T Nation

Slow Shadowboxing

Alright all, what’s your opinions on shadowboxing slowly? Like, really slowly?

Because I was reading Sam Sheridan’s “A Fighter’s Heart” last night - it’s one of those books I re-read periodically because I understand a little more each time - and in it he talks of Tai Chi, which he not only enjoyed but found useful as a fighter. And Sheridan also wrote that his 70-year-old New York City-based teacher could actually hit hard, even at his advanced age, because his mechanics were so practiced and flawless.

I’ve gone very slowly once or twice trying to correct errors in my form on certain punches and it seems to work, but I’ve always sped it back up as soon as possible. But would going slowly for intervals - maybe a round or two a workout - be beneficial? What are the pros and cons? Do any of you do such work?

And would boxing slowly impart the same health benefits of Tai Chi?

Fire away fuckers …

From my experience with Kung Fu, your balance will be greatly improved. It’s one thing allowing dynamic motion and momentum to assist resetting your stance and flowing into combos, but it’s a new challenge maintaining your technique and balance throughout a very slow movement.

I wouldn’t say you get stronger, but you definitely start to really ‘feel’ your body and become very mindful of the technique. This kind of practice would correct many a novices’ poor foot pivot.

I’d be curious to know whether this is related in anyway to time-under-tension benefits.

That’s sort of what I had in my head. I was re-reading “A Fighter’s Heart” a bit further and Sheridan, the author, said trainer Virgil Hill has his fighters shadowbox painfully slow, to the point where Sheridan was thrilled to be able to go full speed again after a few rounds. He described it as “almost Tai-Chi slow.”

I’ve been experimenting with it lately and have found moving slowly definitely challenges your balance - like you said, you “feel” every bit of weight shift much more than you would at full speed. I am wondering what effects it will have on my technique overall.

Anyone else weighing in?

I would point out that the body mechanics that are developed in Tai Chi/Taiji are not really the same as those in a “hard”/external style. I think slow shadowboxing/training is great. I really think both you and Pigeonkak have it right by focusing on balance and weight shift when doing such drills.

It is great for feeling/patterning how to step and be “loaded” for a given strike or strikes. I wouldn’t assume it to develop the kind of power/force boxers/kickboxers/external stylists are after though. A whole lot of the “internal” systems build power as a function of stability/show it as a “here is what my body is doing and the external world just gets in the way and is moved aside forcefully” kind of exercise. A lot of the hits tend to be either a thrust or something more like a dead weight hammer combined with a whip.

In boxing or kick boxing it is about projecting momentum. A whole lot of the internal styles would freak the fuck out about having a majority of your weight/power/momentum on one side of your body and going in an obvious direction. By that metric I don’t “do” or have any “aiki” or ability so I need to explain that I am conveying things that were told/explained/demo’d to me but that I don’t have/know.

Anyways, I like going real slow sometimes. I think it helps me hit more gooder.


Robert A

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I have tried it. I feel it helps my technique, it can only be good for muscle memory. I haven’t gone tai chi slow. I also haven’t done it extensively enough to really be able to compare how I felt compared to when I didn’t do it.

But I feel if you can tell you are getting more feedback about things like balance, that can only be a good thing.

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What’s the difference? I have a little experience in traditional arts but none in Tai Chi, so I really have no concept of what could be different.

Can you explain this a little more? My feeble mind is flashing a “User Error 4404” when I read this …

I’d love to hear what Sento has to say on this topic…

I will do my best. I don’t practice any internal arts either. So I am going to be relaying a combination of things that I directly observed, what I am pretty sure was happening, and what was told/demonstrated to/for me by others.

