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Striking Theory: 10 Points to Help Stand Up Sparring


After watching TUF's Tyson exclusive clip where Tyson was giving advice to the current season of The Ultimate Fighter. It gave me an idea for writting the first article for my blog. But i figure i'd post it here first to get some feed back from others and maybe help some guys who are lurking and new to boxing or stand up combat sports. I havent seen any article like this yet, so i figured id write this for everybody here first and post it if people like it.

Note: I'll spell check it and fix grammer soon, i gotta get going and im out of time. Comments and suggestions welcomed!

BEGINNER Striking Theory: 10 Simple Points to help people new to stand up sparring.

One thing ive found after lacing the gloves again, is the high number of guys who come in and then disappear either after the first day of training or after their first sparring session. The root cause more often then not is honestly attitude. Martial arts at its very core is about self improvement. From Boxing to classical styles of Kung fu. The spirit of always getting better both mental and physically is often over looked. UFC has us believe that being a fighter is about who has the biggest balls and who is the toughest mofo on earth wins fights - That BS sells tickets. For those of us who put on the gloves either to put our skills to the test or just to better our selves. We know thats the furthest thing from the truth.

Too often i see tap out shirt wearing "tough guys" come in, thinking they'll stand toe to toe with a guy who's been training for years and ko them with their mystical strength and gods gifted power. They come in with offence in mind and go in there to impress everybody with their "big heart" and "tough as nails grit" (fighters can roll eyes here). The end result often is a one sided ass kicking. Not many people go into their first few sessions with the proper mind set or strategy. They bought into the pre-fight hypes and dont understand or know fight theory. They're stuck playing checkers when the rest are playing chess. Fighting is a thinking mans game. Anything less is simply brawling.

Here is 10 simple points for guys new to sparring to know.

  1. Defence wins championships. The old saying that offence might win you a game here and there, but defence wins championships is true. Until you get it down. Defence is the most important thing to keep in mind. Offence is what's celebrated by the public, but for real fighters we recognize the value of defence. Fighting isnt fun. Hitting and not getting hit is fun. When your starting out, focus on defence. Dont get off first. Throw jabs or leg kicks to find your range, but let them come to you. When your not attacking, hands up because your defending - NEVER forget this!

  2. You have 2-3 minutes to win your round. The biggest mistake everybody makes is blowing their load in the first minute and then spending the rest of the round as a highlight reel. After you gas, your slow and become predictable. Your also desperate and stop thinking because there isnt enough oxygen in your brain to formulate strategies. Pace your self for the full round, starting off have somebody call out each full minute. Learn your gas tank and learn how to gauge it. You want to run out at the very last second, so when the round ends your on the final 10% of what you have. Your tired but your not flopping on the ground sucking air.

  3. Relax and stay loose. The hardest thing to learn unless you sparr is to stay loose. You can be loose, kicking the bag, hitting the pads etc but the moment you get hit hard or hurt - everything changes. People panic and tense up. The more tense you are, the slower you become and the faster you gas. Thats why i say defence first. If you constantly defending, you wont get hit as hard or as often as you would if your offensively minded. The more relaxed and loose you are, the slower the fight feels. The easier to defend and more confident you become. The more confident you are, the more loose and relaxed you are. The more loose and relaxed you are, the more gas you have. The more gas you have the more you can think on your feet. The end result is a thinking fighter who sees the fight in slow motion, who has a seemingly advanced gas tank and hard to hit.

  4. Dont stay still- heels off the ground! Ok so now your, slipping, parrying, catching and blocking punches. Checking and shuffling off kicks. But now your just short of being an annoying punching bag. In order to counter and to attack you have to create openings. The way you do that against a person with a solid guard or even a poor guard is by creating angles. Get in the habit now that once you defended the attack, you slip a counter - immediately move! Always limit your counters when you start with singles. If your consistently landing singles then throw doubles. But still do it defensively. Your guard should always be solid and keeping your self protected in your guard. Whatever happens, move right after. The opponent will need to change positions and reset. It also makes you hard to predict. Keep the heels off the ground and you'll stay light. Think of it like you having crazy glue on your heels, if your heels stay on the ground for more then a few seconds you'll be glued to the ground (Oddly you will, i cant explain it, but once you heels get grounded, you'll stay flat footed usually for the rest of the round). Also always move toward their blind side. Dont move into their open side where their power punch will be, always move towards their back. They'll need to reposition them selves to defend leg kicks or hooks to the kidneys.

  5. Act, dont just react - the purpose of outlining such a conservative game plan is to develop the discipline to be hit and not automatically react. Instinctively people attack the moment they get hit. If you are doing the above 4, then your acting and not reacting. Your not letting the other guy dictate the fight. what you'll notice if your new and fighting another new fighter is, when you hit them, they'll hit back. You hit targets that are open - Not because somebody hit you.

