Written by Joe Lewis,
In any sport from football to fighting, when two opponents are practically equal, usually the one who makes the fewest mistakes becomes victorious. With that in mind, presented below is my list of the 40 most common errors martial artists make in the ring.
Trying to counter when you should be leading the attack. Counterattacking, like faking, is an advanced art. It requires knowing three things: the lead of the opponent, your method of avoiding his lead and the exact way of executing the proper counter-shot. Unless you know them all, initiate.
Failing to step in when you punch. Whether jabbing or kicking, you always need to put your weight behind your executions for maximum power. Stepping in also increases your energy when you use the pivot-shifting and waist-pivoting (hinging) principles for punching power.
Rushing your closing kick after a punching combination. The kick doesn’t have to be in cadence with the rhythm of any preceding punches. After the last punch, you should practice angling out of one of the side doors, resetting and then finishing with a power kick.
Slugging toe-to-toe from the pocket with a slugger. Remember the fundamentals of fighting: Don’t slug with a slugger or hook with a hooker.
Standing square while you’re in front of an opponent or in the pocket. If your shoulders are open, you not only present an easy target for your opponent but also limit your ability to fully rotate your hips through the centerline to create power in your knee strikes or inside punches.
When facing a southpaw or a sharpshooting hard kicker, failing to possess effective feinting or faking skills. Such skills would enable you to draw him off-balance by breaking his timing. When it seems impossible to back him up, you need to know how to disrupt his rhythm or cause him to hesitate using faking skills. Then you must work defensive timing to come in the back door with a counterattack.
Failing to keep your back toward the center of the ring. You’ll end up getting walked to the ropes and find yourself trapped and punished without any room to maneuver or escape.
Remaining in the same pocket position and continuing to fire combinations. You need to at least turn your opponent or change the angle or position from which you attack. Remember that standing in the same spot makes you an easy target.
Failing to keep your feet directly under your punches. When you overreach with your punches, especially a straight right, you’ll end up lunging off-balance without any power. You’ll have too much hang time at the end of your punch, which leaves you unable to follow up with a left ridgehand or hook. You’ll often find yourself collapsing into your opponent directly behind your overextended punch. Or you may leave yourself open to his counter.
Positioning yourself directly in front of an aggressive opponent. This will get you hit. To avoid that fate, you must know how to employ rhythm sets, both with your head movement and your footwork, to offset his alignment or range just before his trigger squeeze.
Allowing yourself to get hit often while you’re coming in. You need to know how to make your opponent miss while you’re breaching his defenses. Against an advanced or equally skilled fighter, you must be able to use faking skills or create angles to turn him after you’ve crossed the critical-distance line or bridged the gap. Failing to do this against a taller or more experienced opponent will definitely cost you.
Neglecting to develop your ability to execute an educated jab or double jab. You’ll have difficulty with your penetration skills, and you’ll be easily countered.
Failing to counter immediately after using defensive movement. If you move your body (rolling) or move your head (weaving or slipping), you’re trying to make your opponent miss. That’s your opening for a counter. If you don’t take advantage of it, he’ll just attack you again.
Refusing to recognize the potential consequences when a taller opponent quickly steps back or pivots in from a clinch. Both actions are designed to create a favorable range to fire a clearing hook kick or straight right punch. You must know how to read and react to this tactic. That usually entails stepping simultaneously to negate the positional advantage such an opponent is attempting to create.
Not learning how to execute kickboxing techniques from a single- or double-arm clinch. If you freeze in this position because you lack the skills, you’re making a physical and mental mistake.
Being a headhunter. No experienced fighter should develop a habit of always aiming for his opponent’s head — unless a specific opponent leaves himself open to such an approach. It’s better to use a game plan that first attacks his body, thus causing him to leave his head exposed.
Standing upright and staying that way for the entire fight. Unless you’re very tall, the use of such a posture demonstrates a lack of disciplined movement skills and sets you up to be hit. Example: If you’re short, don’t stand upright to fight a taller opponent.
Neglecting shoulder and hip rolling as a defensive maneuver. In the martial arts, too much emphasis is placed on using hand blocks as the primary means of defense. It’s better to use body-rhythm skills. They provide you with a more effective way of countering and enable you to more efficiently absorb or deflect incoming shots. Even worse: Every time you use your hands for defense, you eliminate any opportunity you may have had to use them offensively. Don’t trade offensive tools for defence.
Practicing each combination using the same amount of speed and power.If you’re executing a three-punch combo, be sure to vary your speed and power. Suggestion: Fire the first two punches with speed, almost like slapping, just to get your opponent’s attention or cause him to drop his guard. Then throw the third shot hard.
Not having an “attitude technique.” In sports, all teams have that one play, serve or pitch that they call their “attitude play.” It’s the same in the combat sports. All great fighters have one technique or combination that puts fear in the hearts of the competition. You should spend an hour a day perfecting one maneuver that you’re certain you can execute with total conviction at any time, against any opponent and in any situation.
