At first glance, sparring someone less experienced can be frustrating. You’re warmed up, stretched, and ready to go full speed, but then you’re partnered with someone who doesn’t go at that level yet. At this point, you might think sparring a beginner will be a waste of time. However, there are many things you can work on and improve in this situation. So let’s cut to the chase and look at them!
Work your weakest moves
Do you mostly strike with your front hand and foot? Use your rear limbs instead.
Bad at spin kicks? Do that!
Better with your left side forward? Spar right side forward.
Typically linear footwork? Try circling.
Practicing this way lets you challenge yourself and your partner without just “letting them win.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly have a 100% success rate with spin kicks in sparring, so I have no excuse not to work on them when sparring someone less experienced!
See an opening and score a point? Repeat the exact same move to the same target over and over until your partner learns. You might still win, but they will learn. (If they aren’t learning after the 3rd or 4th point, use your common sense and slow down and help them!)
Just the other day I was sparring someone less experienced and they weren’t protecting their head very well. I used my left hand and scored a point to their headgear. Then I did it again, then one more time, then I never successfully did it for the rest of the match because they adjusted their defense and learned how to stop me. By the end of the match, I was complimenting them on their strong defense!
My Turn, Your Turn (Subtly)
Normally I discourage the mindset of throwing a move or two, letting your opponent react, and then resetting. However, when sparring a beginner it’s useful. Throw a few moves and leave an intentional opening. See if they can block your attack and then counter where you expected. This lets your partner work on countering while you learn about where your own openings are. If you can control where you’re open, you can anticipate counters – a skill that will help against experienced opponents.
Low Stance Challenge
If your opponent isn’t challenging you, find ways to challenge yourself! I typically spar fairly light on my feet so a good challenge would be to spar from a low horse stance. The leg workout is great by itself, but it will also make you slower, thereby leveling the playing field a bit for your inexperienced opponent.
Just be sure not to knock your opponent around too much with your lower center of gravity!
Most importantly, your goal is to find the thing your less-experienced opponent did best and compliment them. If their defense got better, say “nice blocks!” If they nailed you with a great kick, tell them! It’s as simple as that. Not only will this encourage your partner, but it forces you to be very aware as you spar – this will help you figure out the strengths and weaknesses of more experienced opponents!
Don’t Be a Jerk!
When sparring someone new, it would be easy to just throw your best stuff a few times and win the match. Remember, absolutely no one would benefit from that. Sparring isn’t a competition, really. Even in most tournaments the only thing on the line is a plastic trophy. The real goal is to improve and find a way to help your partner improve. If you overwhelm someone new it doesn’t help either of you. Find things to work on that benefits you both!