I’ve been here a number of times in the past; while practicing with a kru in muay thai, a coach in boxing or a sensei in kickboxing! I’m about to spar. I gear up, avidly strapping up my gloves along with the rest of my equipment before hearing a very common command! “Fight your fight, not his” or “control your opponent”. I quietly nod, seem to accept what I need to do, (makes sense after all) just assert your dominance and beat the other guy to the punch basically… right? (OH BOY WAS I WRONG) It wasn’t long before I was moving back so much that I may as well demonstrate my other skill of running 1500 meters! Perhaps it would have been beneficial to find out exactly what was meant by “controlling the fight”.
What opponent control boils down to are two factors according to veteran competitor and instructor Bob Breen: deception (faked attacks) and timing. Here’s a little insight into how to control your fight, and help give you the edge when sparring!
“Avoid where they are full, attack where they are empty.”
Sun Tsu, The Art of War.
As Bob Breen explains: “your opponent can’t cover all the angles all of the time. Use variations of attacks, attacking low, high and to the side. It doesn’t matter how strong your technique is, if you’re linear or direct in your approach, you’ll eventually get beaten!” If you’re intending to attack high, then make sure you actually fake going low by dropping your body, don’t just drop the arm. The greater the deviation between high and low, the more unpredictable the attack!
It’s also possible to pre-program the attack with what’s known as the Pavlov Three; deliberately televising a pattern of three strikes to create holes and openings! For example, two jabs to the solar plexus will manipulate your opponent to try and parry the third strike. Two repeated attacks under stress, and your sparring partner can become gullible with anticipation. Drop the third, feigned, strike short to a coax the parry out further and, in this instance, a left hook straight to the jaw can be very effective. Manipulating imagination can be a powerful tool! Just like viewing an abstract painting, once the mind locks onto an art form, the brain begins filling in the gaps.
Timing and Independent Motion
Keep in mind devastating strikes will need to be supported by the weight of the body, and a complete ark of motion; this means large movements! We’re naturally hardwired to recognize these large motions while tiny motions from the limbs are a different story and something we’re not the best at reacting to. After all, you don’t instinctively roundhouse kick a gentlemen waving for a taxi, or a friend scratching his head.
Ideally it’s important to make sure the body follows directly after the hand and arm. Why? Because the power comes from the back foot! This is known as independent motion, and has been applied in fencing for many a year. Although it’s not a hard attack, with good form it can be the foundation of a complex combination.
Timing is important because it allows you to synchronize to your opponent, creating a kind of “duet” which will feed valuable pieces of information about the where the fight may lead. Remember your brain needs to deal with a whole range of speeds! It’s crucial to “clock” your opponent, and react with the right form!
As Bob Breen points out, try to fake attacks and work your timing; this will stretch your opponent, create openings and develop your perception in ways you would never expect. Not to mention it’ll have your opponent chasing demons, which is always amusing!
If you’re struggling to develop a creative spark during sparring, give these a go! Be sure to ask myself, or the other instructors, about feigned attacks if you’re lacking on ideas. With a bit of strategy, sparring can be a very rewarding experience, relax and don’t be afraid to experiment!