If you just want to sweat go for a run

Some times at the end of those intensive lesson when everybody is pushed to the limit some of my students come to me and congratulate or thank me for how good the lesson was.  Curiously this happens more often when I happen to run a “low tech” lesson with simple and immediate techniques that simply require intense and fast workout.

Some martial arts can be a hard and sweaty job: repeating many times sequences of punches and kicks and other strikes at a fast pace can surely be a physically demanding task.  At the same time those who feel that a good lesson should be just the one that makes you sweat profusely I suggest to go for a run, do a round of circuit training.

My main goal as a coach is surely to prepare students in most aspects of performing martial arts, including teaching and improving techniques, combinations, balance, foot work, guard, strikes, defence and so on.  When sparring there are also aspects like release tension and being relaxed while having another person in front that is there to punch and kick you.  In certain cases an individual gets stuck in a situation where a certain kick or punch doesn’t work or it is not as efficient as it could be.  These are the times when the expert teacher or coach can really help to  get things working.

To some extent when I enter more complicated areas of training, explain or practice a difficult set of combinations it seems that a smaller number of students find it useful: is it perhaps because the others don’t really grasp the full essence of the lesson?

The importance of a proper guard

I have recently coached my students of Cambridge University Kickboxing Society in a Varsity match against Oxford and then the University Kickboxing Championship in Canterbury (Kent – UK) and I had the inspiration to write this post because of what I have seen: most people have little or no guard and, for my standard, are simply asking to be beaten up.  Both during Varsity fight and the Uni Champ, with over two hundred fighters, it was very rare to spot people that were holding a decent guard, lasting even for just a single round.  Let’s analyse the facts.

Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

When in a contact fighting situation you are often at a short distance with an opponent who has a single goal: hitting you in every area allowed, in order to score as many points as possible.  This simple rule applies in the same way to boxers, any kind of kick boxers and any practitioner of other striking martial arts like karate or tae known do.   Having a poor guard can undermine the quality of your attacks because you become way more vulnerable to your opponent’s attacks or counter attacks and have painful consequences.

A guard position imposes the fighter to control where her hands and arms are while she is performing other techniques with her legs or ensuring that at least one hand is in the right position, close to the head to protect it from opponent’s strikes, while the other is striking.  Instinct and balance doesn’t suggest keeping the guard in place: it’s easier to stand if you spread your arms when kicking.  At the same time a martial artist is supposed to be a controlled and trained person that can suppress and control her instincts and use her training for the best performance.  What best performance?  Once you run out of evasive footwork, proper use of distance and active blocks I hope we all agree that a decent guard is the only defence you have against an attack: the only shield to protect your head, face or part of the body.  If you can strengthen some part of your torso and chest with serious conditioning and abdominal exercises the same cannot be said for the face and the head.

Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

To some extent it is difficult for me to understand how and why people that teach kickboxing (in these cases) are spending long time at practicing conditioning, decent combinations of punches and kicks, ring strategy and so on without spending enough time to concentrate of keeping a decent guards all times.  However well your guard is trained it will perform worse when under great pressure.   When ever I am coaching a fighter more than 50% of all my suggestions are about keeping and closing the guard: that minimised her chance of being hit and she reduces the number of points scored on her and the risk of KO while she can save energy and be ready to strike back.

It’s more important to win 1-nil than 10-9: in the latter case you scored 10 points but 9 were scored on you.  Keeping a good guard will ensure to minimise the number of times your opponent scores on you.