Fighting and Sparring: What You Need To Know

sparring fighting

What sparring is, what it should be, how it should be used and what benefit we can reap from it if we use it correctly.

When we train at SGS Krav Maga, we prepare for street fighting, not sport fighting.

This means no rules, no ‘illegal moves’, no weight-classes, no tap-outs, and no referees. Everything takes practice, yet safety in training is important. How do we prepare our students to win a no-rules, no-holds-barred street fight?

We use sparring and fighting to train the mindset, stamina, and endurance any good fighter and defender needs to come out on top.

This is a regular part of our self-defence training for advanced students and beginners alike.

While the exercises vary depending on the skills of the student, the objective is the same: to become experts at defensive and offensive techniques and learn when one or the other is required.

A good offence is as important as a good defence to anyone dedicated to learning realistic, practical self-defence.

different types of sparring

Below is a list of commonly used Types of Sparring in Krav Maga Global (KMG). Each type has its own, and equally important for learning, paces, goals, mindsets. Each type is introduced to students at different levels.

Note that in only the first type of fighting (Slow fighting) impact is 100%, which sounds like a baptism by fire, but at the pace recommended for slow fighting (20-30%) the impact of the strikes should be reasonably tolerated even by a beginner.

TypeSlow FightingLight FightingMediumHardFull Contact
(Agreed between partners)
Full Contact10-20%30-50%60-80 %80-90%
Except to head
(Every goal set moves up the ladder)
Understanding movement
Learning to see and avoid attacks. Using defenses and attacks in the correct timing.
Using correct attacks on different distances. Learning to avoid
Increasing pressure, decreasing response time within a safe environment. Sensitising the CNS for high speed drills.Adding more pressure, learning to resist impact, learning to avoid impact, learning to resist mental pressureAdding more pressure, learning to resist impact, learning to resist mental pressureFunctioning under and coping with pressure, (mentally and physically) under as realistic conditions as possible
KMG LvlP 1-3P 2-4P4 – G1P5 – G1G1
GearMouth guard, groin protectionMouth guard, Groin protection, Shin guards, MMA gloves (4 Oz)Mouth guard, Groin protection, Shin guards, MMA gloves/Boxing Gloves (10 Oz and up)Mouth guard, Groin protection, shin guards, MMA gloves/Boxing Gloves (10 Oz and up), Head GearFull protective, impact reducing suit

Sparring in training

Mindset: Learning & Learning/Fighting

The overall goal of all types of sparring is to prepare students for real-life situations, and at the same time improve their physical and mental endurance.

The level of pressure/stress in the sparring session must be catered appropriately to the level of the students in the class.

For instance, if we want a more technical approach where the students can explore new techniques they just have learned, we create an environment that facilitates that type of training.

Sparring is introduced slowly and at a steady, safe pace. The safe way to gradually introduce sparring at a slow pace with minimum pressure to get the students used to the skills required for sparring. We call this slow-fighting.

In slow-fighting, both power and speed are reduced so that students get the chance to practice their footwork, attacks and defenses and overall fighting ability under minimal pressure. Yet being subject to repeated attacks in a dynamic setting puts them just outside their comfort zone, which facilitates their learning and self-control under stress.

This is done to improve their abilities to react to attacks, and to trigger their CNS to work at a marginally higher level than in a regular training session.

If the partner goes too hard and increases the pressure too much, too early in the training, it will trigger the fight-or-flight response. The consequent release of stress hormones will change the focus of the training session into a no-technique fighting session.

This in itself is not a bad thing, but at the early stages of learning sparring it will bring the learning and skill acquisition down which in turn hinders the development of the student.

You can’t win a training session

A training session with a training partner is a session with someone you (presumably) enjoy training with, and probably want to continue training with so that you can both get better and learn from one another.

To make sure that you get better after every session, you must be prepared for something Eyal told me about the first time I visited Israel in 1995: to invest in loss.

The more images feed your brain on what might happen if you do a certain thing, the more resources your brain has to access when it needs it (the process of finding them will also be faster, too, if you have acquired them before compared to responding to a new problem).

To learn how to fight, you have to invest in loss

Eyal Yanilov

Investing in loss also helps you mentally accept the fact that you might lose sometimes and to accept that feeling. This will help you understand where your weaknesses are, fix the problems and move forward as a better fighter.

Except in the case when a fight-or-flight response is triggered, the increased pressure from your partner will make the training into a competition. Again, this is not a bad thing in itself but for learning purposes it is less than ideal.

Being a good partner

Sparring, irrespective of the type, is considered a learning experience. To make sure that it is maximized, each person must strive to be a good partner as well as focusing on improving their own skill-set.

This is achieved with a simple rule: the partner with the least experience sets the pace and decides the impact for the sparring.

This way the pace of the training will be helping both partners as opposed to if the better of the two just does his/her thing and bullies the partner with less experience. The benefit of this is that the partner with more experience gets to try new things and at the same time help bring the less experienced partner to new heights by letting them experience new problems.

This helps both partners improve their decision making process.

“Learning at the edge of your ability but not beyond, where you are successful but challenged”

Gray Cook/Brett Jones, FMS

Stress and the CNS

The further into your sparring training you go the more pressure you can add, which will help you react to problems faster and faster under more and more pressure. The higher you bring your skills on this ladder the easier other things will be.

sparring tommy blom fightingLet me explain with some personal experience. I had been training Krav Maga and MMA with sparring for a lot of years (KM 1994 – 2010, MMA 1999-2010) before I did my first real fight (Pro MMA), I then did two more professional fights, one in 2010 and one in 2011.

In my fights I realized two main things.

    1. I understood that I had never tried to hit somebody full speed and full power before and no one had ever tried to hit me full speed and full power before. As we know, sparring in training is never full speed and full power – for safety reasons, and you usually don’t want to hurt your training partner.
    2. After I had been at full speed and full power, both on the giving and receiving end, my brain had started to work in a higher level when I went back to sparring with partners in a training environment.

Think of it like driving 250 km/h and then reducing speed to 100 km/h, everything will feel much easier since the brain will be used to reacting to problems “attacking it” at a much higher pace. To me this was a very valuable experience in my further development.

Going back to sparring in training … we have to increase the speed and power in training to make sure that we reach a level that is as high as possible without losing control and safety.

Sparring/fighting is an extremely important tool that can make or break the students and as a tool it has to be used correctly to reach the correct goal.

The sparring has to be directed to the goal of the session and above all the experience of the group of students! If the different stages of sparring/fighting types of training is followed in an intelligent way, with a steady increase of mental pressure/intensity/impact/speed, we will build students that will be able to do intelligent sparring/fighting without any injuries and this will help build the best practitioners we can build.

Sparring in testing

Mindset: Fighting/Learning

Sparring in testing is a completely different ballgame to sparring in training.

Here we want to see the overall efficiency and competency of the student in a sparring situation that is as realistic as possible, while maintaining safety and control.

We do not consider this a Learning/Fighting experience but a Fighting/Learning experience. This is as close we in KMG come to a real fight, this is where we have to put all the training into play and try to win.

What will we look for during sparring on a test?

There are a lot of qualities that we want to see in a student and a few of them are.

  • Safety
  • Control
  • Power
  • Speed
  • Explosiveness
  • Movement
  • Determination
  • Stamina
  • Mental abilities
  • Fighting skills


It goes without saying that safety is a crucial part of all KMG training… and especially sparring and fighting!

This article was originally published by Krav Maga Global Master Level 1 Instructor Tommy Blom on Tenacity.Se. You can read it here.