Monthly Archives: February 2013

Shadow Boxing


Similar to forms, shadow boxing remains, in my opinion, one of the most under used parts of martial training. I have seen it in gyms all over the world, the instructor calls for shadow boxing, the students take their stance and away they go. Throwing techniques that they feel comfortable with, but will largely not represent what would happen in application, be it competition or self-defense.

I think this problem come from the way many see shadow boxing. They see it just as a warm up or a light workout, which it may well be used as, but there can be some much more gained from it. In fact shadow boxing is the same a pattern practice but just on a freer level, the same way that sparring should be the same a set sparring or drills, but on a freer level. Within some martial art communities, mainstream taiji in China for example, the practice of forms is actually translated as shadow boxing, something that I found quite odd when I first heard it.

So what does that mean? Well firstly let’s look at the definition of a pattern as set out by General Choi:
A pattern is a set of fundamental movements (mainly defense and attack) set in a logical sequence to deal with one or more imaginary opponents

The exact wording of the definition varies slightly from organization to organization but the basic meaning remains the same.

Firstly it mentions fundamental movements, ok so most people use a variety of punches and kicks, that’s fine, and because shadow boxing can be an advanced practice we can add in advanced movements. It then goes on to say attack and defense techniques, this is where we start to leave the definition behind, I rarely see people practice any sort of defense techniques in their shadow boxing mainly it is just throwing attacks constantly without thinking how to use or create openings.
We then get further away from the definition with the phrase ‘logical sequence’ many times I have seen people throw jumping reverse turning kicks in to the mix not because they are seeing it fitting, but just because they want to throw one or want to play with fancier techniques that look nice. Finally seldom do people visualize any opponents let alone more than one.
So when we take all that out what we have is a practice something akin to cardio kickboxing instead of martial arts training.
Visualization should be a big part of shadow boxing. Even if you have to start slower, not because the physical technique is lacking but because you need time to get your mind focused. You should visualize people attacking you from all angles and respond to them using the techniques from you forms.

You will find that you will start moving faster and be able to keep your head in the visualization for longer. Each time you find yourself slipping out of the visualization simply stop and start again. Visualization of attackers can be used to begin the session too, maybe you are starting with a defense and then moving in to counter attacking.
This is exactly the same way we should be dealing with pattern practice and is an extension of such practice. There is an old Chinese saying which supports this, (lian de shi hou you ren, yong de shi hou wu ren) forgive me if my spelling is a bit off. But directly translated it means: when practicing there is people, when using this is no people,

This is a great way to continue your solo training. Of course nothing compare with getting hands on with a training partner but at the times that one is not available and you want to challenge yourself, doing this type of shadow boxing is a good start.

This is an example of how the mind plays a very important role in the martial arts. I hope very soon to write an article on meditation in the Martial arts to go in to this topic deeper.


The Pyramid of Skills

With all the styles that are being openly taught now, and the great trend for MMA and cross training, Students can be like a kid in a candy store about what styles they want to take. A striking style, a grappling style, a traditional or modern style, of course part of this choice will be somewhat dictated by what is available and training goals. But if you live in a larger city with a lot of choice and you are looking for practical self-defence what should you train in?
The phrase ‘no style has all the answers’ is used a lot and is as true today as it ever has been. Beyond that we can also say no teacher has all the answers, take 2 or three teachers in one style and of course you are going to find differences in them. So we should sometimes not be looking at picking a style but also picking a teach within a style.
In my opinion there is an order that things should be trained and training should focus on some skills more than others. I refer to this as the ‘pyramid of skills’ which can be broken down as follows

At the base of the pyramid we should have striking; this is the foundation and also covers the most area. Meaning not only should it be the first thing that you study but should also be the biggest part of what you do. Read any interview by some of the leading self-protection experts in the wold and most, if not all of them, advocate developing very powerful striking ability. However, it is not just about hitting hard, although that would be the base of the level, but also about distancing, timing, grabbing and pulling limbs, and other support skills. In short everything that you need to be able to deliver hard strikes punches, knife hands, kicks, head butts, to your opponent

Now a lot of people never move off the first level of the pyramid and certainly there are many good fighters out there who have only trained in striking. But to become a more well-rounded martial artist and develop skills you need to continue to build on those skills. With that we can move on to the next level of the pyramid

Grappling, again this is a very large part of the pyramid and a very large topic; we can break it down to stand up grappling/clinch fighting and groundwork. Although for self-protection we don’t need the depth of knowledge of an MMA competitor, by that I mean we don’t need to know how to tap people out on the ground. For self-defence however we do need some skills, to throw and attack from the clinch and to get up from the ground. The strong strikes that you have trained in the first part of the pyramid can also be integrated into the skills you learn here.

At this point in the pyramid there is a divide, the striking and the grappling side of the arts are huge and in themselves make very complete and competent martial artists. However, to then go on to say that those two huge skill areas are the only things of any value in the arts, does a great disservice to a great number of teachers and other skill within the martial arts.

The final two sections of the pyramid are given over to some ‘higher skills’. I use the term ‘higher skills’ not to imply that people that know these skills are in anyway superior to the ones that don’t. But more because for these skills to employed effectively a practitioner needs a good solid grounding in the two lower sets of skills. You may also notice that because this is a pyramid, not a tower, the area taken up by these last two sections is considerably smaller than the previous two. Meaning that there should be less emphasis on these skills.

The next section on the pyramid is for joint manipulation, whereas during the grappling section and possible even the striking section there is some overlap in to limb control, this area would be looking deeper into things like wrist locks and finger locks etc. strangely when people go to self-defence courses it is mainly techniques form this section that are taught, maybe because they make the teacher look good and complex so people think they are getting value for money. It is due to this complexity that puts joint manipulation in to the higher section. Unless you have the distancing and timing skill of striking and the close in range holds etc. of grappling you will find it very difficult to apply any sort of locking or small joint breaking technique. Also without the training in the other two sections you may find yourself at a loss as to what to do after you have the lock. A lock in itself is not usually a fight stopper but can be used to place your opponent in a position for some follow up attacks.

The last part or the pyramid and therefore the top and the smallest part is point striking. Whether you believe in pressure points or not the fact is you have to be a very skilled martial artist to hit a single point or a number of points in sequence during any sort of a fight. You would need all the skill from the previous levels of the pyramid to apply point striking. The distancing, timing, body control, small joint control and grasping techniques would all come into play. Without them you would be resigned to demonstrating your point striking ability on compliant, non-active opponents i.e. your students or friends. Something that I am sure you have all seen

So there you have it where the main skills fit in as I see it. Of course you don’t have to fully complete a section before moving on to the rest as there is always some overlap. You also, as mentioned in the article, don’t have to go all the way to the top of the pyramid. But if you are working on some of the skills in the upper levels of the pyramid you should be asking yourself if you could make it work in a real situation, and have you built yourself a good enough foundation in your own personal martial art.