Training for the Fight by Antonio Graceffo
By Bob Hubbard - Sun, 07 Jan 2007 21:01:14 GMT


Training for the Fight by Antonio Graceffo

For the martial artist, it is important in each evolution of training to know what you are doing, and why. You should change your training routine to match the specific challenge that lies ahead.

When planning to enter a sparring competition, full contact fighting, or san da /san shou (Chinese kickboxing), you must train for the fight.

Cardio is the basic foundation of everything you do in a fight. If you have no cardio, you can't fight. If you have no cardio, you won't even be able to train. The more hours you spend on your techniques, the better your fight will go. So, you will need cardio to carry you through your training sessions. The better your cardio, the more you will be able to train in a day. The more you train, the better you will be. Most knock outs, believe it or not, come from a lack of cardio fitness. That is why you rarely see knockouts in the early part of a fight. When a fighter is fresh, he can withstand a tremendous blow. If the same blow were delivered after fatigue had set in, it would send him 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," says Patty Carson, who has been training fighters for over thirty years. Fifteen of his students have gone on to be world titleholders in ISKA, kickboxing, and muay thai. For the last fifteen years, he has been training professional san da, muay thai, and Khmer boxers in Cambodia and Thailand. "A kick or a knee to the solar plexus will drop a man instantly. It knocks the wind right out of him. But if you are unfit, and gasping for air, even a small head shot will bring you down."

Without cardio a fighter also can't defend himself. "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."

Patty 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," laughs Patty. "I've had guys throw up or pass out. But no fighter I have trained has ever lost on conditioning."

When you are worn out, and you have no energy left, throwing just one more punch or kick will look like an impossible feat, like climbing Mount Everest. But if you trained to throw that one extra punch, you will fight that way in the ring.

Many students believe they are training for a fight when they practice kicking or punching a bag. But kicking and punching are only two of the many aspects of fighting which have to be trained. And if they are trained in isolation, they are useless. You must 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 a stage to make a speech in front of a hundred people without preparing any notes. You can't just wing it.

Before you start any fight-training you must find out how long the rounds are in your style of fighting, and how many rounds you will be expected to do. Use a ring timer, and train at the same tempo as your fight. When in doubt, assume a round is three minutes, with one minute rest in between. Your training should be done the same way: three minutes on, one minute off. A good fighter can time a round in his head. Eventually, you will see your fitness meter in your brain, measuring the burn rate of energy, against the time remaining. Knowing how much time is left will tell you whether or not you could stand to increase your intensity, or if you need to decrease it, to last out the round. Also, if you are behind on points, you could wait till 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 straight left hand, and one straight 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. Then you can begin adding more techniques to your combinations, such as: one-two, upper cut, hook, one-two kick, one-one kick (one-one means two left kicks). This gives you a series of about ten techniques. Getting through one series might be a challenge for you at first. Eventually, you want to see how many you can do per round, and how many rounds you can do before you collapse.

The focus pads (where the teacher wears the pads on his hands or forearms) is an excellent training method, because it gives the teacher an opportunity to watch every single technique which is thrown. Also, the teacher can set the intensity and pace of the training. Good trainers will often assign numbers or names to each combination practiced. For example, the coach might yell simply, "Number three1!" And his fighter knows that this means, right foot high, left foot low, jab, jab, straight right. Or he might say "Mary Lou" And his fighter knows that this means, push-kick, right hook, left knee, uppercut, clinch. The trainer decides which combinations to call, and how often. A good trainer will wait until his 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, he can begin adding bag work to his routine. The heavy bag gives the student the opportunity to experiment and to express his creative self, by choosing his combinations and pace, without the coach watching him. The coach 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 the floor-to-ceiling bag as if it were an opponent, throwing combinations of punches. Never flick the bag. Hit it the same way you would hit an opponent. Use good straight punches, and hooks. You can kick a floor to ceiling bag. But you must be careful not to get tangled or injured. It is best to hit the bag full-on with your hands, but just tap it lightly with your feet.

Shadow boxing is a kind of moving meditation. The student goes through the fight in his head, attacking and defending against his imagined adversary. Shadow boxing involves movement, footwork, combinations, and creativity. Always do shadow boxing first, as a warm up. It is better to punch the air, rather than a target or bag, when your muscles are cold. Coaches shouldn't interfere too much in a student's shadow boxing. Shadow boxing and pad work are the two exercises which most closely 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 looser. This is completely wrong. Sparring is a chance for you to practice your combinations on a live opponent, without worrying about getting hurt. There should be no injuries in sparring. And there should be two winners. Always try to spar with people better than you. Spar easy. Don't injure the other man. Fight cleanly. And you will both benefit.

On sparring, Patty Carson says, "If you train a race horse, you never want to let him have his head and run full out in training. 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."

Fighting has so many aspects. Fight technique, timing, rhythm, movement, strategy and ring technique must be taught and practiced. Nothing should be left to chance.
Plan every aspect of your fight.

Use a timer: always train in three-minute rounds, with one-minute rest. (modify these numbers to satisfy the rounds and rest periods of the fight you will be doing.

Cardio: It is nearly impossible to lose a fight if you have better cardio than your opponent. For a three-round fight, you should train to do six to nine hard rounds.
Combinations: throwing isolated punches or kicks will not win a fight. You must practice throwing series of kicks and punches together, in disciplined combinations.
Bag Work: The heavy bag is good for building strength and power. The floor-to-ceiling bag is for practicing combinations.

Shadow boxing: is a kind of moving meditation. The student goes through the fight in his head, attacking and defending against his imagined adversary.

Sparring: is not a mini fight. And there should be no winner or loser. Sparring is an opportunity to practice more difficult and complicated maneuvers on a real person, without having to worry about getting injured.

Fight technique: Timing, rhythm, movement, strategy and ring technique must be taught and practiced. You plan your vacation to Florida in detail. Plan your fight the same way. The only surprise should be when you win in the first round, instead of in the third.

Sample workout for a three-round fight
3- to 5-mile run
15 minutes of shadow boxing
4 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.)
3 rounds heavy bag
2 rounds 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 ShaolinTemple. You can get his Shaolin book, The Monk from Brooklyn, from
Checkout Antonio's website

Checkout Antonio’s website

Get Antonio’s books at
The Monk from Brooklyn
Bikes, Boats, and Boxing Gloves
The Desert of Death on Three Wheels
Adventures in Formosa


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