New boxers must adapt to the culture of boxing and learn what is acceptable. Failure to do so will result in some kind of retaliation by the sparring partner, the coach, or the other participants/teammates. However, learning these rules and customs may be a long and punishing process, especially if a rookie just walks into a gym and starts sparring soon after. In this article, I will lay out and explain some of the most commonly followed rules and expectations for beginner boxers. Note: Every gym has its own culture and expectations. Observe and ask questions!
Unspoken Rules/Expectations of a Gym
- Fight fire with fire.
- Save the clinching for the match.
- Goofy styles will be punished.
- (For light sparring) Go hard to the body instead of the head.
- Don’t go above your skill level.
- Let your sparring partner fix their headgear.
- Tap gloves at the beginning of the round(s).
- Never hit on the break but always protect yourself during it.
- Don’t show too much respect inside the ring.
- Whatever happens in the ring stays in the ring.
Fight fire with fire is your go-to approach in adversity. If your opponent is going hard on you, you should go hard on them. Otherwise, you’ll look weak. However, it doesn’t mean getting reckless; you must always maintain control, so wait for your moments, time your shots. But never let something go unanswered.
Save the clinching for the match is a loose expectation. Your partner wants work, and you aren’t benefiting if you default to clinching. Excessive clinching seems cowardly, and unless you are specifically working on clinching or dealing with clinching, you should avoid it.
Goofy styles will be punished because it’s a sign that you don’t know what you’re doing or you aren’t serious. A goofy style may include ducking too low, switching stances too often, or taking hops instead of steps. Aside from these things being punished because they’re likely ineffective in themselves, your sparring partners will likely go harder on you, intentionally or not. The reason? To knock some sense into you.
Bonus: If you don’t like the idea of being serious most times in the gym, first get respect by performing well in training and sparring. After you get respect, then you can do goofy things in the ring or even pick the full-face headgear that so many rookies elect to use.
Go hard to the body instead of the head for light sparring or even moderate sparring. There’s no point in getting hurt in practice, but at the same time, sparring isn’t too useful if there’s no danger. The usual solution to these considerations is an implicit or explicit agreement to 1) punch rather hard to the body since damage to the body bears little long-term consequence (exception: broken ribs) and 2) punch rather lightly to the head since nobody wants to get a concussion or eye problems from sparring.
Don’t go above your skill level can be read two ways. First, don’t box like you’re experienced if you aren’t. Not willing to learn, showboating (forthcoming), posting (forthcoming), using techniques you have no business using, like strange or advanced guards or something you saw on TV or social media, will show that you are arrogant. Second, if you (1) are a novice or just aren’t that good yet and (2) have expensive equipment (ex. Mizuno boxing shoes and a matching set of Winning headgear, gloves, groin protector), other boxers will want to see if you deserve that kind of equipment. In short, keep your ego in check or you risk others doing it for you.
Let your sparring partner fix their headgear! This comes down to respect and ring etiquette. Headgear can be annoying, and although there are various reasons why your partner would fix their headgear (e.g. can’t see, uncomfortable, too loose, etc.), there’s little point in getting cheap shots from someone who’s fixing their headgear because the point of sparring is to get in quality work and learn. Maybe the only time you wouldn’t let your partner fix their headgear is when coach wants them to adjust to the inconveniences of headgear.
Tap gloves at the beginning of the round(s) to show respect and acknowledgement that you are sparring to help each other get better. Some gyms may expect tapping gloves each round but generally tapping gloves for the first round against a particular person is enough. If you don’t tap gloves, you’ll definitely lose respect from everyone and may even have others be against you rather than with you.
Never hit on the break but always protect yourself during it because the break is a gray area between whether you are still fighting versus whether you are resetting the engagement. On one hand, it’s disrespectful to hit someone who lets their guard down for you two to break, reset, and get back to boxing. On the other hand, it can be hard to tell whether to break and keep boxing or whether your partner knows that you intend to break. So given these considerations, if you two are breaking, don’t punch; if one of you aren’t clearly breaking, protect yourself just in case.
Don’t show too much respect inside the ring because you’ll color yourself as a pushover. Yes, many of the unspoken rules are about establishing and showing respect. But as far as showing more respect than this by, for example, pulling your punches or saying “sorry” or “my bad” too much, this can work against you because others will think you lack confidence and so it’ll be harder for you to establish ring dominance.
Whatever happens in the ring stays in the ring means exactly that. Unless something foul happened to you, it’s just foolish to hold a grudge or resent someone for getting that lucky punch or stepping on your shoes. Things happen in the ring, and every boxer is working towards the same goals. However, remembering and improving off what happened both inside and outside the ring is important. And if whatever happened was intentional and unusual (i.e. doesn’t usually happen in your gym or in boxing or sparring), then that should follow you outside the ring because you are still a man/woman who deserves respect.