How to Be More Aggressive in Sparring

A while ago, I asked people on my Facebook Page if there was anything they were struggling with in their training so I could do a blog post about it. Here’s what Jonathan said:

I find it challenging to develop an attacking mentality – I tend to be quite passive in sparring. Any advice on how to develop that?

A great question and this “How to be more aggressive in sparring” article is my answer to it. Let’s start with some basics first.

how to be more aggressive in sparring

Sparring with one of my students.


Why are you passive during sparring?

There are a bunch of reasons why you might not feel like attacking your partner when you spar. It’s hard to say with certainty which one is the case with you as each person is different, but here are some of the most common reasons:

  • You’re scared. Getting punched in the face hurts and it can be scary if this is new to you. When it happens during a sparring session, many people tend to become passive and defensive to avoid receiving more of those punches. This is perfectly natural human behavior but it doesn’t help you get better. You need to work through the fear and conquer it.
  • He hits too hard. This is similar to the previous. Not only are you scared of getting hit because it hurts, you’re scared of getting injured because he hits really, really hard. Fear of injury is also a natural reaction, but you need to accept it at a gut level as martial arts and combat sports are contact sports. Injury is always a possibility, no matter how hard or soft you spar.
  • He counters everything you do. Even if he doesn’t hit you hard, if he hits you every time you make a move, it can be so frustrating you just stop attacking. Frankly, if this is the case then you’re mismatched. If your partner is so good that he lands every technique at will and avoids all of yours, there’s no upside to sparring him. In this case, I would suggest going slower or getting another partner.
  • Your defense sucks and you keep on getting tagged. This is a biggie. Look at a muay Thai or MMA match: in most cases, a fighter gets hit through the holes in his defense as opposed to inherent openings in a technique. E.g.: every time you throw a right punch, the right side of your body is open, nothing you can do about that. But you can keep your chin low, your other hand high and raise your shoulder to protect your chin. It’s usually these technical details that people make mistakes against and the opponent sees it. And then he uses those against you.
  • You don’t know what to do. Sparring can be overwhelming and make your brain freeze up to the point of almost paralyzing you. Especially if you are afraid, it can be extremely difficult to figure out something as basic as picking the right technique to throw next. Getting used to adrenal stress and having a strong grasp of the basics goes a long way to solve this.

These are some of the most common reasons that get in the way of being more aggressive when you spar.  Fortunately, there are solutions for these and I’ll give you a couple of them here below. Let’s take a look at those now. [Read more…]

Progressive Forward Pressure – Basic Striking Drill for Stand Up Fighting

A while ago I posted a video of the basic striking drill I teach for stand up fighting in combat sports. Every student in my class starts learning it as of his first class and it works well in teaching many things at the same time. In that first video, I showed the basic version along with a couple ways to add leg techniques and in the article I explained the reasoning behind the specific details. In this video, the focus is now on strategy and tactics. Now the goal is to generate forward pressure on the opponent, to take the fight to him and put him on the defensive.

Very often, beginning fighters launch into a long flurry of strikes when they do that. They just storm forward and throw one technique after the other in the hopes that one of them gets through. This tactic can and does work. However, it typically leaves you open to counters when fighting experienced opponents. It also costs a lot of energy and if it doesn’t yield results, you just blew away all that energy for nothing. I believe a fighter who is both well-trained and experienced has much better tools for this goal than just going berserk on his opponent.

Progressive forward pressure is one of those tools.

I’ll explain in more detail below, first take a look at the video.

Here are some pointers on how to make this work for you: [Read more…]

Takedown Defense Epic Fail

A friend and I have been pestering each other for years with videos and pictures of horrible martial artists. We always try to top the last one we find and unfortunately, that seems tp be getting easier as time goes by. I blame him for exposing me to this shining light of  a “Taoist Takedown Defense”…

Take a look at the video first:

If there ever was an epic fail of a takedown defense, this is it. Not in principle as such. Even though the sprawl is a dominant defense against the takedown in MMA, pivoting away is a legitimate technique in the cage and you do sometimes see fighters doing it.


They do it with skill and competence, unlike our instructor here.

They also do it against a committed, aggressive attack instead of a lumbering, stumbling, bent-over semi-rush like this “attacker” does.

Usually, I don’t find it necessary to comment on these kinds of videos. There’s rarely something to be gained and I don’t particularly feel the need to trash people all over the internet. But I’ll make an exception for this instructor here. Not only because of the complete lack of skill but also because of his open challenge when he receives criticism.

Watch this video, all the way to his challenge at the end: [Read more…]

Basic Striking Drill for Stand-Up Fighting

I’ve written a lot about self-defense lately and apparently, this has given the impression to people that I either have something against combat sports (MMA, muay thai, etc.) and don’t train in them myself. Neither of those two statements is correct, on the contrary. I love combat sports, they’re great. I also competed in them when I was younger and still teach them in my classes and to private students. Given the feedback I received, I thought it might be fun to show some of the things I teach to students.

So here’s a basic striking drill for stand-up fighting. Take a look first and then I’ll explain the reasons behind it.

First, a couple of things I have to mention:

  • We shot this video on my cellphone, near the end of class. The video quality is OK but not awesome, given that my cellphone isn’t a full-fledged camera. It’s all one take and there’s no editing. That’s also why you see the mistakes I and my student made (he was a little thrown by suddenly having to perform for the camera.) I chose to keep them in there instead of starting over until we did it all exactly right. That way I can point them out to you, because learning to correct the mistakes is an essential part of the drill.
  • There should be more footwork. Typically, we move around a lot more when we practice this drill. Doing so would have made it more difficult to shoot the video and we’d also lose the best background we have in the gym. The yellow curtains aren’t great, but they sure are better than a dark brown one or one with lots of visual noise all over the place.
  • We don’t do the drill at full speed or power. We reserve that for when we work on the pads. I’ve found that students get injured if I let them cut loose during the drills. So we hold back a little and focus on other things like timing, distancing, technique, etc.
  • I’m still nursing a bunch of injuries and am not allowed to do certain things. As a result, the drill isn’t as smooth as it could be. I also have to adapt it a bit to make it work. This is most visible when I throw a right punch: I should be turning into it more. Right now, I can’t do that so I have to pull that punch a bit. But you shouldn’t. The same goes for my arm position in my on-guard stance, the way I block, the way I turn my hips into a kick. There are a bunch of things I should do differently, but right now, I’d only injure myself more by doing them.
  • It doesn’t matter how I do each technique. It’s not about punching or kicking in an MMA or muay Thai way. If you do a lead hook or any other technique in a different way, by all means keep doing so. I have reasons for each of my technical choices and you might have other reasons for them. For instance, in the basic version of this drill we don’t drop our weight in the overhand right. I teach level changes later on in a student’s development because otherwise they don’t learn stability first. I also found it slows down a student’s progress in developing the ability to throw fluid/fast combinations if I let him lean or drop his weight from the get go.


What’s in in the drill?

Let’s take a look at the different components now:

  1. The entry. You have to start out of reach and then step in with the jab, followed by a cross and lead hook.
  2. The first counter. The partner fires a lead hook as soon as he blocks yours. You block that one and counter with another lead hook followed by an overhand punch (short, medium or long, depending on circumstances). [Read more…]