Sparring with different partners increases the range and ability of any fighter.
Many people question the wisedom and safety of men sparring with women. Most competitions are separated by gender, so what do people gain by training with the opposite sex?
When sparring someone at the same level, weight and ability, gender shouldn’t be an issue. Obviously a larger or more experienced practitioner should maintain control with someone smaller or less experienced, regardless of gender. Limiting partners to only one sex limits yourself and your experience.
The benefits of sparring cross-gender gained by women are more obvious. From a self defense perspective, if a woman is going to be attacked on the street, more than likely a man will be the attacker. Experience fighting larger, stronger opponents will increase her effectiveness if she is forced to defend herself. From a combative competition perspective, a woman will not have to hold back when she spars with larger opponents and can hone her powerstrike skills, as well as getting used to taking harder shots. The major cross-gender sparring benefit for a woman training in combative martial arts is that there are almost always more men available to spar with.
Men can also benefit from sparring with women, although the advantages may be less obvious. A woman’s strikes may not have the intensity of a larger man, but often her movements will be quicker and if she is an effective fighter, more elusive. A man may gain an appreciation for attempting to keep his partner on the outside. Sensitivity, timing and targeting will also be trained if he is sparring a woman smaller and quicker and trying to maintain control. Many larger men especially rely on their strength. To be forced to apply technique rather than strength to avoid injuring his partner can create a more well rounded fighter. Men can also improve as fighters without sustaining the same degree of injury as they would if they were constantly training full out against other heavier partners.
As with all training partnerships, communication is key. Men often possess an ingrained feeling that hitting a woman is uncouth. They’ll often take it easy, which some women can perceive as patronizing. Often it takes a verbal communication from the smaller partner to indicate that upping the intensity is acceptable. On the flip side, if a partner (of either gender) is going too hard, something should be said by the other partner about toning down. It is possible that neither side is aware of the disparity in perception and both will get a better workout if they’re on the same page.
When starting at a gym, likely you’ll meet people in classes to partner with for outside sparring sessions. The longer you train, the more people you will become familiar with and your sparring comfort level will increase as you learn to adapt to different partners.
Like other sports, there will be people of both genders who just don’t like to be beat and don’t like to be scored on. Eventually you’ll learn who these people are and can either avoid sparring with them or at the very least, you’ll know what you’re in for when you get in the ring with them.