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.