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Watch and Learn


To develop a fighting strategy, you must watch fights and the way fighters fight and learn from it; a part of the learning process is to study everything related to fighting.

Learn through study

To develop effective sparring strategies, you should study. As a martial artist, you should do learn all you can about the martial arts and your specific martial art. If you are a true black belt of a martial art, you should be or be striving to be a subject matter expert of your martial art.

Study fighting

You should study:
  • The history of fighting. Learn why humans fight and how they have fought throughout history.
  • The methods of fighting. Learn about the different methods humans have developed to fight each other. 
  • The martial arts. Learn about the martial arts in general and how they came about, and learn the basics of each art in case you fight one of their practitioners someday.
  • A martial art. Choose a specific martial art to study for a lifetime.
  • Everything else. Look at science, physics, mathematics, and everything the world has to offer and see how those things relate to yourself and your chosen martial art to make you both better.

Study the rules of sparring

Know the rules regarding acceptable techniques, prohibited techniques, amount of contact allowed, warnings, out of bounds, tolerance, appeals, etc.
  • Know the sparring rules of your martial art organization. 
  • Know the sparring rules of your martial art school.
  • Know the rules of each tournament you participate in regarding acceptable techniques, amount of contact allowed, out of bounds, tolerance, etc.

Watch and learn

At every opportunity, watch live or recorded matches of your opponents. Get to know their styles, strengths, favorite techniques, weaknesses, and how they react to different situations. Then use this knowledge prepare for fighting these opponents.

Watch opponents

When sparring, or when fighting or having to defend yourself, what part of the opponent should you watch? If you watch the wrong place, you may next be watching your life flash before your eyes.
Since taekwondo is a martial art that specializes in kicking, most beginners tend to watch the opponent’s feet, especially in sport taekwondo sparring where hands are seldom, if ever, used. Are the feet the best place to watch?

In boxing, kicking is not permitted so there is no need to watch the feet. In traditional taekwondo, hand attacks are frequently used and since hands are so versatile and quick, they score a lot. Does this mean that the hands are the best place to watch? Could it be that neither the feet nor the hands are the best place to watch?

Analyze possible opponents:
  • Watch the way they move offensively and defensively.
  • Watch how they react to fakes and feints.
  • Watch for their favorite techniques.
  • Look for injuries. 
  • Look for strengths and weaknesses

Other things to look for:
  • Flexibility. If a person warming up is using very flexible exercises, he or she will probably be a high kicker. Many flexible kickers like to kick so they do not train using their hands very much. If the person is not too flexible, he or she will probably be a flat-footed puncher.
  • Movements. Watch the way the person spars or shadow boxes. Does he or she have quick hands or quick kicks? How quick are his or her footwork and other body movements?
  • Examine body types
  • A tall person will use reach to his or her advantage, using kicks and long punches. 
  • A short person will either try and to get inside or will probe you with kicks and punches to get you to attack so he or she may counterattack.
  • A person with a strong upper body will most likely be a puncher and will probably like to press the attack, leading mainly with punches.
  • A person with a strong lower body will probably use kicks from the outside.
  • How long are a person's legs compared to yours? This lets you know the best range you should fight from.
 Watch opponents while they are:
  • Training. Watch how dedicated they are and their intensity.
  • Sparring in class. Watch for their favorite techniques and what they can do when experimenting with new skills.
  • Warming up before competition. This is a time when competitors like to show off to spectators and are not thinking about you watching so they may give away some of their secrets.
  • Performing patterns in competition. Pattern performance is indicative of the opponent's dedication to his or her martial art.
  • Sparring in competition. It’s better to see the opponents fight before you have to face them in the ring.

Watch opponents performing patterns

Usually, pattern competition comes before the sparring competition, so the best time to analyze possible opponents is while they are performing their pattern. By observing the way they move, you may get some idea about how they probably will spar.

Things to watch for:
  • If the person uses deep stances or uses high kicks with perfect technique, you know he or she is very flexible and will probably a kicker while sparring.
  • If the person performs a pattern with a steady rhythm, he or she will probably be easy to time while sparring. He or she will most likely not use off-speed timing, making it easy to catch him or her between movements. The person will probably use the same attacks over and over, so you could time the attacks and strike while the person is in transition.
  • If the opponent mixes up the rhythm in the way he or she performs the pattern, he or she may be a harder opponent to spar. He or she may be more difficult to track and score upon since he or she is unpredictable. You could expect some off-speed timing and agile techniques. 
  • To find out whether an opponent is a deceiving fighter, watch how his or her sequences flow. If the person stays mainly at one height when going through the movements, then he or she will probably be able to hide techniques rather well. If the person bounces up and down a lot, it will easier for you to predict their techniques from their movements.
  • Watch the hand and foot timing of the person. If the timing is off and the feet are faster than the hands, he or she is probably a kicker with a slower upper body during sparring. If you notice the hands are faster than the feet, the person will probably use more punches and have slower kicks.
  • If a person keeps his or her chest square during the pattern, it will be easier to score on him or her since there will be a larger area to focus upon.
  • Watch how the person blocks. If the person overextends, you know that he or she will likely throw blocks too far. This will leave an opening and make it more difficult for him or her to get to guard to block your next technique. If they stop too short with the blocks, then you know you may score by pushing a technique through the blocks. 

Watch opponents sparring

Watch opponents when they attack and when they defend:
  • Many fighters tend to rely on what works for them, even if it means they become predictable. When combinations seem to occur regularly and you see the first attack of the combination again, you may expect and plan for the rest of the combination.
  • Use your experience to learn what attacks are possible after an initial attack, what attacks are usually used after an initial attack, what attacks the current opponent usually uses after an initial attack, and what counterattacks work best to disrupt the flow of the combination attacks. Knowing what is possible will aid you in reading what combinations are possible and let you prepare for them.

Watch the real danger

When threatened, people tend to keep their eyes on the threat. If an attacker has a weapon, such as a gun or a knife, people will tend to concentrate on the weapon as being the threat. However, the weapon is an inanimate object; it is not a threat to you; the real threat is the person controlling the weapon.

If you watch the weapon for a movement, your response will be too late. You must watch the person in control of the weapon so you may anticipate what the person might do with the weapon. The same holds for watching an opponent’s natural weapons, such as his or her hands and feet. If you watch either one, it will probably hit you anyway, and even if it does not, the other one will.

Watch areas of the opponent's body

Watch the head

The body cannot move without the head moving. To perform a proper spinning technique, the head must start turning before the rest of the body to add speed to the spin and to ensure the eyes acquire the target before the technique fires. This lets the kicker detect and block any counterattack and detect any changes in the target’s location or range. If you can detect this preliminary movement of your opponent’s head, you will be prepared for a spin attack before it even occurs.

When the weight is shifted to a support leg just before a kick with the other leg, the head will also shift toward the side of the support leg. This weight shift movement by an opponent will warn you of an imminent kick attack.

Although watching the head would seem to be a good choice of a place to watch for an attack, many times these head movements are very slight, even imperceptible, especially during the action of competition.

Watch the face

Watch the face, not the eyes, the face. If you watch the face, unless the opponent is a fantastic actor, you will have a window into his or her thoughts and feelings. No matter how the opponent may act otherwise, if he or she is in pain, concerned, confident, worried, etc., it will be reflected on his or her face.

If you just watch the opponent's eyes, you may get mesmerized by the person's stare; some people can instill fear by their stare. If you watch the eyes of this type of person, you may hesitate a split second before reacting, and a split second is all it takes for an attack to strike you. If you are watching an opponent’s eyes and the opponent glances to the side, you almost instinctively will also glance in that direction. Some opponents use this reaction to their advantage.

Also, while the face of an opponent may express his or her emotions and give you some idea of his or her intentions, these expressions can be easily manipulated by the person to camouflage the person’s true emotions or intentions. A person may look fearful, angry, sad, happy, in pain, etc. but could be the opposite. If you watch an opponent’s face, the false expressions may trap you into doing the wrong thing.

Things to watch for:
  • Intention. By observing the opponent's intention, you may determine whether the opponent intends to attack or fake an attack.
  • Line of sight. By observing the opponent's line of sight, you may determine the opponent's target.