In the Definite Category:
Many of the “soft” arts make a huge point about relaxation when hitting. I know that reads the same as boxing, but Chinese Boxing and boxing are not the same thing. An example would be all the sources that say to never raise/shrug your shoulders when fighting or punching. Like at all. Explanations for why range from pure Ki/Chi theory of energy flow to tension. Biomechanically we know that we would rather bench with our shoulder blades down and back because of stability. That stability would be plenty useful when we are trying to smash someone who wants to flatten our sinus cavities. Most of us end up trading that relaxation and “stability” for get shoulder up to guard chin to at least some degree after we get chin checked a few dozen times.

Muscular effort is way higher in the hard styles. Again, I know we talk about looseness, but compared to what the soft styles, and certainly the Chinese internal styles espouse boxing/kickboxing/combatives are all rigid as fuck. Supposedly we are leaving speed and “true power” on the table.

Tai Chi/Tai Ji/Tai Ji Quan in particular has an emphasis on having an upright head posture (I think they use the term floating), an open chest, and “sunk” shoulders and that that posture is a pre-requisite for the “energy” they are after. The posture is just wholly different from what a boxer adopts.


What I think is going on category
When I talk about “internal” styles I am for sure putting Xing Yi/Hsin-I, Tai Chi/Taiji, and Bagua in that category. Those are the internal Chinese martial art trinity. I am unsure if I am supposed to put Daito-Ryu or Aikido in the same category. Anyway all of these arts make a great deal of fuss about “developing” energy. Specifically they talk about chi/ki. Depending on the translation it gets referred to as almost a commodity/tangible that flows, rather than just in terms of physics. I have however met enough internal stylists who could in fact hit hard and “felt” strong as fuck when they applied or resisted force, so something was going on.

The internal arts generally pay a lot of service to everything being a “whole” body movement. Not in the Dan John “body is one piece” sense but in the “every molecule” has to be unified in purpose sense. Many adherents even talk about re-educating or changing or bodywork as what they are doing. The Chinese systems talk about jing, being the power created. Actually I think there is a prefix that indicates unified power but I don’t practice any of the right pajama fighting to have that drilled into my head. They hold that any tension or “wrong” movement breaks this up. Conversely they say “external” styles use segmented or sectional power. I know it looks like George Foreman got every part of his ass into those punches, but that qualifies as segmented to there way of thinking. So we have the wrong kind of jing. When they hit/project power that is fajing or peng jing depending on stuff. Peng is warding off I think and Fajing has more to do with hitting if I remember correctly.

Anyway, they make a huge point about unity and economy of motion. What I really have witnessed/felt is that they place a shit ton of emphasis on mechanical efficiency when applying things, to the point of what looks like the detriment of “when shit goes sideways” robustness. You may have just read that as they don’t spar enough and it gets ugly when they try and that might be the right of it at least part of the time.

I know you have a karate background as far as TMA goes. If we accept the Tsuri-te and Naha-Te delineation that some of the Okinawan karateka use than Tsuri-te striking is the whole “crack the whip” style of punching and kicking where you are twitching/pulling back at the last instant. That looks similar to what some Chinese stylists call fajing. Here is a video of Erle Montagiue because if I asked you to write a fictional hippy, Kiwi, kung fu stylist you couldn’t come up with anything like him and still be believable. He has a “family band” like the Scooby Do cartoon, side note they aren’t bad at all.

and really the home made music video isn’t bad

Different Fai-jing demo from Sam Chin

now, that may look like a bunch of arm waving. There is that. Watch the twitch in his pelvis/low abdomen with the movements (dantien is worth talking about here) and how stable his legs are. Notice that the twitch’s direction.

Naha-te would be pretty much what we would think of as normal striking mechanics.

I read an opinion of an okinawan karate master that was a huge exponent of the superiority of Tsuri-te style striking that admitted that while it was supperior, the practitioner tired out quicker. So the “sport” form of naha-te striking was popular in contests.

The discussions I have had with internal arts practitioners tended to focus a lot more on
internal vs external and what is “real” aiki/jing than specifics of punching. Other that to say they were very much not impressed with the way I do it.

