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The Fightlab Guide to Muay Thai Sparring Etiquette

Posted on December 14 2016


Sparring is an essential part of any Muay Thai training regime and allows fighters to experiment with new techniques, as well as solidify the basics. But newcomers to the sport may not realise that Muay Thai sparring has many unwritten rules and is governed by a lot of etiquette.

Now you may be thinking, fighting etiquette? And yes while it sounds rather bizarre, it’s a hugely important part of sparring and failure to adhere to it could see you embarrassed by your opponent or worst still, physically hurt.

We’ve compiled this short guide to Muay Thai sparring etiquette so that you know what to expect and how to approach any sparring session the right way.

Show Restraint and Respect

Before you start sparring, especially if it’s with a new partner, assert exactly what each of you are wanting to get out of the session. Agree upon what’s allowed, what’s not allowed and how hard you’re going to spar.

It can be very easy to get carried away when sparring, particularly if it’s your first time, but showing your partner respect and exercising restraint is crucial. Failure to stick to your agreement could see you dropped hard by a more experienced opponent, teaching you a valuable, if not tough lesson.

Always Wear a Mouthguard

Even though you’re only sparring, blows still hurt and there’s always the possibility of taking a shot to the mouth. That’s why wearing an appropriate and high-quality mouthguard is an absolute must.

It’s not just about protecting your teeth either. A well-fitted mouthguard will also protect your jaw and help to stop you getting knocked out – something that can happen even with the lightest of blows.

Use 16oz Gloves

You should agree with your sparring partner beforehand on glove weight, but it’s good etiquette to use 16oz gloves. Anything lighter will give you a significant advantage. Not only will you be faster, hit harder and keep your hands up better, but you’ll also have less padding.

If you don’t have any 16oz gloves then you should definitely consider buying some. We’ve got a great selection in our latest catalogue.

Avoid Front Push Kicks to the Face

In Thai culture pointing your foot at someone or making contact with the foot is considered rude. Obviously, kicks play a huge role in Muay Thai but a teep or front push kick to the face is often seen as hugely disrespectful.

Leg Sweeps

Should you happen to catch your partner’s leg during a sparring session, it’s good etiquette NOT to perform a huge leg sweep. While it can be tempting, you’ll look far more professional, not to mention cooler, if you just give their leg a tap and then carry on sparring. You’ll both know that you let them off and it will give you a credit in the karma bank for the future.

No Elbows

This goes without saying. Elbows are rarely used in Muay Thai sparring, but you may agree with your opponent to include them if absolutely necessary. If this is the case, always wear padded elbow guards and make sure you’re both wearing head guards too. Elbows can be devastating, especially if they catch you off guard.

Start and Finish Each Round with a Wai

The people of Thailand greet each other with a wai and do not shake hands like westerners. A wai sees you placing your palms and fingers together as if in a prayer position at around chest height. It is also usually accompanied by a slight bow of the head. Respecting your sparring partner with a wai at the start and end of each round is in true keeping of the traditions of Muay Thai as a sport.


Muay Thai is a physically active and intense sport, which creates a lot of sweat and bodily odour. But even despite this, you should try to be as clean as possible when you spar. This is especially important for clinches where close contact and body proximity matter. You should also ensure that your toenails are neatly trimmed and clean and do not pose any risk of cutting to your sparring partner. The last thing you want is to come away from a sparring session with a staph infection from a dirty toenail ripping your skin. Maybe it’s a comfort thing, but some guys choose to not wear underpants when they’re sparring. And while it may be comfortable, nobody wants to see you hanging out of your shorts and constantly having to ‘fix’ yourself. Do yourself and everyone else a favour and always wear underpants when sparring. Muay Thai sparring should be something you enjoy and ultimately benefit from. Losing your cool and reacting aggressively, rightly or wrongly, is definitely NOT something you want to do. Listen to your trainer and focus on getting the very most from every sparring session.