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Stop Punching High! Sparring and Fighting Fear

One of the interesting things you will see from people who are not professional boxers is their continual desire to punch over the other person’s arms while their heads are back to keep their faces out of harm’s way.

And I don’t mean well-timed, off-angle, overhead strikes or clear height-advantaged strikes or combinations. I mean punching like two kangaroos throwing both arms out at each other with their heads leaning way back or turned away so their faces don’t get hurt.

Stop this.

Core JKD’s primary focus is to elevate the individual to high levels of functionality against life-threatening attacks against single or multiple opponents with or without weapons in a variety of environments.

What this means is that we train with the knowledge of attacks that can come from any angle, any opponent. 

There are two factors that cause people to tunnel-vision their defenses and attacks:

  1. Fear
  2. Ego

Fear is a primary motivator for the focus of this article. Good training for life-threatening situations deals with fear as a component of training. 

Training with fear as a component means that we have to understand its properties: from where and how it manifests, what are the down-chain effects, what are the demands on our resources, and how does it interfere with overall and specific functionality?

When you watch people spar, you gain an early read in their presentation whether or not they have trained the component of fear, using methods to diminish it, or of leaving it to its own full expression.

Punching high over another person’s outstretched attack is one such expression—especially when it poses no tactical or functional advantage or efficiency that affects successive attacks and defenses.

Coupled with this attempting to punch over the other person’s arms is usually accompanied by the head being tilted back. This is a fear engagement of which the person may or may not be aware to prevent being hit in the face.

I’ve found that a good many people can take hits to the backs, sides, and tops of their heads without the fear that a hit to the face generates. It is one of the main reasons you’ll see them act as if they can just send their arms and fists into a fight while keeping their face as far back as possible.

This keeping the face out of harm’s way is a great way of restricting your periphery, off-setting your leverage and balance integration, and losing the ability to deal with low line attacks efficiently.

The other main reason people do the “punch over their opponent’s arms” thing is because their training didn’t account for a variety of punching attacks on different lines—while being punched back.

Focus mitt training is really good, but only if you eventually add the component of the trainer returning strikes to check one’s defensive movements, interception, trapping, evasion, and counter-striking skills—and to help reduce the fear of being hit.

Straight-line punches work very well. They are efficient, penetrating. But they only work if the path to the intended target is clear or made to be clear. This is usually done through beating the other person to the punch, having a height or reach advantage, better feinting skills or better trapping skills.

In sparring, trapping works when it is trained IN sparring. A lot of people don’t train or test their trapping against a live, thinking, dynamic opponent who isn’t impressed by one’s non-resisting training demonstrations.

But before investing in refining trapping skills, look to expanding your functional striking toolset. It also wouldn’t hurt to learn how to integrate head, shoulder, torso and body movement WITH your striking tools—evolving everything in a synergistic expression of a singular attack that just so happens to include resilient cover, evasion, movement and successive striking from a variety of tools and angles.

Training like this isn’t hard to do with a good instructor who actually understands such things. But nothing gets trained well unless you have a desire to engage in things that cause you fear in an attempt to overcome all the difficulties inherent in that type of engagement.

But like anything, this sort of training can be engaged slowly, methodically, and in a progressive fashion that eases you into the end result. This is where your ego or the ego of the instructor has to take a back seat.

My job when I train students is to elevate them to higher levels of functionality—even if that means they become more functional than I am in some ways. What a wonderful thing to experience when that happens. That only makes it more challenging for me and keeps me growing.

But that’s my job. That’s what I go into this for and why I study them each as individuals to the degree that I do. It’s why I train them to optimize their connection to their body and mind and expression in a way that defines them as unique.

Because in the end, and during any life-threatening encounter or simple engagement in life, I most likely won’t be there to show them what to do. 

And I most likely won’t have to hear about them bopping about like kangaroo face models protecting their livelihood.

Just my thoughts….



2 Responses

  1. Sy Abbas
    | Reply

    Very well written article. Very valid points about punching and how most of the people punch. Good job Master Ming and thanks for sharing your views.

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