Habitually stopping inside the pocket after attacking. If you do that, it’s easy to stop working and just cover up. Unless you make an attempt to disengage or reset, you’re a sitting duck.
Not making your ability to throw body punches as refined as your ability to throw head shots. This doesn’t make sense because the body is a much larger target than the cranium and contains just as many nerve transmitters, which determine your chances of scoring a knockout. Word to the wise: Practice your body shots.
Failing to develop your ability to properly rotate your hips past the centerline when you execute a power punch. Do that, and instead of a knockout shot, your punch will be a glorified slap. For maximum power, rotate your hips (which serve as hinges) until you cross the centerline, after which you release the punch.
Not maintaining your composure when fatigue sets in or when you get hurt. It’s all too easy to do when you’re inexperienced. A related problem that stems from inexperience is not developing your ability to maintain your focus after a momentary loss of control. The best way to prevent both from cropping up is to study under an educated trainer.
Positioning your hands too low to mount a proper defense, which is worsened by a lack of head movement. That combination makes your skull an easy target for your opponent. You can’t expect to survive long when you do that.
Getting so aggressive or cocky that you overcommit in an effort to get your opponent to act. That means you’re getting too physical and attempting to use your body and muscle strength to get the job done. In reality, you should trust in your techniques and let them do their job. Fight with your head, not with your hands or feet.
Coming in headfirst or upright when you attack. If you always lead by slightly tilting your head toward your opponent on your initial move, you’ll leave yourself open for a counter that travels straight up the middle. You’re better off using rhythmic head movement.
Freezing up. In the ring, non-action has consequences, and they’re usually not consequences you’ll like. Learn to avoid non-action by focusing on only what you have control over and then acting accordingly. Not doing so is both a physical and a mental mistake.
Refusing to listen to your trainer and allowing your ego to dictate your actions. This all boils down to not following directions. If you trust your trainer, do what he says. Note that it’s possible to be on your own and still find yourself the victim of a bad trainer. In such cases, don’t fall into the trap of letting your ego override your strategy.
Allowing your opponent to get set. It’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. The reason is, once you’ve mastered controlling your opponent’s set point and maintaining the advantage of distance, you can beat 90 percent of the fighters out there.
Getting cute and doing ridiculous things in the ring. Both are huge mistakes and send a message that you either don’t know the fundamentals of fighting or don’t see a need to stick to them.
Succumbing to a mental laziness that encourages you to hold back and not let your techniques go. You must — by reflex, not by consciously thinking about it first — fire the moment your opponent is in range. Build that skill by sparring a lot, staying in shape, having and using a strategy, and practicing timing drills.
Trying to execute a kickboxing technique when you’re off-balance. When you’re off-balance, it’s better to focus on covering up and clinching. Or, if the rules permit, you can tactically drag your opponent to the ground.
Underestimating your opponent and then finding yourself falling behind in the fight. This is a real fear experienced by all fighters. Be like the great martial artists who overcome it: Never let your mental guard down. Realize that no matter who he is, your opponent is tough. Prepare for a real battle.
Simply firing at your target, hoping to hit it. It’s better to always execute your techniques through the target. Be certain that you will make contact.
Allowing your opponent to constantly back you up. Few martial artists know how to fight while moving backward, especially when their weight is on their heels. They often leave themselves in an open stance with squared-up shoulders. Retreating also increases the momentum of your opponent’s attack. Avoid all that by not backing up except when absolutely necessary.
Letting your opponent beat you to the draw. This is bad even if you’re a counterfighter or a grappler who likes to let his upright opponent strike with the intent of getting under his attack. Not permitting your adversary to fire first is one of the cardinal rules of fighting.
Having a sparring-partner frame of mind. It can leave you fighting a defensive game in which your opponent attacks and you block when you should counter. The remedy entails learning to work behind your blocks. For example, if your opponent executes a jab, don’t just block it or cuff it and then stop. Instead, time a right cross that travels over his jab as soon as you complete the cuffing movement.
Getting too hungry. This refers to the habit of leading with power shots like the straight right, left hook and power kick. Those techniques are primarily for counterattacking, not initiating.
Not knowing how to reverse the momentum of the fight when it starts going downhill. Fine-tune your ability to return to a base stance or style of fighting when the going gets tough. Then stick with an “attitude technique” or immediately change strategies to one that’s designed to shift the momentum in your favor. The best way to apply the 40 lessons listed here is to remember that training is a process, not a game of unfounded predictions. Predictions never justify anything in the fight game, especially the end result. What counts is not what you say; it’s what you believe. A successful outcome stems from self-confidence and adherence to a work ethic. As they say, the journey is always more important than the destination.