We have so many tools at our disposal in the gym to work out each technique or combination. Every tool that we employ lends different dynamics to the training. At some gyms I have witnessed people doing countless hours just hitting the bag, some gyms jump the student right into sparing and others just working the shit out of the pads. At Carlson Gracie MMA in Maple Ridge, we use a progression from Coach Toby Combat Systems, which I developed from my studying under Sifu Hon Lee and attending many martial arts schools, Muay Thai gyms and Boxing clubs. I apply drilling methods using different strategies adapted from years of music training and my study of how the brain works and how we learn using cognitive learning principals from DeBono and Erikson. As a coach it is my job to communicate with the student and transpose the knowledge between their body and brain; easier said than done! A structured process is absolutely necessary. (learn to box here)
Whether you are learning to fight or teaching a class, try taking a technique and put it through this formula.
The 7 Steps To Learn How To Fight:
1. Basic instruction: This is usually not so basic, as there are so many elements to a particular technique. The instructor can spend time correcting all of these pieces of the puzzle before bad habits set in and make sure that the student is strict with their execution. Show the student exactly how to do the technique properly and make sure they understand.
2. Mirror: The student, looking in the mirror, will try to mimic the posture, hand and foot positioning and movement patterns of the instructor as well as the more advanced students. A side benefit to punching and kicking the air is that it teaches you how to balance and control your trajectory in the event that you miss your target. As you get to know the proper way to do each technique, you can begin to self-correct. I often call the mirror “the other coach in the room”.
3. Bag: The stationary opponent is great to work out your reach from one position and striking an object that provides resistance will teach you to compensate for the stopping of your movement when you do connect in a fight. The more advanced training on the bag will work your angles left and right. Remember, bag work is not about how hard you hit it. Pounding the crap out of a heavy bag will only accomplish joint problems, besides, there aint no judges there to give you points and it’s very hard to knockout a punching bag.
4. Pad-work: Now we have the dynamic of unpredictable movement and forward and back that we never had on the bag. The pad man can call out combinations and throw punches and kicks to work on some defensive skills and reflexes. This method will teach you timing and distance much better than a punching bag! Also, hitting focus mitts and Thai pads are very different. I like using the Thai pads to train powerful punches because there is a weight to them that is similar to hitting a chin and if you practice carrying your power through the target it will give you that leverage you need for that knockout punch.
5. Specific, one-on-one drills: This is not sparing but we are getting close. An example would be; one student punching and the other countering with a kick. Another would be, slipping and countering with a jab. Now we are drilling a single technique but we are under pressure to defend and while remaining composed. This method will teach you timing and distance better than any other form of training in my opinion, partly because you feel safe enough to execute your technique in good form while the pressure is minimal, therefore you have less chance of developing bad habits!
6. Single technique sparing: The students begin, usually by jab sparing to establish timing and distance, then add one technique at a time to teach them how to pull off that punch, kick, take-down or combination while in danger of getting hit. It is important mentally to be able to pull off the technique in real-time; otherwise you will never feel confident enough to use it in competition. Use this strategy for learning a ground technique while the opponent sits up and throws punches at your head, try to set up that submission. It is a much better time to do this while in the gym than wait until you are in the cage on the receiving end of “ground and pound”!
7. All in: For Boxing or MMA this will look different but the idea is to put all your skills to the test. The trick with this stage is to have several levels of intensity which are agreed on by the students. One way to do this is to use percentages i.e.: 50% intensity would mean that you are not hitting very hard, mostly working your technique and timing. Closer to a fight you might want to build it up to 80% or more to prepare you mentally for the battle. If you or your students spar full out all the time they will develop bad habits, particularly getting “punch shy”. They will lack the confidence to “do their thing” and, instead, work off instinct; which we know is the wrong way to fight against a trained competitor.
As a coach I watch closely all of the students and fighters to make sure that they are keeping composed. If/when I see their stance and proper technique start to fall apart, I stop them and bring them back to basics then slowly work everything else back in piece by piece.
Over the last few years we have been pelted with thousands of posts, articles, books and lectures on “sport specific training”. I want to take a minute to hash out some of my ideas on this subject. Of course, a lot of “my ideas” come from studying other people’s theories and putting them to practice. (“Theory To Practice” I even stole that from Keith Norris. Theory To Practice ) after all, we are the sum of all the people who influence us and our experiences.
The basis for doing extra-curricular training is to somehow make ourselves super-human; to gain an edge over our opponent through scientifically superior methods. We are striving to work “smarter not harder”.
There is always room to improve our physical strengths, coordination, endurance and skill set. I’m not opposed to finding new ways of doing this, in fact, this is my mission for the most part; to find the fastest and most efficient ways to improve and build a fighter from the ground up.
I often use examples of my music days and how my journey to become proficient at lead guitar playing parallels my search for skill building methods in martial arts. An example would be doing specific exercises to strengthen your fingers without playing any actual music or practicing scales and arpeggios over and over to improve your speed.
Of course we have to prepare in so many ways to train our muscles, nerves, bones and brains to be ready to fight but we need balance in our schedule. We lift weights and run miles, ride the Aerodyne and roll our shins; anything to build the machine! We use tools like punching bags and focus mitts to drill one particular combination at a time which we need to gain the muscle memory to pull it off in the ring but nothing beats sparing and fighting to make you a better fighter and get you into fight shape.
Next I’ll give you 3 reasons why doing “sport specific training is a good idea and 3 reasons why its not. Make sure to weigh these variables as you put together your training camp.
3 Reasons why it IS a good idea to incorporate “sport specific training”:
1. Overuse injuries: If you are punching bags or jumping and kicking pads for thousands of reps or in the case of a sport like football hitting the tackle dummy a billion times, the chance for repetitive stress injuries goes up substantially.