What I think are the differences are the fact most of the internal style strikes I have seen were demonstrated from a “feet first”/ideal stance and footwork position. That isn’t a criticism, a demo is just that, Essentially if the “base” isn’t there then there is no punch. We might say similar in boxing, kickboxing, combatives, or some forms of karate but if we are honest I bet we both have put people on queer street with a less than ideal blow. I know I have, and not throwing a punch because you are not ideally “set” isn’t a religious point for external styles.

If you watch the fa-jing striking in the videos above it also becomes kind of obvious that if the target magically disappeared, the strike would look pretty similar. If you a heavy bag magically vanished right before you hit it, for damn sure you would be struggling to recover/pull the strike in. Now, the opening wouldn’t be huge, but we know it would be there. The fact that we pretty much accept that as doctrine is why we learn things like slipping punches. We watch the absolute best punchers in the world, pro boxers, miss and pay for it.


What Was Told To Me
It has been explained to me multiple times that these are not differences of degree, but differences in kind. The “overextended” or off balance from an “external” strike is not something that can be paired down until it is “internal”. Rather the entire method of power generation is different.

Physics would not seem to bear that out. It would seem to still be a matter of vectors/momentum and yielding force for “power”, and balance, and timing, in my mind. I am told this is wrong.

I have had it explained that someone with real jing/internal power cannot have their punch deflected by someone who doesn’t have it. Basically the idea of parrying a strike goes away because they are also creating a ton of lateral stability and are capable of transferring the force that would knock a punch off course “into” the ground in real time. That didn’t get demo’d. I was also informed that just because someone hits really hard or could ragdoll me it didn’t indicate they were correctly striking.

A lot more of my questioning has always had to do with standing grappling in these conversations. To me the notion of “aiki” is about opportunity and efficiency. There is a continuum from clumsy muscling to refined leverage and timing in wrastle type fightin whether it is freestyle, or judo, or sumo, or classical jujitsu. At least in my understanding. When I am explaining/teaching or for that matter applying any kind of technique that involves me putting force into someone else’s structure, I accept that if they got teleported away I would lurch or jerk before I caught myself. That is evidently way wrong.

It did seem like there was a lot of “No True Scotsman” going on in these conversations though.

In any event:
Tai Chi utilizes very, very relaxed and upright postures where there is a huge amount of coordination. Almost by definition boxers have to be much more “tense”, because of tucking a chin, holding up hands, etc. Recovering from strikes and combination punching is something else that doesn’t seem to be much of a thing in the internal arts.

The reason I brought it up is I think going really slow and relaxed could be made a bigger part of the program if all your punches were going to get launched from postures where you could keep an upright/relaxed posture vs what we think of as a fighting guard.

Any of that make sense?


Robert A

Edit to Add

Watch this video. Starts out with a russian woman doing Tai Chi. Than doing push hands competition. Then doing some “drills” sort of involving punching. Ends with a sanshou competition that I swear she wins when she starts just kickboxing. Reason you need to watch it. Russian Polka music with death metal screaming.

The more time you spend developing kinostetic awareness the better, if this skillset’s development doesn’t come at the expense of the integration between your kinostetic awareness and the integration of this with the visual system in target identification/contact.

English motherfucker… do you speak it?

"Oh stewardess, I speak jive."
Or in this case, I speak technical jargon.

Getting better at “feeling”/being aware of exactly what your body is doing and precisely how you are shifting weight is always worth developing. However, it is a mistake to over emphasis this practice at the expense of time spent practicing WITH an opponent or target that must be hit, reacted to, and can be struck with power.

Or translated into my other native tongue, P.I.B.(Pennsylvania In-Bred):
Goin real slow like can help you fight more gooder, but don’t forget there is going to be someone else there when yer fightin. Practice for that too.

Worth noting that you were already reflexively doing this.

Like I said in Bad Ideas. I am really all about communication.


Robert A

Just wanted to say thanks for the replies @Robert_A. Got a lot to go through there and I appreciate the info.

