Training for a fight

Antonio Graceffo - Special for SLAM!

, Last Updated: 4:13 PM ET

For fighters, it is important in each evolution of training that they not only know what they are doing, but why. They must change their training routine to match the challenges that lie ahead.

Cardio is the basic foundation of everything in martial arts. Without cardio, not only will fighters not be able to compete, they won't even be able to train. The more hours they spend on techniques, the better their fight will go. The better the cardio, the more they can to train in a day.

Most knockouts, believe it or not, come from a lack of cardio fitness. When fighters are fresh, they can withstand tremendous blows. But after fatigue has set in, the same blows will send them to the canvas.

"You can get a knockout faster by hitting a man in the body than you can by hitting him in the head," said Patty Carson, who has been training fighters for over thirty years. Fifteen of his students have gone on to be world titleholders in the International Sport Karate Association, as well as in kickboxing and muay thai.

"A kick or a knee to the solar plexus will drop a man instantly; it knocks the wind right out of him, he said. But if you are unfit, and gasping for air, even a small head shot will bring you down."

Carson said that without cardio fighters are unable to defend themselves.

"When you can't breathe, it is hard to move out of the way of a kick or punch. Maybe you see it coming, but you are just too tired to do anything about it."

Carson is a taskmaster, driving his fighters slightly beyond their limits each and every day. There have been times when, after two hours, I've dropped to my knees, in tears, because he demanded more.

"That's nothing," he laughed. "I've had guys throw up or pass out. But no fighter I have trained has ever lost on conditioning."

Many students believe they are training for a fight when they practice kicking or punching a bag. But those are only two of the many aspects of fighting which have to be practiced. And if students are trained in isolation, they are useless.

A fighter must first practice throwing combinations of punches. Then learn combinations of kicks. Finally, the two have to be integrated. Many students don't practice their combinations, hoping that on fight day, the right set of movements will just come to them. This is the equivalent of getting up on stage to make a speech in front of a hundred people without preparing any notes. You can't just wing it.

The first step of any martial-arts training is to find out how many rounds there are and how long they last. This way, the student can use a ring timer and train at the same tempo as the fight.

Good fighters can time a round in their head and adjust strategy accordingly. Knowing how much time is left will tell them whether to increase or decrease their intensity. Also, if they are behind on points, they could wait until the last few seconds of the round, and end with a big flurry. This is called stealing a round. If the fight goes the distance, judges tend to remember the last few seconds of each round in their scoring.

A basic combination could be a one-two punch (one left hand, and one right hand), followed by a one-two kick (one left kick and one right kick). This routine should be practiced on the pads, as well as on the bag, until it is perfect, at which point more techniques can be added.

The focus pads (where the instructor wears the pads on the hands or forearms) is an excellent training method. It allows the coach to watch every single technique that is thrown. The teacher can also set the intensity and pace of the training.

Good trainers will often assign numbers or names to each combination practiced to make it easy for the fighter to memorize. The trainer decides which combinations to call, and how often. A good trainer will wait until the fighter is exhausted, and then turn up the heat, calling one combination after another, with little or no rest. On other days, the trainer may give longer rest periods between combinations, but concentrate on technique and rhythm.

Once a student is competent at hitting the pads, bag work can be added to the routine. The heavy bag gives the student the opportunity to experiment and be creative, by choosing the combinations and pace, without the coachs instruction. The instructor should make some corrections to a student who is working on the bag. But on the whole, bag work and shadow boxing both emulate fighting, in that the student will be out there alone.

The heavy bag is good for building strength and power. Many fighters do not use weights to build strength; they rely completely on the heavy bag. The floor-to-ceiling bag, on the other hand, is used for timing and speed. The student should circle and hit the bag as if it were an opponent.

Shadow boxing is a kind of moving meditation. The student goes through the fight mentally, attacking and defending against an imaginary opponent. Shadow boxing involves movement, footwork, combinations, and creativity. It should always be done first, as a warm up. It is better for fighters to punch the air, rather than a target or bag, when their muscles are cold. Coaches shouldn't interfere too much in students shadow boxing. Shadow boxing and pad work are the two exercises that most resemble a fight.

Sparring is one of the least used - and most abused - training methods. Many gyms have Friday night fights, or sparring, just once a week. Most students tend to think sparring is a mini fight, which will have a winner and a loser. This is completely wrong. Sparring is a chance to practice combinations on a live opponent, without worrying about getting hurt. There should be no injuries in sparring and there should always be two winners.

"If you train a race horse, you never want to let him have his head and run full out in training, Carson said. You always want to hold him back a bit. This way, on race day, when he sees that you will let him go, he tears out of the gate and destroys the opponent.

A fighter is the same way. Never let him go full on in the gym. Save that for fight night."

There are so many aspects to fighting; technique, timing, rhythm, movement and strategy must be taught and practiced. Nothing should be left to chance.

Sample workout for a three-round fight

  • Three-to-five-mile run
  • 15 minutes of shadow boxing
  • Four rounds of pads (two of just hands, two of hands and feet together
  • Sparring (on sparring days, two to three rounds of sparring should replace two rounds of pads.)
  • Three rounds on the heavy bag
  • Two rounds on the floor-to-ceiling bag
  • 1,000 repetitions on the abs
  • 15 minutes jumping rope
  • 45 minute of weightlifting

Antonio Graceffo is the only foreigner to have written a book about his experiences, training at China's Shaolin Temple. You can get his Shaolin book, The Monk from Brooklyn, from amazon.com.

Checkout Antonio's website speakingadventure.com


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