The “Trick” to Improving Martial Arts Performance
This is a quick set of tips to help you improve your martial arts performance–also known as “sparring/fighting” skill.
I know some martial artists may consider sparring or fighting skill one part of martial arts skill, but I consider it to be the only display of martial arts skill. When we focus on what the practitioner is able to do against an unfamiliar, resisting and combative opponent (not training partner), we are then looking at what this person is able to “do”. Everything else–sinawali, punching focus mitts, doing the splits, demonstrating disarming methods and counters–is not an indication of how the subject will perform in a fight.
Now there are those who will say that “sparring” is simulated and therefore not representative of this person’s actual fighting ability.
You’re right. And that’s why I consider sparring to be an indication of what this person’s fighting ability is like. It is the closest, safest method of showcasing your potential in a man-to-man (or men), life or death fight. Anything less, such as a demo of block and counter, drills and give and take, is further from the truth than sparring. If you want to add a hundred drills, fine. But you must have sparring as the focus–or you aren’t preparing for anything but putting on demos.
If you are looking to improve your performance at “simulated” sparring, then read on!
Besides the obvious things like speed, stamina, strength and power (there is a difference between strength and power… but another article!)–there are three keys, three tricks, to increasing your ability to land hits as well as stop them. Not everyone is aware of them, although most fighters have a degree of the three but they won’t master them until they understand them better and how to manipulate them. A few master teachers understand this concept and when they incorporate them into their teaching and training methods, the result is a much more prepared and unstoppable fighter:
- Reflexes. Should be obvious, right? Well, not always. Many people think spending time learning counters and tricks, and then hitting the weights or focus mitts and bags is sufficient. But they are not. For the man with the faster reflexes can avoid his opponent’s attacks, and capitalize on open targets and mistakes. This is intertwined with the other two factors I will present, but each has its own level of importance and use. Simply put, we need to move when our eyes see the need to, and we must get our minds and limbs in sync with each other. It is a simple task, but quite difficult to make happen. Are there drills to improve reflexes? Yes there are. But my opinion is that one would build useful reflexes (sometimes the drills we do are not relevant to fighting skills) by sparring more. A good suggestion is to master the art of sparring lightly and sparring to the first strike, and everything you need for fighting reflexes will be exercised and eventually understood through that. I should also add that this is not to be confused with speed, as the speed that you move is very different with the “sudden-ness” with which you move. They are often confused, but are quite different.
- Strategy. You must have the answers to the test memorized and waiting to bounce off the tip of your tongue (or stick) when the question is posed. “What are you talking about Mustafa?” Sorry, that’s the poet in me. The fighter must have the correct response prepared, memorized and burned into muscle memory so that he is never fighting off of instinct. Each move you make in fighting must be premeditated like the lines of a play, and they should be well-thought out. They must consider all possible moves and counter-moves, and follow-up-counter-moves to your response. Obviously, this is a lot. But you should have them in your arsenal and trained to perfection, so that every time you strike a number 1 at your opponent’s temple he reacts a way you knew he would, and then you have the appropriate counter for his counter. Every time your opponent throws a high front-leg round kick at you from a closed position, you respond one way if his hand is up, and you respond another way if the hand is down. This is what I mean by having a solid, understood plan for fighting. And this step alone has so much to learn and develop and master, it is why I consider anything that is not directly related to the act of fighting a waste of time. If you react differently to the left jab every time one is thrown at you, or you react out of habit rather than plan–you have work to do. There is so much to learn and develop it takes a true full-time effort to properly prepare everything you need. Now, in order to make these strategies happen, don’t you need the reflexes to do the moves when it’s time? How do you bridge the gap between what you planned to do with actually doing it on cue? (look below)
- Focus. Plain and simple, when it’s time to fight, you need to worry about nothing more than fighting. This is why fighters must keep their tempers in check. This is why you must not be nervous or scared when in combat. This is why you cannot afford to be winded, or stiff, or uncoordinated, or insecure about the outcome… and so much more. You must remain calm and relaxed while fighting. The fight itself is frenzied enough and chaotic–if you allow yourself to get caught up in that pace, you will not be able to think, plan and execute when the time calls for it. Learn to control your emotions, thinking and psychological state while fighting. It will allow you do get the job done, and if you’re good, you may even throw your opponent off his level of focus. The emotions are a good weapon, by the way. You can take the anger or rage you feel while in combat, bottle it, and either use it strategically and psychologically against your opponent, or reserve it and convert it into power for attacking, and strength when you are hurt and need a second wind. I could actually write a book on this subject alone–but before I do that, let me shut up now.
Make sure you keep these three ideas in mind when training and certainly when preparing your arsenal for fighting. Of them, none is more important than the other, and none of them can be over/de-emphasized. They are vital to what you actually do in the match. You can train until you are blue in the face, but if you lack the reflexes to move, the strategy to choose the right moves, or the focus to stay on plan–nothing you do in training will manifest when it counts.
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