2. Pre-hab: Doing loaded stop and start as well as rotation and anti-rotation type training not to mention strength training can prepare you for unexpected, violent movements and lessen the damage caused by these events. You can also correct imbalances like those caused by being in your stance for hours and turning your punches and kicks out always the same way.
3. The over-load principle: Doing something like adding weight to the body, hands and feet while shadow boxing as well as wearing an elevation mask or doing under-water running can add load to your cardiovascular system training and cause an over-compensation effect to give you an advantage in endurance.
Here are some great trainers who have worked out fantastic programs to improve the fitness of fighters:
3 Reasons why its not a good idea:
1. Time limitations: You have a limit to the amount of time in a day so training your skills as part of your conditioning work will kill the proverbial “two birds”. If you have 5 hours per day to train, BJJ, Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling you aint got time to do no Crossfit!
2. Risk of injury: Any strength or power lifting exercise has the potential to cause injury. Even doing ladder drills or aqua fit can have their hazards! The lead up to a fight is fraught with perils and you have already won that contest if you make it to the ring.
3. The best reason: Nothing approximates the sport like the sport and nothing prepares you to do a particular movement like actually doing it.
In this old video Kurt shows a basic footwork drill with head movement and jab added. This is the first and most important drill in stand-up fighting and it is the basis of your shadow boxing practice. The foot work translates well to wrestling and MMA. Start out using the stick drill then move on to shadow box then add some random combinations.
The way we train our fighters at Carlson Gracie MMA is to have footwork, head movement and jab working constantly to keep the opponent busy while we strategize and look for openings and weaknesses from the corner. I call this “auto-pilot”
If a fighter does not have these 3 things absolutely mastered, they are not ready for the ring.
The three components of “auto-pilot” are :
2. Head movement
The next inside punches we will look at are the upper-cut punches. The number 5 or the left upper-cut is used sometimes as a set up for the 4 punch. It is rare that a fighter has the power to knock their opponent out with the upper-cut. Mike Tyson would be an exception but we don’t all have his genetics. Picture the opponent’s chin protected by both his hands covered with boxing gloves; not easy to punch through that to hit the button but lift the head with the 5 and it’s ripe for the 4.
The main points for throwing a good left upper-cut are:
1. Lift and turn off the front foot.
2. Translate that turn through the entire body until the right shoulder is pointed behind you, rotating the left shoulder on the axis of your spine, keeping your head to the left of your opponent.
3. Connect with the chin, try to lift his head from inside the guard.
4. Bring the hand back to the face.
The left hook is a power punch based more on torque than pure horse power. What I mean is, the power for this punch comes from the turn of the body, the shifting weight and the pull from the head moving from one side to the other. There is no arm power needed to knock someone out with a hook! Keeping your punches and combinations tight and clean, leaving no openings for your opponent to sneak in will give you more success and less damage. As for the fist itself, You have a couple options. There are some fighters who prefer to hold the fist palm down but I was taught to hold it “hammer style”. The idea being that you are trying to catch the tip of his chin with your fist to get the leverage to crank the button. As with all punches, the more you throw your head into the motion, the more power you will generate and at the same time, you give him a moving target.
The basic elements of the punch are:
1. Plant the back foot in the fighting stance. (do not let it turn whatsoever)
2. Shift the weight towards the back foot.
3. Turn the front foot on it’s ball.
4. let the turn move through the entire body.
5. At the last second, bring the hand away from the face and the arm in a “hook” shape or at a right angle, while the shoulder replaces it to cover your chin.
6. Bring it back to the face, returning to your stance.
We continue with the primer on the basic punches. Today we talk about the #2 punch or “Right Cross”.
This punch is statistically the best knock out technique because of the leverage, reach and accuracy. You could probably get more raw torque with a hook or over hand but if your opponent’s hands are up you will most likely hit an arm or glove wear as, the two punch lines straight and is designed to connect to the button.
The main points for throwing a good right hand are:
1. Push and turn off the back foot until the leg is straight and the heel is pointing outward.
2. Translate that turn through the entire body until the right shoulder is pointed at your opponent’s chin, the left shoulder is completely turned the other way.
3. At the last second, the hand leaves the face, pushing straight from the cheek to connect to the opponent’s chin. The right shoulder replaces the hand to protect the chin.
4. Get the hand back to the face as quick as possible.
The best way to describe how to throw a powerful jab is to compare it to whipping a towel or bull-whip. If you can imagine the soft piece of cotton slowly slinking along in no big hurry, then suddenly, at the last split second, the tiny end of the towel changes direction. The violence at the end of that motion is all too well known by many a football player and boarding school alumnist!
Trying to throw any punch by simply using arm power will not get you the results you want but it will tire you out very quickly. Imagine floating in space and swinging a punch; The force pushing you backwards would be as much as the punch itself because you have nothing to anchor your power to, nothing to push off. We, on the other hand have the whole earth to push off, so use it!
Any time I demonstrate a punch in the gym I start with the feet. You should either be pushing, turning or a combination of the two. At least one of your feet should always be planted in the fighting stance to give you something to anchor to. If you let both feet turn, you will not be balanced when you fire out more than one punch. I see so many big guys beating the crap out of the punching bags with no proper foot positioning. When you are fighting in the ring, it is be much different because there are so many dynamic forces at work; pushing, pulling getting hit, hitting him or missing a punch, take down attempts etc. Having one foot always strongly based on the ground is necessary as you can see.
All that being said, here are the basic fundamentals of the jab:
1. Push off the back foot.
2. rock the head forward and up as though you were trying to head-but your opponent.
3. at the last second, the hand snaps , from the face strait out and slightly uppward.
4. The shoulder replaces the hand to protect the chin.
5. snap the hand back to the face.