  6. Not every hit has to hurt - i see guys wanting to throw knock out jabs or leading with wide hooks or getting flustered because they keep missing punches. Over time you realize not every punch or kick has to hurt. The jab for example is like the can opener, the big right is like the spoon. You have to make a opening before you can scoop it out. Learn to set up attacks. A light leg kick might be enough to make them drop their guard opening them to a punch. Or they tend to brace for body kicks leaving their legs wide open and planted. Think... think... think... think... think! Fight smarter not harder.

  7. Its just a series of exchanges- a fight is made up of rounds. Rounds at its very core is made up of exchanges. Since your new, i always suggest working off the counter. Each exchange is like a move in chess. Ultimately checkmate is a KO. Each exchange is going to move you towards a checkmate. So always think like that. When you strike them, what is your ultimate goal? Get their range? learn their speed? their style of fighting? prefered hits? do they tap their foreheads before they jab? what flaws do they have? Be smart, fight smart and get to keep your brain at the end. Dont do anything unless it has a purpose. Ko'ing somebody isnt a purpose - its your goal for the bigger picture. Each exchange should ultimately lead up to your goal. Think like this...

Exchange 1 - Throw a 1 and 2 to make him attack and then i counter - goal: am i fast enough to catch him, does he drop his guard in exchanges?

Answer: he drops his guard and i can counter successfully.

Exchange 2: he moves in to throw a 1 and 2. I counter off it with a jab, he hits back and leaving him open for my big right cross.

Everything just leads to the big right cross. its just a series of moves that gives you a window to land your big hit. First to get a feel, second to excute your game plan. When you learn that theres a opening you just build towards it and only then do you throw hard. Because you've create a high percentage hit.

  1. Spar to get better - check your ego, your going to get your ass kicked! Even with such a defensive style, new people will be down on them selves. instead of feeling sorry for your self and quitting, break down the round and look at what worked and didnt work and go back to improve those areas. Each session after your first you should focus on a area where you need to get better and keep working on that area until your good at it. If your in a good club, you should be able to ask them to do things over and over again so you can practice what you are weak at. Master it and move on. Soon your weakness will be your strengths.

  2. The more you sweat during peace time, the less you bleed during war time- fights arent always won or lost in the ring. A lot of times it's about how hard you prepared. Sparring is the test, training is studying. The more you study the better you'll do on the test.

  3. HAVE FUN! People forget this sometimes. Going in to train shouldn't feel like a job! Your doing it because it's fun! Never loose sight of that. Your there to help your self and others get better.

I hope this helped somebody out there, these will often will be covered by a very good coach. But often with large classes and a variety of students, it hard to give a guy/girl new to sparring these tips and advice. So i have outlined them here as a resource for guys new to striking combat sports. By fighting smart and defensively, you'll impress you club mates and instructors much more then you ever will with a bull rushing brawler style of sparring any day!

Thanks for the valuable feedback from my peers, im progressively updating this article. You guys have been great with your feedback, im new to this so every bit has helped me! As much as i hope this article can help people new to stand up striking arts. Spelling and grammer is coming... apologies its a busy weekend for me. the article will be posted on MMAgrindhouse.com once its been finalized.


Nicely said.


i kinda disagree here, but maybe i'm reading too much into this...

i think everytime you throw a strike or attempt a takedwon, it needs to be legitimate. even if you're just planning on throwing a jab to find your range, it needs to be crisp so that he/she needs to react. i think this is something i've seen with people that don't push themselves in sparring, and later in a hard, fast pace fight they gas when you don't expect it. if people aren't used to exploding, being on guard, etc, when they have to be, it's amazingly fatiguing.


I totally, see that for MMA. However, often the threat of a hard landed strike is enough to make them move. Often the first 1 minute ill throw a stiff snapping jap so they know i can throw it hard. But after if they have a tight guard often i use my jab like a swat to open the other guys guard so set up my right.

However, in thinking i do see your point. I will make changes saying all strikes should be thrown with authority. Ill be interested to see more feed back. If the general feeling is that all shots should be done with authority and power, ill go with the general censuses opposed to just my own person view and style.


A nice article. Unfortunately, being new to sparring has and always will involve...

  1. gettin' up the balls to enter the ring
  2. enterin' the ring
  3. panickin' like a mofo
  4. gettin' beat up on like a mofo
  5. repeating steps 1-4 until steps 3-4 stop happening.


I tend to agree with cycobushmaster.

