Thoughts on Coaching Tools: Shadow Sparring

During July and August, I’m officially taking a break. Hence, my Dojo is closed. Still, I feel a certain responsibility for my students and their training, so once to twice a week we’re taking advantage of the weather and do an outdoor session.

Yesterday, we warmed up with some shadow-sparring. Now I feel that shadow-sparring is a great tool to sharpen an athletes technical skills and work on his cardio at the same time. Unfortunately, shadow sparring doesn’t come naturally for most students and many instructors are a little uninspired when it comes to implementing specific concepts within a shadow-sparring session. Therefore, I’d like to present some ideas on how to incorporate shadow-sparring as a coaching tool for martial arts training.

Personally, I like to start out my shadow-sparring sessions with a round or two where I do nothing but stepping. I do incporporate some bobbing, weaving, blocking, etc., but no striking whatsoever. This helps me work up to an operating temperature and get my mind focused on the task. Shadow-sparring should lead to a certain flow feeling in that movements come naturally, each action seamlessly translates into the next one. Since there’s a lot of techniques in the Shinergy-System (just as probably in every martial art), starting out with completely free, unrestricted shadow-sparring can lead to intellectual overkill. You see, rather than just stepping and banging out a few techniques, students start to think about their next move, searching their technical repertoire for an appropriate technique. This top-heavy approach completely kills the flow sensation that results from acting intuitively. Therefore, by just focusing on the basics (i.e. stepping and evasive action), the intellect is largely taken out of the equation.

Once the mind is settled on the task and the muscles are properly warmed up, I like to gradually increase the amount of techniques I incorporate in my shadow sparring. Usually, I start out with a round where I only throw jabs. Combining stepping, evasive action, blocking and striking (even if it’s limited to just one technique, i.e. the jab) requires a great deal of timing and coordination. As long as a student can’t incorporate his most basic technique in his general game plan, there’s no point in polluting the mind with a great number of technical choices. Here, it’s all about how a student performs a technique and not at all about which technique is performed. Proper movement, timing, eye-hand-foot coordination and breathing are what counts. I often have beginners complete up to five rounds of stepping and jabs only.

Obviously, for my more advanced students, I gradually introduce more and more techniques with each round, until they’re free to strike as they please. Sometimes I also have them work a specific sub-set of techniques (i.e. kicking, striking, working the clinch with knees and elbows).

Another valuable tool is to practice combinations. I then tell my students to move freely, but focus on a certain combination. Although the combination is fixed, everyone is encouraged to tweak it in terms of set-up, timing and stepping. In the video below, I demonstrate a jab-cross-hook-uppercut combo, along with some variations (e.g. stepping forwards, backwards, setting up the combo by coupling the jab with a simultaneous block, …).

The Shinergy philosophy aims at eliminating any guessing games (as guessing the future doesn’t work) and focus on the moment instead. This is achieved by a series of drills that follow the idea „a warrior learns from the past to master the present in the future“. Now this translation is pretty bad, but basically it means that analysis of a past event can be considered objective (if, at all, there is something like an objective truth,… there is no spoon,… but I’m taking it too far here), while estimating the future from one’s experiences and expectations is always subjective. Ok, I’ll admit, that is top-heavy. Anyways, following this idea, another approach to shadow boxing is defining the virtual opponents action rather than giving the student a fixed combination. For example, yesterday I definded the opponents attack to be a roundhouse kick to the stomach. Now, it’s up to the students to find appropriate reactions and practice them during the following round. Personally, I consider it important to present a couple of possibilites, so even if a student can’t come up with a solution on his own, he’d still have an array of options to choose from.

Obviously, there’s so much more you can do with your shadow-sparring, but for now, I’ll conclude the post with a video of yesterdays session. Enjoy!

So long,

take care

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