Should You Wear Headgear When Sparring? - MMA Life

Should You Wear Headgear When Sparring?

(Last Updated On: November 26, 2017)

Whether you decide to participate in a martial arts competition or not, sparring should be incorporated into your training. Sparring sessions are necessary because they are crucial to developing and refining your skill set. But when you start, you may ask if wearing a headgear during sparring is really necessary.

The utilization of headgears varies greatly in the martial arts community. This article will provide information to help you decide if you should wear a headgear or not during your sparring sessions.

The Purpose of Sparring Headgears

A common misconception is that everybody has to wear a headgear whenever they take part in sparring because it reduces the brain trauma created by strikes, such as punching and kicking. However, the main purpose of the headgear is to prevent superficial injuries to the face and head. It does not make a person less liable to receiving a concussion or prevent the trauma taken to the head. That is why amateur boxing no longer requires headgear in its matches (at least for males). An AIBA study actually showed that headgear increased the likelihood of head trauma in amateur matches (because it made people more likely to engage without giving thought to the dangers of repeated head trauma).

Benefits of Wearing a Headgear

Even though a headgear does not remove the risk of head trauma, as previously mentioned, it is advantageous to wear for the following reasons.

  • Superficial Injuries – It is great for preventing superficial injuries like cuts, bruises and black eyes.
  • Head Collisions – Accidental head collisions can be quite nasty. This typically occurs when a fighter blitz forward to close the distance or during infighting exchanges.
  • Looking Respectable for Work – When you work at a company that puts high value on their employees appearance, a headgear will keep facial damages and black eyes to a minimum.
  • Confidence – The headgear reduces the sensation of being punch. This effect helps diminish a fighter’s fear of getting hit, which result in them being more willing to engage and throw combinations in close quarters. In the long term, their overall offensive skills will improve.
  • Competitors – If you have a fight coming up, the headgear will prevent cuts that could cause you to fail pre-fight inspections. Another disadvantage of receiving a cut before a competition is the high probability of it being re-opened during a fight. This is particularly terrible for cuts above the eye since the blood coming from it will affect your vision and potentially cause the referee to stop the fight.
  • Cauliflower Ears – Headgears with solid padding around the ear will decrease the likelihood of cauliflower ears. This distinct feature generally occurs when an individual receives numerous punches to the ear or when two fighters are infighting and grinding their ears against each other as they fight for head position.
  • Perforated Eardrum – An additional benefit of a good ear padding is the protection against obtaining a perforated eardrum that may result from a hard strike landing directly on your ear.
  • Requirements – Based on the combat sport chosen, its regulations and traditions could influence the use of a headgear. For example, amateur boxing regulation requires a U.S.A Boxing certified headgear for any competition matches involving women, competitors younger than 19 years old, and those competing in the senior division. In this scenario, you should spar with a headgear to imitate the competition fight conditions.

Reasons to NOT Wear a Headgear When Sparring

The subsequent content contains information on why it might be better to not use a headgear when sparring.

  • Bigger Target – The bulky headpiece naturally causes your head to be a bigger target. For that reason, wearing one increases your probability of getting hit.  
  • Vision – Headgears with large cheek protectors and a thick bar across the forehead will disturb your vision.
    • Side Vision – It could hinder your peripheral vision which affects your ability to see shots to the side of your head like hooks.
    • Forehead Bar – After receiving a punch or moving your head rapidly, the headgear might shift and slide over your eyes. These occurrences can be rather annoying and temporarily block all vision. In boxing, you are taught to keep your chin down and eyes up. However, the headgear portion that runs along your forehead could block your vision if they are too thick.
    • Cheek Protectors – Headgears with large cheek protectors obstruct your view from strikes launched at low angles, such as knees and kicks.
  • Security Blanket – A headgear could act as a security blanket for some individuals who feel safe absorbing strikes because the pain of being hit to the face has diminished. This type of thought process is detrimental to their health.
  • Aggression – Due to the reduction in pain from head shots, you and your training partners may use the headgear as an opportunity to turn up the aggression, hit harder, and even go into unnecessary brawls.
  • Friction – Instead of a punch glancing off your sweaty or vaseline covered face, the headgear could actually provide an additional grip for the opponent’s glove and cause you to absorb the hit more than if you were not wearing one.

Developing Good Habits

Having the capability and knowledge to lead safe sparring sessions is great for decreasing the occurrence of unnecessary head trauma.

  • Training Partner – It is important to find reliable sparring partners that could be trusted to not headhunt for a knockout.
  • Light Sparring Sessions – Try to hold sparring sessions where you and your training partner are throwing strikes with less than 50% power or simply pulling back the hard ones.
  • Body vs. Head – Organize sessions so that everybody delivers light strikes to the head and save the hard ones for the body. There will be times where you go hard to both the head and body, but those intense sparring sessions should not be too common.
  • Rest and Recovery – Avoid sparring too much, especially without adequate time to rest your body and mind between each session.
  • Symptoms – Even though an individual may not have gotten knocked out during training, the blunt force trauma received may still be significant enough to sustain a concussion. Therefore, an individual must know how to identify the symptoms or be able to ask other people that are knowledgeable about the topic.


If you are currently training at a location where the coach does not dictate the headgear requirement, then you should evaluate the content mentioned in this article as well as talk to qualified individuals to determine if wearing a headgear would be best for your training situation. Learn to train smarter and protect that precious brain of yours!

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