Most of the time in boxing sparring, you’re not working with your full power, because if you were, you’d have a pretty short shelf life. Save that shit for the fight, you know?
But because nearly everyone spars with people waaay outside their weight category, you’re likely to get hit really hard now and then. The kind of hit that makes your head buzz and your ears ring. I’m not talking about a knockout punch, but close.
When nearly all my sparring partners were heavyweights, I used to get my bell rung about once a month. Lately it’s a fairly rare occurrence, mostly because I’m in with people closer to my weight, and also because I’m less slow on defense than I used to be. If you’re new, you’re just gonna get tagged on a regular basis; there’s no getting around it. (Don’t worry, you don’t stay new forever.)
Recently I was working with one of my favorite sparring partners; we’re within 5 pounds of each other and very comfortable in the ring together. Our strength is well-matched, and we know how to draw out each other’s best work. We tear shit up, man, and it is awesome. When you’re in there with someone you know you’re safe to work your ass of with, sometimes your power builds and builds and you feel good letting loose some badass shots.
We were there.
Unfortunately, I was also consistently dropping my right. Which meant she was amping up her left hook in order to take smart advantage of my lapse. She scored several hits that I should never have allowed, then BANG. I got rocked, pure and simple. Not a knockout shot, but a clean, clear, hard power shot to the chin that put a sweet stop to my game for a moment.
“I need a second,” I told her immediately, and we both dropped gloves and I walked it off. And you can bet your sweet ass that my coach didn’t even have to mention that sloppy guard of mine because I knew. (He mentioned it anyway. I deserved it.)
Anyway, every boxer experiences it, and you need a few tricks in your toolbox to deal effectively with it. So here you go.
1. DON’T shake your head.
It’s a natural impulse, but it doesn’t help to shake your head to try and clear it. That just sloshes your brains around even more than they already are.
2. Let someone know.
Don’t just stand there and take more hard shots on top of the one you just got. It’s totally, completely, absolutely ordinary in everyday sparring to say, Hang on, I need to recover. It doesn’t mean you’re pussy, it doesn’t mean you are quitting, it just means you’re not a dumbass.
If you got tagged because someone’s going off on you, then you make double sure you tell them to pull the heat. The unwritten rule in sparring is that you match the power of the person you’re working with, unless you agree differently.
3. Be calm.
You box; this is normal. It’s not something you want to have happen all the time, but there’s no need to get excited — or angry and upset. I see guys (especially) get incidentally rocked and then fire off a series of punishing bombs, which just escalates the situation and often turns an otherwise normal sparring match into an ugly, messy, pointless brawl. There’s not much to be learned from that kind of slop, but some coaches (including mine) do allow it so that “the boys” can burn off some stupid.
I’m pretty sure it’s a guy thing, hah.
4. Keep moving.
For the most part, you want to walk it off. Keep everything moving, operating, and in motion until your neurons start firing normally again.
5. Take a drink of water.
When this happened to me recently my coach had me roll out and hang out ringside (it was somewhat a punishment for the sloppy guard, I think) while my sparring parter finished the round with someone else. My coach instructed me to get a drink and cool off for a round. It’s annoying to have to do this, but finding your water bottle and getting some liquid in you gives you something else to focus on. Dammit.
6. Fix what went wrong.
In this particular case, I knew what I’d done, and I was already pissed at myself for letting my right drop like that. If you don’t know exactly why your bell got rung, your coach will clarify, and you should immediately start thinking about patching up the hole in your form. Which leads me to…
7. Get back in. ASAP.
You don’t want to end your sparring session on a rough note like that if you can help it. Get back in with someone you trust and concentrate on fixing the problem you had in the first place. In my case, my sparring partner and I laughed a little at how few rights I was throwing when I got back in. My right was practically duct-taped high and tight to my headgear. I wasn’t letting that hand down for ANYthing, not so soon after getting rocked.
If all you do is work on protecting yourself, good for you. Everyone needs to work some defense-only rounds now and then. If you feel up to raising the power again, let your sparring partner know and go for it. But no matter what, get back in.
8. Know when to stop.
I just did one more sparring round after my bell-ringer. I’d already had a good workout and that was all I needed to finish on a positive note. But sometimes you get hit really hard and need to roll out and not spar at all for a day or three. (I don’t recommend hard sparring more than once or twice a week, anyway.)
Pay attention to your body and do what it tells you. Get rest and take aspirin when you need to, because if you don’t pay attention, you run the risk of getting injured and really taking yourself out of the game you love.
9. A note on “faking it.”
For me, none of the above applies if you’re talking about an actual fight. I mean, except being calm and fixing the problem.
My first trainer Bonnie is famous for her incredibly tight guard. NObody gets through that guard, boys and girls. She’s never been knocked out, or even stopped. But she came close, once…
She used to tell me the story of how she got tagged so hard during one of her fights that her vision blacked out. She stayed on her feet, though, and worked like a fiend to not give ANY indication of her status. She was flat not going to a) allow a ref to step in and possibly stop the fight, or b) give her opponent any reason to come barreling in for the kill.
And she pulled it off. And every time I got seriously rocked during our sparring sessions, she would remind me to not show it in a fight if at all possible. To keep boxing, to keep working to the very best of my ability. To fake it, hard, until I was back in the swing.
Ever been rocked?
Got a story to share? Leave me a comment and let me know how you handled a hard-ass punch. Tell us your pointers for taking a bad one, and not letting it hold you down.
Stay strong, fighter.