MMA, especially MMA, is not about winning exchanges.
There are three factors that lead people to that assumptions:

-the idea of sport iteself

-[Western] point systems.
these try to disassmble a fight into small, measurable packages. Nothing wrong with that essentially.
Note that eastern scoring (ie Pride) doesn't follow that idea.

-the necessity of training
you can't try to kill/KO/submit your partner everyt time you scrap or roll.
While some may think they should, progress is way better when egos get checked at the door.

There are also some serious flaws in the text besides:
"Dont get off first. Throw jabs or leg kicks to find your range, but let them come to you."

"act, don't react"
Actually, REACTING properly is one of the core principles of every martial art.
Reactions are processed much faster then actions in our brain and you don't telegraph them.
A true fighter int he zone is 100% reacting.


p.s. Spellcheck woudn't hurt, too. Consistently writing "your" instead "you're" is bad style


Duffy, im hoping those points will help new guys so they don't have to go through the "growing pains" as i like to call it. Would be cool to see if anybody here new would like to try it out.

Schwarzfahrer - ive been thinking about that today. I should change the title to BEGINNER Striking theory....

Personally, ive never actually had a full MMA match or even had the opportunity to actually put on those 4 oz gloves and actually try sparring. So im totally not qualified to give any tutorials on that subject matter. Im still learning as much as anybody else. I wouldnt feel comfortable unless i sparred in MMA several times before i could even begin to adapt my striking style to MMA.

For guys who are new, i find most bull rush the first round. They think its a fist fight and more experienced guys will just drop back and let them punch them selves out after the first 30 seconds they go to work. Getting the idea in their head that this isnt the same as a street fight will help them adjust. I think new guys it's important they start making a paradigm shift.

This system is common for boxers who transition over, which is what i retained to Shoot box and Sanda. There are guys who do this in MMA as well. Reread that and watch anderson silva in the first minute. All he does is guage range and reaction times.

I totally agree but this is designed for guys who have trained for less in 5 months and sparred in their first 3 months. I've been training since i was 10 years old and now currently being 31, TKD, then Boxing, then to MT and now sanshou/shootbox i have yet to see somebody so gifted they can develop reaction time in their first few weeks of sparring.

Yes, i know its horrible, ill start going through it now. Im going to start with "BBEGINNER Striking Theory: 10 Simple Points to help people new to stand up sparring." It's actually a very big over sight as i was rushing out the door. The purpose of this is for people NEW, advanced things change dramatically.

thanks for reading and giving me some valuable feedback, i can clearify it much better with the help of all you guys. You guys are great!

also i noticed your from germany, do you guys have a lot of MMA schools? I didnt know it was fully supported over there. its great to hear MMA atleast is growing.


Good article.

I think the biggest thing people need to learn is to take some ass beatings every now and then. I don't care if you're the biggest natural talent the world has ever seen, you will not improve without taking a few beating along the way. The only difference between guys who become fighters and people who just like the idea of being a fighter is the fighters are the guys who come in and get their ass kicked for their first few weeks (if not months) and don't let their ego dictate their actions.


Good content. Like above, it's important to emphasize to newbies that they WILL get handled/feel like they're losing and it's important to not panic or get down on themselves afterwards. A big newbie point for me was wrapping my head around the idea of not getting upset over losing. It's practice. I like to tell my athletes "If you're losing you're learning." Just my 0.02


ehhh...i think we all kind of agree....as the OP wasn't prolly as clear, neither was i. i didn't mean blasting your sparring partner every time, but throwing "clean" all the time. i hate seeing people half-ass stuff in training (and not develop realistic timing and technique), and then try to go 200% when they're prepping for a fight (and just ending up sloppy).

i do agree that sparring sessions should vary in intensity, though....


Ehh, depends on the circumstances. A pawing jab is an excellent way to set up a bodyshot. Just sticking it in someones face constantly is enough to effectively throw them off sometimes.


There's some good advise here.


I think its my fault, im reading all the comments and tonight ill make the adjustments, once i get all the feed back back.

maybe thats what i should state. Pawing jab vs stiff jabs. A pawing jab has a function outside of knocking somebody out. Often New guys through every jab like its a jaw rocker when in reality most of them either get caught, slipt or blocked by gloves or elbows. When it should be used to set up a big punch.

I'll also move number 8 to number 1 in my revision as well.

thanks for the feedback!


Actually, I tend to agree with Lucid. Action is actually always faster than re-action, as action is the stimulus for reaction. If you are constantly reacting, then you are allowing your opponent to control when, where, and how the fight goes down.

Let's say that Usain Bolt challenged you to a foot race. Would you want to be the one who said go, or would you want it to be him? Why?

Sure, against a beginner just reacting can work well, but against someone who understands strategy, it'll get you in trouble, unless perhaps you far outclass them in terms of speed and reaction time. But not everyone can be Roy Jones Jr. or Floyd Mayweather Jr., regardless of how diligently they train.