My pleasure. Just trying to earn my salt.


Robert A

First let me say great posts by Robert; very thorough and informative!

Second, I would agree with others that slowing things down to “Taiji/Tai Chi” slow levels can be a great learning tool to really refine movement skills. This really allows you to feel your balance, any weaknesses in your physical structure/body mechanics, any excess tension in your body, any poor/incorrect motor patterns, any losses of fluidity/continuation between movements, etc…

However, this really requires a very detailed understanding of the nitty gritty of the techniques and so would not be something that I would advise novices or even intermediate trainees to spend substantial time on.

There is also the issue of specificity to be discussed here.

While going very slowly can be a useful training tool for building solid mechanical skills, real combative application requires precise timing, split second decision making skills/judgement, and a thinking breathing opponent who will be fighting back/ resisting whom you must adjust to; and to be honest these attributes are arguably more important than having absolutely flawless mechanical skills.

So, add it into your training, but not at the expense of your other drills (not that I’m worried about you doing so Irish, more of a general disclaimer for any less experienced people that might be reading this).

Thanks Sento, and good post.

The video I posted at the end though. Obviously, the music is the answer to many things, but the Sanshou looked pretty much like normal kickboxing at the end there to me. I know you are well qualified to coach kickboxing, and have the ear of some folks who are ridiculously qualified was I missing something? Posture was a bit more upright in the clinches, but otherwise I wasn’t seeing anything I would associate with having to do all the “internal” work to get.

Thanks again.


Robert A

And therein lies the truth Robert. For all of the cool parlor tricks that I have seen “internal” stylists (and even some advanced “external” stylists like Wing Chun or Shotokan) utilize, whenever I’ve seen any of them spar/encounter genuine resistance it always winds up resembling Kickboxing/San Shou/MMA (just sometimes with less technical skill).

Mr Lewis trained with a man who was a practitioner of an outlawed combative form of Tai Chi, Mr Ryan trained extensively in Wing Chun and did some Tai Chi as well, I’ve trained with a very skilled Tai Chi instructor who still does more of the combative aspects, and what Mr Lewis, Mr Ryan, Shihan Lysak, and my personal experience have all taught me is that all striking basically comes down to the same foundational principles of Rhythm, Timing, Judgement, Speed, and Accuracy. And no matter how much “internal” systems might like to talk about Chi/Ki, and other forms of “internal power” everything is ultimately governed by the laws of Newtonian Physics. Even the “soft” power that arts like Bagua, Systema, etc…talk about are easily explained via Newtonian physics principles and yes, those principles can be translated to “external” skills to an extent (but aren’t always superior depending on what the intent of the technique is).

As Bruce Lee once put it, “When I first started training a punch was just as punch. After a while of training I learned that a punch was more than just a punch. Once I mastered/internalized my skills, a punch became just a punch again.”

Or as Mr Lewis put it, “You hit the guy, he falls down and doesn’t get back up, you know how to punch.”

But training all that boxing/kickboxing/contact stuff is hard work, and it hurts. I like the idea of breathing and visualizing my way to awesome baddassness. Plus, the uniforms look really comfortable. I mean, I think the silk would feel awesome on my nips.

Weren’t all actual “combative” or “martial” arts outlawed after Mao made everything awesome in mainland China? Other than that I am sort of trying to figure out who would be doing the outlawing. A bunch of guys may have said “don’t teach” but that happens a lot, for a lot of reasons.

Still, if Lewis was Joe Lewis there had to be something there.

Great post. Except for the notion that we are governed by Newtonian Physics. We have known that was bullshit for a while, even though it is good enough to get to the moon. Than Einstein solved it all with General and Special Relativity. Which was obviously true, except for really small stuff. Than it is demonstrably wrong, and quantum theory (which disagrees with a bunch of stuff) holds. About all we are really certain of is Schordinger was a dog person.


Robert A

Hahaha! Bazinga!

And yes, it was Joe Lewis. :grin: