Rethink your sparring game: are you predictable in your strikes, footwork, and defense? If so you are a perfect candidate for the next knockout!
I learned a lot through my training by bringing a video camera and filming my training sessions. Sobering, yes, but very helpful. While relaxed and watching I began to notice what would happen if I messed up on my footwork, but more importantly what occurred if I settled into predictable patterns in my movement: I would receiving a beating for it.
Even less skilled fighters than you can get in good shots, yes, knock out shots, if they can predict your next movement. This calls for a serious consideration of your sparring game.
Start with your footwork: Are all your steps the same distance and speed? By taking longer, slow steps instead of successive even steps all the time is not only harder for an opponent to know what you are going to do next but also easier for you to switch it up and execute quick explosive movement when needed. Rodney King of Crazy Monkey Defense states, “never move at your fastest, because if you have to suddenly go faster, there is no ‘faster’ you can go”.
Think about your body movement. If you are “boxy”–stiff and square–all the time, your opponent will be able to sense and react to whatever motion you make. This reaction time will put you at a disadvantage. Focus on loosening up, moving your shoulders, making small circular motions with your arms, changing levels with your body by doing small slips and ducks. All of this motion will make it very difficult to read you.
Take a look at your strikes. Have you settled into familiar combinations? Are you trying to throw too many combinations in a row which leaves you open for a body or head shot? Are you throwing punches with the same rhythm, speed, and pressure? It is vital to learn how to mix it up. Experiment by changing the rhythm of the same combo– slow, fast, fast, fast…. fast, fast, push, fast. By push I refer to the amount of weight you put behind your punch and how quickly you pull it back. A push can throw your opponent off balance unexpectedly. A flick is a quick light punch that won’t do any damage but can set you up for powerful strikes.
Another thing to consider is your movement as a whole. Do you move first and then strike or have you developed your skill to a seamless, fluid motion of strikes and movement? (Keep in mind that it is important to learn good technique and so beginning students must start with moving and then striking so as to do both correctly.) Once the foundational skills are set a martial artist must be able to strike while moving any direction.
Developing strategy and effective skill in your sparring game, while keeping your ego out of it will make you a better fighter. If your ego is in it you will try to show your “A” game immediately. This could be compared to a poker player that has no poker face, but can be easily read–that player will lose almost every time. In sparring you can still be in charge without throwing out all your best moves in the beginning. By pulling back your force, speed and skill just a notch you can actually throw your opponent off by stepping it up and letting loose at the right moment. They may not even no what hit them!
Sun Tzu, a brilliant teacher of the art of combat, spoke of the importance of this strategy of deceiving your enemy. He taught, “Warfare is one thing. It is a philosophy of deception. When you are ready, you try to appear incapacitated. When active, you pretend inactivity. When you are close to the enemy, you appear distant. When far away, you pretend you are near. You can have an advantage and still entice an opponent. You can be disorganized and still be decisive. You can be ready and still be preparing.”
I challenge you to take time to visualize your sparring. Bring a notebook to take notes of what you learn in class. You are even welcome to bring a video camera to class for the purpose of watching yourself. More importantly, begin to evaluate how you can become a better fighter and begin to develop a personal strategy for success.