Totally agree. Telling everyone that they should be a defensive minded counter puncher is automatically going to fuck up the styles of 80 percent of fighters.

Learning defense is important, but not for everyone. Some guys will go very far with an attack oriented, face first killing style.

Fighters are too individualistic to say that a guy should fight one way or another. You can't tell a guy with the mentality of Roberto Duran that he's gotta fight like Wilfred Benitez. It just ain't gonna happen, and vice versa.


Perhaps you two misunderstand me.

Irish: Nobody argues for a defence based dogma. That was actually a main critique point of mine.
Reaction can and should be action.

A pure action is being processed WAY slower in your brain then reaction. That's a fact.
Pure reaction based actions are much faster.

A master fighter is in an alpha state mode of compelete reaction.
At least that's the goal.

Like with most advanced martial arts, champion fighters do this all the time without knowing or putting extra thought/practise into it.
Btw another reason not to practise Kata but shadowboxing.


Mmmm...I'm in the action is faster camp. Schwarzfahrer, I get the whole alpha state of mind thing where your reactions are so immediate they are practically part of your attacker's movement. But I don't see how that makes them faster, as you're still having to process the situation to be able to react to it, even when we're talking fractions of a second. This may simply be a philosophical difference related to style.

Lucid, maybe instead of presenting fighting defensively as the best way to fight for beginners, perhaps it could be presented as something useful to try, for all the reasons you present? I agree its a good way to get overly-aggressive noobs to calm down a bit. However, when I fight defensively I tend to fight more timidly in general, and I have not found this to be helpful. I do like how you're using defensive fighting to encourage a relaxed & mindful state during sparring. You're so right about people quitting quickly after a few rounds. Everybody wants to be a fighter but nobody wants to get hit.

On the spell check issue, please find a grammar nazi to read the article for you. There are a few things in there that spell check will not catch, mostly words that would have been spelled correctly if used in another context. I'm not saying the context used is wrong, btw. I like the article & think its great that you're taking you're blog idea and running with it. Most people yap on about what they're "gonna do". You're doing it for real. Nice job.


I think you really don't understand what I'm saying.

There is no camp to rally behind like with "high reps vs low reps" or in MA context "traditional vs MMA" etc.

If you haven't read or analyzed into this stuff, you probably fall under what I already wrote (ie "most guys do this without knowing it").

When an experienced fighter goes to town, he makes one decision if he's the attacker.
And zero decisions if he's attacked

Processing options is tiresome for the brain.
It takes AT LEAST 0.5 seconds (in tests even up to one full second) to make a conscious decision.
Funny thing is, the subject realizes this not sooner then 0.2 seconds before initiating.
This is a bizarre situation for most ("you say my brain decides before me?").
For a fighter, this is especially interesting because you also telegraph beforehand - unknowingly.

If you're in the melee whirl, it's all instincts, rythm, chaos.


But the decision if they're an attacker allows them an advantage timing wise (no matter how fast your reactions are, they are always still re-acting to the opponent's actions and therefore slower), and allows them to exploit the attacker's reactions.

Only if you haven't trained the techniques properly in the first place or they separate their mind from their actions. If you have, then there will be no telegraph, and I've yet to see anyone legitimately read someone else's mind.

We aren't talking about choice reaction here, but deliberate action. From there, yes there is some degree of reaction involved (unless a simple attack will land), but the initial action allows you to be in control of the timing of the fight and utilize different strategies based on your opponent's defensive tendencies. If you only react, then you cannot do this and are essentially allowing your opponent to manipulate you.

That I'll agree with. But not all fights are sudden explosive attacks of which there is no warning or opportunity to act.


What are we talking about?
A rapist attacking from the shrubbery or an agonistic scenario?
To keep things debatable, we should assume both opponents -antagonistic or agonistic- are facing each other and one tries to bridge and "attack by drawing".
If he does that by going with pure action, the other one WILL notice it beforehand, even before the attacker(!), assuming he has attained an advanced level of combat training.

If that's the case, the sport of boxing would be a boring mess, since simple reaction tests reveal a certain temporal threshold even striking beginners can overcome with ease.
Thankfully for the martial arts, this theory is completely wrong.

"Reacting" can mean a lot of things. A martial athlete can and should learn to attack not because he feels aggressive or compelled by his rage but when he sees or even senses an opening.

You can attack by reaction even if the other guy didn't do a thing and his defence is -objectivly- fine, thereby bypassing the big temporal drawback that comes with cerebral Bereitschaftspotential. Most successful fighters do this all the time.
Simpler: Just go with the groove.