Training versus applying

I just started training an 18 year-old girl in boxing and this one came up: training versus applying.

In training, you sometimes do things that you don’t (or hardly ever) use when you apply the technique in real life. It doesn’t matter if you train for sports or self defense, this applies across the board. I’ll give you some examples first and then tell you how I see it. First up, boxing’s lead hook.

Check out this instructional video:

I want you to notice two things:

  • The weight shifts form the lead to the back leg.
  • The lead heel is all the way up.

In this video, Freddie Roach teaches the lead hook:

Notice he specifically says the weight has to transfer, meaning to the back leg.

In most boxing gym’s, that’s how they teach the lead hook. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m saying that’s how it is.

OK, now let’s see what happens in a fight. I’d like you to count the number of times you see the body weight transfer to the back leg and/or the lead heel point all the way up when a boxer throws a lead hook…

First up, Roy Jones Jr. and a collection of his lead hooks.


Next up, Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns in one of the most explosive fights (especially the first round) you’ll ever see. You’ll see tons of lead hooks: stationary, moving forward, moving back, long, short, medium,etc. The action starts at about 22min.:


How many  of those weight transferred, heel-up hooks did you count? Right…


Now look at the Freddie Roach clip again: when the fighter throws the lead hook hard, he does not shift his body weight. On the contrary, his weight is more on his lead leg than on the back one. The lead leg pivots in yes, but the weight doesn’t transfer.

Here’s a challenge for you:

Find me a world-class boxer who consistently does both the weight transfer and puts the heel all the way up when he throws a lead hook?

You won’t find one. Not a single one.

So what’s up with that?


Training versus applying

Teaching martial arts and fighting means giving a student a very complex set of skills. If in the beginning of their training, you teach them the lead hook like they will throw it after 15 years of training, then they’ll never get it. There’s too much complexity in that hook. However, if you break it down into the basic building blocks you need for that technique, a novice student can get it. Some of those building blocks are mentioned in the videos: shift the body weight to the back leg, turn on the ball of the left foo, don’t drop the rear hand, etc.

By doing these specific parts in largesse, the student learns the body mechanics and coordination he needs to make the technique work.  However, it doesn’t end there. That’s just the beginner version of a lead hook: as you can see in the videos, barring exceptions, professional fighters don’t throw it like that.

This is where I see a lot of coaches fail in their teaching: they don’t tell upfront that it’s “Lies to Children” like I talked about in the podcast. Because they don’t tell it, the student thinks he’s doing it wrong when he watches professional fighters or it creates a disconnect between training and actual fighting that confuses him. Neither one is productive to help them make progress.

I tell my students upfront when they start training with me:

The techniques will change. The way you do it now is not how it will be forever. But for right now, do it this way.

I also stop students who do advanced technique when they aren’t ready for it yet. Because they still lack certain key elements they need for that technique to work at the advanced level. It’s sometimes frustrating for them but it is better in the long run.



The lead hook is but one example, there are many more. Including in your art, whether you know it or not. If you have a good teacher and a good system, this will be part of the training evolution. As you progress, you’ll learn the different ways of doing the same technique you learned at first. Also, you’ll see how learning the “beginner” way first actually helps you do the advanced technique later on. All those movements you did in largesse at first teach you how to do them in a very compact and small way but get the same result. Or they set up a different way of getting the same result, one that is perhaps even better.

The key is to know and accept that this is how it will be. Martial arts that have a solid curriculum do this all the time, all over the place. Just accept that it’s in there and try to get the most out of it by not jumping ahead in your training.

The good part: when you fight somebody who hasn’t figured that out yet, you’ll have a lot of fun using it against him.


UPDATE: In Part Two, I discuss an example from muay Thai/MMA.


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  1. Dan Gilardi says

    Wim, this is one of my favorite posts of yours so far. I can’t wait for Part 2.

  2. Dear Wim,
    It’s a very obvious blog …
    althoug the subject is hardly noticed by the most end also barely talked about….. therefore you did a very good job by mentioning it.
    It’s like life: it isn’t static, its a dynamic and – hopefully- evolutionary strain.
    It’s also a subject I ‘struggle’ – and I presume a lot of my budo/fighting collegues -a lot with: how to apply the perfect technique, with the perfect timing, in the right moment ….
    So we have – most off the time – to do with less …
    And there it starts….

    • Thanks Ruben. It is indeed something pretty obvious. Perhaps it’s too obvious because as you say, many people don’t even notice it when it’s right in front of them. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve asked somebody why he does the weight transfer/heel up in the lead hook and they don’t even know they never use it that way when they fight.
      This is especially a problem in traditional arts where there is no longer “True transmission”. Parts have gotten lost and the reasons why you do things a certain way are gone. And it all goes downhill from there.
      There are no easy solutions IMO, just a lot of work and training.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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