The Beginners Guide to Sparring Gear for Martial Arts and Boxing

Depending on the combat sports discipline you partake in, contact in sparring might take on many expressions. Some disciplines use free, full contact sparring in competitions, whilst others, like Karate, use a light contact point system to determine the victor in a match.

Point fighting is an excellent form of light contact martial arts, which allows fighters to learn timing and  distance control, and develop quick reactions and reflexes. Light contact sparring allows for opponents to train all skills which add up to effective sparring skills, whilst minimising injuries caused by heavy blows.

Whatever level of contact your training sessions and competitions involve, you’ll undoubtedly know that sometimes light contact doesn’t always mean light contact. Sometimes, even under the most controlled semi contact setting, a punch is thrown that connects which stuns an opponent.

There is a tremendous need for protective equipment when athletes spar, whether inside the ring at a major competition, or on the mat at your local MMA club. Without the proper padding in place before you start a sparring session, you could hurt either yourself or your opponent.

Let’s talk about some essential gear that you’ll need before you spar.

Head Guards

Although head guards may limit your field of view and may affect your peripheral vision, there is outstanding evidence to prove its effectiveness. Just like wearing proper sized gloves, it’s important to find headgear that properly fits you. If the headgear is too large, it’s going to block your peripheral vision; too tight, and it’ll cause pain. Also, only a properly fitting piece of headgear can offer you adequate protection.

If you’re considering any serious sparring, headgear is an essential piece of your sparring gear.

Dipped Foam Headgear for Light and Semi Contact Sparring 

If you’re involved in light contact point fighting, Martial Arts Mats Ireland offers a dipped foam head guard. The dipped foam headguard is made from a soft EVA foam which is resistant to sweat, dipped in PVC resin, and vacuum moulded to create the perfect fit on your head.

Before we delve more into the uses of dipped foam, it’s important to note that dipped foam sparring gear should only be used in light and semi contact point fighting and light contact continuous fighting. Dipped foam isn’t designed to shield against the intense blows that full contact matches involve, both sparring in training sessions and competition matches. Dipped foam is incredibly light, which makes it perfect for light contact, but ill-suited to be cushion heavy blows.

Boxing Head Guard for Heavy, Full Contact Sparring

Martial Arts Mats Ireland also offers top-of-the-line, full contact boxing headgear which is incredibly easy to wear and provides perfect shock absorption properties. Made from high-impact foam wrapped in vinyl, and offering different layers of high-density foam, this boxing headgear perfectly conforms to the contours of your head. Because of the innovative manufacturing process, the headgear is specifically shaped to reduce uncomfortable neck pressure, and to absorb high impact blows directed at your forehead, ears, and back of your head.

The Necessity of Head Guards in Full Contact Boxing

A recent study conducted by the kinesiology department of Wayne State University found that protective headgear can limit the likelihood of brain injuries caused by strikes for boxers1. Made to mimic the effects that a boxer may experience in the ring, a biochemical surrogate was used to determine the effects of hooks and jabs on the human head. Several amateur boxers wore hand accelerometers to determine the speed and velocity of a punch, whilst a dummy wore several shock-absorbing pads to measure the striking force of the punch.

Their experiments showed that wearing headgear significantly decreased peak punch force delivered to an opponent, and can even cause punches to glance off the side, resulting in minimal damage.

Dipped Foam Sparring Kit for Light and Semi Contact

As noted above, dipped foam sparring gear is incredibly beneficial to wear in light and semi contact point fighting and continuous fighting. Even with lighter contact, there’s a need to protect the main parts of your body that are constantly under stress. One way to limit the amount of pain caused by sparring is to protect your shins and arms from repeated strikes when blocking, kicking, and punching.

Dipped foam sparring kits are incredibly lightweight, easy to adjust for the perfect fit, and provide the perfect protection in the right spot. Just like the headgear listed above, the dipped foam sparring kit is made from EVA foam, which is dipped in PVC resin, and then vacuum moulded to perfectly fit your body.

One thing to keep in mind with dipped foam sparring equipment is that it has a tendency to split when squashed into a kitbag and sat on. Those tiny splits continue to tear, eventually ruining the equipment. If you take good care of your sparring kit, it’ll take good care of you in the ring.

The most economical choice when purchasing dipped foam sparring equipment is to purchase a complete set, with shin guards, kick guards, dipped foam gloves, groin guard, and head guard.

Dipped foam gloves are suitable for many styles of martial arts, including Kickboxing, Karate, Tang Soo Do, Taekwondo and Kung Fu. Dipped foam is perfect for light and semi contact in-club sparring, however, always check with your local governing body about whether you can use open fingered gloves in a competition. Because of the increased chances of injury, closed finger gloves may be needed in competitions.

Protect Your Hands with Gloves and Wraps

Being injury-free is the best way to progress in your training, and in order to avoid injury, and to prolong training sessions and avoid fatigue in your hands, properly wrap your hands and place them into a boxing glove. A fantastic video from Expert Boxing runs you through the process of properly wrapping your hands to prepare for hitting a heavy bag or sparring2. Give this tutorial video a view if you want to develop your hand wrapping technique.

Boxing Gloves Vs. MMA Grappling Gloves
The major difference between MMA and boxing gloves is the amount of padding on each glove. MMA grappling gloves are sleek and less padded, with finger holes to allow for versatile movements of the hand when grappling, whilst boxing gloves are more heavily padded to protect against powerful strikes. Boxing gloves also extend past the wrist and lace up like shoes. Rarely do MMA fighters wear hand wraps while wearing gloves.

Finding the Perfect Sized Boxing Glove for Your Needs

Just like an experienced carpenter who needs the right tool for the job, you’re going to need the right equipment for each different task in the gym. Boxers may have multiple gloves in their bag for different uses. A light glove (10oz and 12oz) is perfect for hitting a heavy bag, and might be considered a “bag glove” 3. Bag gloves are light enough to deliver swift strikes, whilst not minimising protection needed to hammer a bag.

When it comes time to spar with a partner, a heavier glove will come in handy because of its more substantial padding. A good rule is that when sparring or in a fight, boxers should go up one size (2oz) to ensure safety and comfort4.Heavier gloves come in handy when you’re involved in full contact sparring, which closely mimics the realities of a regular fight. At Martial Arts Mats Ireland, there are boxing gloves available in three different sizes: 10oz,12oz, and 14 oz.


Whether it’s heavy or light contact, sparring has inherent risks associated with it. Sparring in training is one of the best ways to get ready for a competition, yet it can also be one of the most dangerous ways to train. During full contact training matches, punches are being thrown at high intensity, and can cause injuries which may force you to lose valuable training time rehabbing your injuries.

The best way to protect against injury whilst giving it all you’ve got in a sparring session is to wear protection, like headgear and heavily padded gloves if you’re a boxer. Even in light and semi contact sparring, repeated strikes will wear down athletes, and light dipped foam sparring gear can be the best way to shield against the regular wear and tear of competition.

Author: David Van Kooten

1.Dau, Nathan & Chun, Hai & Sherman, Don & Bir, Cynthia. (2006). Effectiveness of Boxing Headgear for Limiting Injury.


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