Limit options: maximise chances


A common way to prepare a fighter is to try to ensure they can do everything – defences, advances, attacks, fitness, mindset, low, middle and high strikes. Cover every strategy, every possible opponent, every movement. This way, they are ready for anything. Whilst it seems natural as a teacher to offer this kind of comprehensive education, it is not the most effective use of talent. Better to limit what you teach, but for the right reasons.

Set moves coaching.
Teach your fighter a handful – between 3 and 9 – set moves. Choose the ones that they do most naturally, the ones they come to you with, the ones they will do in any stress situation. Then refine those movements. Show them different openings, work out where they are vulnerable midway, get the student to investigate ‘what would happen if’. Add, subtract and substitute.

Each advance in this study makes the collection better adapted. Like a sculptor, you and the student work to chip away what is not useful in their repertoire. The refinement will sculpt them more in their own mold. If they are a natural attacker or counter-attacker, that is accounted for. If they favour high line or low line, that too is accommodated. You are playing to their strengths.

Use your experience.
What’s more, your experience as an instructor and a fighter become a benefit. Bring your knowledge to bear in the refinement of the set moves. You know what is likely to work. The student will bring their own experience to the same workbench. The collaboration develops a fighter who is prepared, confident, knows why they are training their drills, and has their options close to hand, ready to deploy.

Promote strong choices.
Rather than be saddled with an impossibility of options, a fighter with a strong set move repertoire will select more quickly. Because of the gains in confidence and a strengthened ability to choose, paradoxically the set move fighter discovers greater adaptability. They understand the process that led them to the moves they now own, and for that reason – that very limitation – they will develop spontaneity.

Learning to spar: 5 stages on the way.

savate sparring bonnet

To be successful when learning to spar an athlete must navigate simultaneously the personal and physical dimensions. Alongside every increment in technical ability, an equal gain must be made in temperament, emotional awareness or self understanding. Failing to heed this will result in technique without internal control – which is to say – no technique at all.

1 Technical.
The first phase is the learning of the physical movements – punches, kicks, slips, defences – that are involved in sparring. At this point they are merely mechanical. We are constructing the baseline technical ability to perform in our sport.

2 Physical.
The second phase is also straightforward enough – fitness. Once the body knows the fundamental movements, it must be robust enough to complete them at the required pace and intensity.

3 Personal.
There is a niche within the movements that only you can occupy. In this niche you perform better than anybody. For example, if you are a natural counter attacker then the relevant movements must be prioritised. Certain sequences or strikes will be more appropriate for your body shape, movement and perceptual abilities. Following this to its end will define a style that is unique, and strong because it was chosen. Be assured enough in your own character to identify and refine your strengths.

4 Emotional.
Just as I can determine my technical niche, I can know my emotional niche as well. Whether my propensity is to be anxious, loose, angry or stressed in a sparring encounter, I can respect this and select strategies appropriate to it, just as I sought the techniques that suited my niche in the previous phase. By courting a familiarity and an honesty with the personal occurrences – what happens to me as a person – I get to understand how my conduct unfolds in different situations. Knowing how my personality responds to the exigencies of the situation enables me to be a specialist in deploying it. The underlying lesson is an ancient one: know thyself.

5 Transcendental.
The fifth phase is to forget everything that has been accumulated in phases one to four, and just fight.