Watch the upper chest

  • The best place to watch is the opponent’s upper chest. By concentrating on the opponent’s upper chest, you may detect minute weight shifts that indicate a hand or foot attack is imminent. You may determine which foot or hand will be used in an attack and how far the attack will reach.
  • By watching the opponent’s upper chest, the head will still be in sight so you may detect its movement, but you will not be aware of the opponent’s eyes or facial expression. Also, by not looking at the opponent’s face, the opponent is not able to detect your emotions or intentions from your eyes; you will appear disinterested. By focusing on the opponent’s upper chest, the opponent’s hands are out of focus, thus, while you are not directly watching them, you will still be able to detect their movement. The upper legs also will be in your peripheral vision so you will be able to detect leg movements; you can detect movement quicker with your peripheral vision than you can with your direct vision.
  • Some fighters look into the distance just over the opponent’s shoulders, so the opponent’s entire body is in the peripheral vision. Other fighters defocus their eyes, so they do not directly see any part of the opponent. These techniques also work, but they do not work as well as upper chest watching. With practice, you will be able to anticipate opponents’ movements so accurately that they will begin to think you are reading their mind.

Watch the hands

When a hand attack fires, the first thing to move should be the hand but usually, the hand, arm, and body move almost simultaneously. Actually, this is not always the case since many fighters add other extraneous movements to their attacks, such as personal quirks, habits unknowingly picked up, or even useless movements taught by some pseudo-master in an effort to be different from other martial arts. In any case, if you watch the hands for an attack, once you see a hand move, it is too late to react; the hand is already on the way to the target.

Since the opponent’s hands are so close to you, if there is no preliminary movement, the hands can move and strike you before you have a chance to react. Magicians make a living from the fact that the hand appears to be faster than the eye. In reality, the hand is not faster than the eye; what happens is that the hand is faster than the opponent can see, analyze, decide, and react to the hand’s movement. Therefore, it is a waste of time, and dangerous, to watch an opponent’s hands for an indication of a hand attack.

Watch the elbows

If you are a hand watcher, it is better to watch the elbows. If fist moves, so does the elbow, and, since the elbow is farther away than the fist and it is easier to read because watching it does not strain the eyes as does watching the closer fist. Also, because it is farther away, the elbow moves about two times more slowly than the fist, which makes it easier to read. In a circular attack, the elbow moves approximately four times more slowly. The longer you can follow the path of the strike (and thus detect it sooner), the longer you to let your reflexes work for you.

Watch the hips

The hips are about halfway between the head and the feet, so, on the average, this should be a good place to watch. However, taking the middle or the average position is seldom a good choice in anything. For example, if you stand with one foot on a block of ice and one foot on a hot stove, on the average, you will be comfortable. If you watch the opponent’s hips, you will probably get punched and kicked a lot.

Watch the knees

The knees make minute movements to help us maintain balance. They also support all the body weight and help transfer forces down to the feet and then to the ground. It is difficult to see the minute movements of the knees, but any noticeable problem with the knees may indicate the opponent may have problems moving or kicking.

Watch the feet

A good kicker will kick without any upper body indication that the kick is coming. I tell students to kick as a swan swims. If you watch a swan moving on the surface of a calm lake, it moves gracefully through the water with no other visible body movement. However, just below the surface, its legs and feet are rigorously kicking. A good kicker kicks in the same manner. There is little indication above the waist that a kick is coming. They don’t wave their arms around or drop their guard before a kick. You will not know a kick is coming until you feel the pain.

When a foot attack fires, the last thing to move is the foot. Before the foot can leave the floor, the bodyweight must shift to the other leg and the kicking leg must start to lift. Since the foot is the last thing to move, it is a waste of time to watch an opponent’s feet to detect a foot attack. If you do not react before the foot moves, you will probably get hit by the foot, Although the foot takes much more time to reach the target than does a hand, due to the distance it has to travel and the mass of the leg that must be moved, it is still quicker than you can react to. When it comes to total reaction time, the foot can also be faster than the eye.

Therefore, if you watch the opponent’s feet for a kick, you will probably get hit by a kick. Since the hands are so versatile, powerful, close to your vital areas, and quick, if you watch the opponent’s feet, you will also probably get punched a lot.

Always watch and learn. When you stop, so will your progress.

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