Have you ever been involved in a match, whether in competition or a sparring session,
whereby one of the judges made a call against you? Either you or your student ending up
losing the match, mainly because of a controversial decision or some call that one of the
judges failed to make in your favor? We’ve all been through this at one time or another
and it leaves a bitter taste in our mouths.
Unfortunately, scoring a fight can be a very difficult and complex endeavor. There are
just so many styles of fighting as well as several different types of opponent strong points
that you have to deal with during a match or competition. Quite often, we find ourselves
losing a match or being involved in a controversial decision when we would have
preferred to avoid the situation altogether. Many times, I’ve seen my own sparring
partners lose a match, and be simply incapable of figuring out why or what went wrong.
They look at videotapes of the match, and they just can’t come up with the appropriate
answers. What went wrong?
Since there are hundreds of different styles of martial arts, and dozens of different styles
of fighting, there can’t be any easy quick-fix answers. However, there are what I call
Cardinal Rules of Fighting
—rules that everyone, regardless of the style, should subscribe
to and totally commit to whenever they’re in a training match or in active competition.
No one can fight successfully outside of the context of these rules.
I feel strongly that using these rules will enable many of you to make sparring quite a bit
easier. You’ll be able to take advantage of resolving some unanswered questions you’ve
had in the past, and put yourself on a winning pathway to success in your future matches.
Utilizing these rules will make it much easier for you to totally and fully commit, with all
of your heart, with each and every attack or counter attack or defensive movement
Don’t Get Hit
Simply put, the most important cardinal rule in fighting is: Don’t Get Hit. If a man can’t
hit you, a man can’t beat you. If a man can’t hit you, a man can’t hurt you. The easiest
defensive principle you can utilize to keep your opponent from hitting you is denying him
access to the target at all times. This can mean a multitude of things, but basically two
Stay out of the man’s line of fire, especially if he has a reach advantage or if he’s
quicker than you are or more aggressive.
Make sure you maintain a strong defensive posture at all times. That means keep
your hands up, and make sure that you, the target, or your position is always in
motion. A moving target or a moving position is hard to hit.
Don’t Let Your Opponent Get Set
The easiest way to beat a quicker, more experienced, stronger, or more
aggressive fighter is not letting him get set in the first place. Keep his position weak. Of
course, it’s impossible to do this at all times against all opponents, but at least this rule
will point you in the right direction.
Get Off First
(this refers to the firing line get your mind out of the gutter)
Beat your opponent to the draw. Do not
allow him to fire first. If he starts firing first, there’s a good chance that he’ll back you
up. He’ll start controlling your set point, and the momentum of the match will shift
against you in his favor. Nine out of ten times, this scenario holds true. This is the case
even though you may be an exceptionally talented counter fighter. Even if your game
plan is to do what we call Attack By Drawing – causing him to fire first by utilizing some
sort of a fake or drawing a feint set-up type of movement – there’s still a dangerous
possibility that you might lose the momentum of the match.
Commit With All of Your Heart at All Times
Momentum is one of the keys to being a successful fighter, especially at the very
beginning of the match. Remember that there is a basic philosophy that permeates all of
these rules, and it must be integrated and utilized at all times.
Commit With All of Your Heart at All Times
When you fail to do this, you are relinquishing responsibility
and yielding the advantage to your opponent. In doing so, you will proportionally
disintegrate your fighting spirit. When your spirit bankrupts, and you lack that confidence
access, you can’t fight.
Close the Door after You Fire
That means after you have gained a position against your opponent by penetrating his
defensive perimeters (both his kicking and punching defensive perimeters), you must
therefore be able to maintain that position or hold that position until you pull out,
regroup, reload, and begin to set your opponent up for your next attack.
Herein lies one of the most prevalent defensive problems in fighting today, whether it be
point fighting or full contact. We find ourselves firing our punches, our kicks, or
combinations with too many gaps in our offense. Those gaps in our offense create the
weaknesses in our defense. In the fight game, there’s a simple procedure that we use in
teaching the most basic attack. Here it is—three words: Fire, Cover, and Maneuver.
To dramatize this point, imagine watching a couple of black belts spar at a tournament.
Opponent A steps in to fire a very fast side kick at Opponent B. Right at the end of his
kick, he stops. He pauses. Take note of the fact that Opponent A, at the end of the kick, is
still on Opponent B’s firing line. Can Opponent B execute a counter punch or counter
kick at this point? Yes, he can. Bad training habits and uncorrected sparring problems
have perpetuated this habit. At the end of a punch, kick, or combination, you don’t stop.
You want to prevent your opponent from being able to answer your attack. You must
therefore make sure you check your opponent. The only way to do this is to close the
door behind you as you pull out, or as you hold on to that position to finish your
opponent off. Therefore, at the end of firing, make sure that you immediately fire again
so there’s no gap between the executions of your techniques.
Or, in the place of firing, you can choose to move. There are only two things you can
move, and this is where we use the word maneuver. Fire and maneuver. You can choose
to move the target, such as when the target is the head. You can slip your head from side
to side to keep your opponent from executing a counter kick or counter punch. Or you
can rotate your body in a circular fashion from side to side, to keep him from hitting you
in the midsection or the trunk of the body. This is called target relocation.
A second choice of movement or maneuver can be accomplished by executing some kind
of a counter step. Whenever a counter step (such as a slide step or a little stagger step to
the right, left, forward, or back) is utilized, we call this process ―breaking ground‖. What
you’re doing by breaking ground, as you use a counter step, is moving from one side to
the other and staying out of your opponent’s line of fire, or varying your distance. You
might bump your opponent and pull back before he can execute a counter punch or a
counter kick, keeping him off balance, and making sure that you keep him in check so he
can’t hit you or grab you for a takedown.
Now let’s review the procedure. Remember: Fire first. Cover. Then maneuver. There are
three ways you can maneuver. You can move the target, move your position, or you can
move your opponent. Any way you look at it, this is very basic when it comes to being a
well-schooled fighter. If you want the match, you have to close the door behind you.
Your opponent can’t follow you back through that door, penetrate your defensive
perimeters, and get you with some sort of a counter technique. You must practice making
sure that you don’t pause or stop at the end of your attacks. A number of times I’ve seen
black belts in tournament competition going in with a real fast back kick or a hooking
heel kick. Right at the end of their execution, they’ll sort of pause, almost as if they’re
admiring their performance, waiting for someone to take their picture, or waiting for the
judge to call the point. These are bad habits. Do not repeat this mistake.
Practice these rules, not only when you’re sparring, but also when you’re doing your
drills in class—or working against focus pads or heavy bags, or whatever training aids
that you utilize. The next time you begin a sparring session, start practicing and
developing this thing we call mental toughness. Give yourself the mental assignment that
you’re going to commit your body to go out there and execute.
Utilize these cardinal rules in the process. It will make sparring a lot simpler in the future.
If something goes wrong, play the previous attack back on that mental video tape in your
mind. Ask yourself questions. Were you thinking about denying your opponent access to
the target before you attacked? Were you allowing him to get set, or were you preventing
him from setting first? Did you take the momentum out of his attack by making sure that
you beat him to the draw? When you fired, were you certain that you properly closed the
door afterwards? Did you fire, cover, and then maneuver? Try going to your training
environment in the future, and remembering these three words – fire, cover, and
maneuver – every time you execute any type of offensive maneuver—especially you full
We’ve only mentioned a few points on a list of many cardinal rules. The use of these
rules will make the difference between an amateurish-looking, undisciplined fighter as
opposed to a well-educated, well-schooled fighter. If you’re serious about being a
competent martial artist you’ll discover that these rules make all of the difference
between winning and losing.