it integrated within the corticothalamic complex (believed to be very influential in making a conscious decision). That is a long time in combat! If you wait that long to do everything, you'll never see an opportunity. Instead, your mind needs to integrate parts of the information faster and have the body in position to act. That way when your conciousness pulls the trigger on a punch or a kick, the rest of the brain is already primed for the action. In general this can be practiced in single person drills. Instead of just trying to think through the drill, let the body do as much of the drill as you can. The visual imagery of "letting the body do something" shows up over an over as an effective way of teaching this process. Follow your teacher's visualization instructions, if they are giving them. I can tell you how to do it in my art, but every art has its own approach to making this transition from conscious to instinctual safely (it's not acceptable to train your instinctual side to punch people! Just use it to prepare to punch quicker!)

The second side is related. Your mind needs to know where to send the punches in order to send the command to do so. During fighting, you will find you have less and less awareness about what is going on, because you're moving so fast, and because the opponent is moving fast too. Once your conscious mind begins distrusting the information it has (is he really where I think he is? Will I hurt him by accident? Is there actually an attack I need to block?), you will naturally stop and try to get your bearings. This is where I find one of the true beauties of martial arts. Not only does your instinctual action need to prepare you to deliver another punch, it needs to be continuously trying to help get you to positions to gather and integrate more information.

All of that is general, I believe, applicable to every martial art. I can give you a bit of my perspective from the Chinese martial arts. They teach that there is yin in every yang and yang in every yin. Those words may mean nothing to you, and that's fine. One of the many parallels one draws from those phrases should be more recognizable: in every punch or kick, you must have a kernel of sensing, learning where the opponent is. If you are throwing your punches too fiercely, you lose sensitivity, and you can't gain any information from the punch. In contact sparing, that sensitivity is what you use to avoid harming the opponent, and it also is what you use to feel whether they are dodging left or right while the punch is connecting, rather than waiting until you see the dodge. If you are losing sensitivity, either in the punch or by bringing the fist back jerkily, you'll find you have less information about the fight than you want. This may mean toning back the punches a bit, but honestly, that's the control you need for contact sparing.

The other half of that aphorism says that, even as you're trying to bring yourself back into balance after 2 or 3 hits, you should still be threatening your opponent enough to not let them get away with anything they please. If you're in Tae Kwon Do, it's fine for them to get a chance to kick you, but you should always position yourself so they cannot get in the very dangerous high kicks to the head. If they're trying for it, you'll need to defend more. If you see that, while you are retreating, they're throwing a punch, you don't have to worry about the kick as much, so you should try to disrupt any punching combos that would be bad news.

The second half of that aphorism is too much to think about. I know of no martial art that thinks its way through that part. You have to let your body do it. A good martial arts instructor will teach you the correct way, for their art, to handle these less aggressive phases where you are preparing to counter.

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