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6 Sparring Strategies Offer The Ultimate In Deception

from the August, 2001 issue of Black Belt Magazine

The best martial artists know the value of strategy. They know that sometimes throwing their best technique simply does not get the job done. They know that in times like those, strategies that utilize effective set-up, delivery and timing can be more important than execution. They also know that one of the most efficient strategies is the fakeout.

The six faking strategies described in this article will serve you well whether you employ them in the ring or on the street. I can say that with confidence because they have been tested over the past four decades by Joe Lewis, my instructor and training partner since 1967, and me.

We started using them prior to and during the reign of our West Coast National Fighting Team in the late 1960s and early 70s, and we have used and taught them ever since. I certainly did not invent the strategies, but I have cataloged them into what I believe is a useable format.

The six strategies have built many fighters’ self-confidence and propelled them to national and world titles. They are so universally valid that they can be used in any sport, competition or armed conflict. For the purpose of this article, however, they will be discussed in relation to empty-hand sparring.

In sparring, deception refers to the ability to fake out your opponent and is often an essential factor in defeating. However, determining and implementing the correct deceptive strategy for the particular opponent you are facing can be a challenge. The key to success involves “probing.”

Each opponent you face has a tendency to act a certain way. He has favorite moves that make up his personal style of fighting. Some opponents charge in, some stay back, some like to kick, some like to punch and some like to use other approaches. Probing teaches you to use false leads to figure out your opponent’s preference. (False lead refers to extending a weapon toward your opponent without committing your body weight.) When you step into the ring with a new opponent, probe to see what he does, then choose a strategy that fits his style.

Three elements
Before embarking upon an in-depth discussion of faking strategies, it is essential to review the role of perception. Does your opponent believe what he’s seeing is really happening? If he does, he will always react. Some opponents react correctly to minimize their vulnerability, but most make some type of mistake when reacting.

For a fake to be believable, three elements must be used correctly. The first is distance. You must be close enough to your opponent to actually hit him if your fake were a strike. A common mistake involves throwing a fake from too far away. For it to work, it must be executed from a realistic distance. The second element is angle. To threaten your opponent, a fake must travel along the same line as an actual attack. Another common mistake students make is to simply throw their hand in the air or stomp their foot on the mat. Since the fake is not angled toward any target, it usually elicits no reaction from the opponent. For it to work, it must travel along a realistic angle.

The third element is intensity. A fake must have realistic speed, intent and emotional substance. You must throw it as if you are actually trying to hit your opponent. Fighters frequently make the mistake of throwing a passive fake followed by an aggressive strike. If the opponent does not react to the fake, they are left vulnerable. For it to work, it must include the use of realistic intensity.

Strategies for Lead Fighters
At any given moment during a sparring match, you fall into one of two categories: lead fighter or counter fighter. Of course, you can switch from one style to the other or even merge them, but for the purposes of this article, they will be considered separately. When you are a lead fighter, you should not attack a strong position. You should first weaken your opponent’s position with a fake or deceptive action to make him pause. That will create an opening, and the hesitation can enable you to score. Remember that when you attack, you must make your opponent hesitate.

Indirect Angular Attack
This strategy is used against a person who stands his ground and blocks. It involves a fake of angle.

Example: Move into the range of your opponent with allow fake (on the half count—see sidebar) and follow with a high strike. This sequence can be reversed with a high fake and a low strike. These two combinations are among the most common indirect angular attacks.

Broken-Rhythm Attack
This strategy is used against a person who is a counterfighter. That is, whenever you attack, he tries to counterattack. You need to draw his counter, then hit him while his weapon is returning from the missed counter. Example: You have determined that your opponent will try to counter punch. Therefore, you move into his range to draw his punch and move out of range when he delivers it. This action causes him to miss and allows you to score when he is out of position.

Immobilization Attack
This strategy is used against a runner or a person who doesn’t stand still. This is the most sophisticated of the three lead-fighter strategies. There are many ways to stop a person from moving away from you. One is to reverse your direction and move away from him, thus drawing him toward you. Or you can immobilize him by grabbing him or obstructing his leg with a check or sweep. To be successful, immobilization attacks must include distance, angle and attitude. Example: Lunge toward your opponent, grab his sleeve or arm and pull him off-balance. Counter punch his body.

Strategies for Counter Fighters
When you are a counter fighter, you want your opponent to attack you. By making a certain part of your body seem vulnerable, you encourage him to attack that area. Sometimes called baiting, this approach can weaken his position by allowing you to know where he will attack. A skilled counter fighter has the ability to cause his opponent to use a specific weapon at a specific time to a specific target. Remember that when you are attacked, you must make your opponent miss.

Redirect Attack
This strategy focuses on redirecting your opponent’s energy. You can accomplish that by moving his weapon off the line of attack using a parry or by moving yourself off the line of attack using a slip. Most of the time, a combination of these two tactics is used. Example: You lure your opponent into throwing a fore-hand strike at your head, then slip it by moving off-line and counter to his body.

Interrupt Attack
This attack interrupts your opponent’s energy by putting a greater amount of energy in direct opposition to it using a stop-hit. Example: The attacker uses a lunging punch delivered with his rear hand. As he crosses sides and enters, you execute a defensive back kick to stop his forward movement. You have moved into the line of attack.

Absorb Attack
This strategy revolves around absorbing your opponent’s energy. You can do that by employing what is called a “target fade, ” which refers to using a non-vital part of your body as a shield. Example: Your opponent throws a kick at your body. You fade away from the attack just far enough so the kick touches your shielding arm. You then counter with a spinning back-hand strike. You have moved away along the line of attack.

The six fighting strategies described above are tools you can use to conquer any skilled opponent. Because they enable you to make successful choices while facing a variety of fighters, they will also build your self-confidence in and out of the dojo.

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