Sunday, January 1, 2017

Defense within Offense: Training to not get hit

There is a lot to be said about striking defense, so please understand that all I'm going to do in this post is make a small point, it's not at all meant to be a comprehensive treatment of defense.

We're a couple of days removed from Ronda Rousey's massive loss to Amanda Nunes, who treated her like a punching bag and stopped her in 48 seconds, less than a year after Holly Holmes did something quite similar to the once-dominant champion.

For now, a great video of the fight and a lovely analysis of what happened can be found here on Dan Djurdevic's blog (I'm not confident that the video will stay up because of copyright issues, so watch it soon).

Nunes and Holm used somewhat different tactics, but what their approaches showed in common was that Rousey doesn't know how to integrate defense into her offense (or, even, show effective defense even when that's all she's trying to do).

What does that mean?

If you watch some MMA you can see a vast difference in skill levels between competitors. There are some fighters who are really good at protecting themselves while they are attacking. So while they are throwing kicks and punches they are still not completely vulnerable to counterattacks. This can be done in a few ways:

1. Keeping a good stance (weight centered, chin tucked) so any returning strikes can be absorbed efficiently.
2. Staying mobile, both keeping the feet moving (not simply planting the feet and swinging for the hills) and keeping the head moving while throwing combinations so that they are presenting a more difficult target to hit.
3. Maintaining good position with the off hands for defense - for example, while throwing a left jab, keeping the right hand near the jawline to provide some protection. The shoulder can be used in a similar way (acting as a shield for the chin).

Again, some fighters are good at this, and some (probably most) are terrible. No fighters do it perfectly all the time, but Jose Aldo is usually pretty good at it, for one example. Lots of fighters who are said to be good strikers are effective because their offense is overwhelming, but when they get into situations where their opponent isn't cowed and starts hitting back they take a lot of punishment.

Now if you get a chance to watch fighters during training sessions, often the ones who are worst defensively show that in training.

Watch a fighter when they practice their offensive techniques - striking the heavy bag or pads held by a coach. Some fighters are good at moving their head off line, slipping and weaving, while practicing their offense, but most fighters will just wing punches while their head remains in a completely static position.

The problem is that during a fight (or even a sparring session) it's really hard to develop new habits (having another person trying to hit you is distracting). If you are used to throwing kicks with your arms flailing at your sides for balance, then try to keep your hands up in protective positions while you spar, either your kicks will suffer or you'll start to forget the modifications.

To avoid this: always practice your offensive techniques the way you'd want to use them in a fight/sparring session. If you know you should keep your off hand near your chin when you punch, make sure you're doing that when hitting the heavy bag, even if the heavy bag isn't going to punch you back. If you know you should be pivoting and moving laterally while throwing long combinations in a fight, do that when you're hitting the heavy bag or the mits, even if your target isn't throwing back at you.

Maintain responsible defense even when you don't need it.

A short list of things to do (I'm sure there are more suggestions that could be added to this list):

  • Make sure your head does not stay in one place while you throw punches and kicks - keep slipping it into different positions.
  • Keep your hands in responsible defensive positions while kicking (and your off hand while punching).
  • End every attack combination by stepping back, pivoting, or moving away, not frozen in place waiting for a counter.
  • Keep a good stance - balanced, weight centered - at all times; don't 'reach' too far to land your strikes.
  • Have a coach/ training partner watch you occasionally to make sure you're not presenting yourself as a sitting duck while practicing your offense (sometiimes this is hard to notice yourself).
Overall, the idea is to maintain in your mind a strong awareness of keeping yourself hard to hit while your'e attacking, while by inclination I think most of us tend to think only of how to hit the other person when we practice hitting techniques.


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