MMA 101: When “Going Light” Is The Right/Wrong Approach

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‘Let’s just go light’.

We’ve all heard it. Or, more realistically, we’ve all been taken in by it. You know exactly what I’m saying. Your teammate has an injury/is tired/is sick/is scared of you. They casually mention they just want to go light. You nod and smile, or, if you’ve been training a while, you narrow your eyes in skepticism and serious doubt. That’s for good reason, because every single person seems to have a different idea of what ‘light’ means. Or what may start out as legitimately light is often escalated by one partner or another, until suddenly ‘light’ has become a full out war. Worst of all are the injuries caused by teammates who ask to go light and, when their partner has let their defenses down, suddenly goes full beast and lasts a hard overhand right or whips on a joint-dislocating kimura.

What does ‘going light’ mean?

There is no one answer to this. Going light means different things to different people, which is why it’s important to explain what it means to you. Perhaps you simply mean, ‘don’t punch me in the face as hard as you can, I’m already having trouble remembering what 2 + 2 =). Maybe you have an injury and would like your partner to stay the hell away from your right foot. If you’re going to go light, clarify what ‘light’ means to you, and then STICK WITH IT. I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not tell your partner you want to go light and then launch yourself at their unsuspecting body like a tiger who’s just smelled fresh meat. We’ve all laughed at a thousand memes about ‘going light’, but there’s a reason those exist. Don’t use ‘going light’ as an excuse to get the upper hand on a partner who isn’t expecting it. Sometimes you will also see people asking to ‘go light’ with teammates who are more experienced or better than them. Unless you have a valid reason to believe you’ll get injured by rolling/sparring with them (in which case, you shouldn’t be with them in the first place), don’t use it as an excuse to avoid getting worked over. Egos have no place in the gym.

What do you with a teammate who doesn’t/won’t go light?

This is something that you must stand up for, especially if there’s an injury involved. That being said, while your teammate has an enormous responsibility to respect your request, it is ultimately your decision to get on the mats. You must always remember that anything can happen when you’re sparring/rolling, and if there is a risk to you training, it is truly your responsibility to ensure your own safety. If you request to go light, clarify what you mean, and then see that your partner is not respecting that, don’t be afraid to speak up and remind them. In fact, you have to. If they do it again, it’s time to move on to a new partner. Respect the safety of your partner, but don’t forget that your own is just as important.

‘Going light’ sounds like a minor thing, but the ability to do so and the ability to respect this request from a teammate can make an enormous difference in your training, your teammates’ training, and your relationships with others in the gym and the combat community. Be up front about it, mean it, enforce it, and respect it.