Thinking ahead versus going with the flow in sparring

Bill Mattocks

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This is something I've considered for a long time, and a recent thread made me think of it.

When I spar in the dojo or in a tournament (I no longer do, actually, due to heart condition), I do not make plans. I do not think to myself "If he does X, I will do Y," for example. I do not strategize. I just let things happen as they happen. I react. Sometimes I anticipate, but not that often (he threw two low kicks to sucker me into blocking low, now he's going to throw a high kick).

However, quite a few of my dojomates do plan, strategize, and use specific techniques that they've decided ahead of time to use. Even to details like "I'm going to hit him in the patch three times with my left hand and then kick him with a side kick."

Do you strategize and plan when sparring? Are you thinking about what techniques you're going to throw, or do you just go with the flow?

I'm not claiming how I do it is right or wrong; it's just how I do it. I'm not the world's greatest fighter, but I do mostly OK. I feel far more confident in my ability to defend myself against an untrained attacker or a brawler than against one of my highly-skilled dojomates, but that's OK. We can't all be champions. We can all get better.
 

Buka

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If I'm sparring with a student, I'll often do so with a plan in mind to see if that student has been working on......whatever.

Other than that I have never used a predetermined plan going into any kind of sparring or competition.
 

isshinryuronin

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This is something I've considered for a long time, and a recent thread made me think of it.

When I spar in the dojo or in a tournament (I no longer do, actually, due to heart condition), I do not make plans. I do not think to myself "If he does X, I will do Y," for example. I do not strategize. I just let things happen as they happen. I react. Sometimes I anticipate, but not that often (he threw two low kicks to sucker me into blocking low, now he's going to throw a high kick).

However, quite a few of my dojomates do plan, strategize, and use specific techniques that they've decided ahead of time to use. Even to details like "I'm going to hit him in the patch three times with my left hand and then kick him with a side kick."

Do you strategize and plan when sparring? Are you thinking about what techniques you're going to throw, or do you just go with the flow?

I'm not claiming how I do it is right or wrong; it's just how I do it. I'm not the world's greatest fighter, but I do mostly OK. I feel far more confident in my ability to defend myself against an untrained attacker or a brawler than against one of my highly-skilled dojomates, but that's OK. We can't all be champions. We can all get better.
It's hard to preplan when you don't know what you're going up against. Sometimes you are lucky to have seen the opponent in a prior match and so can design a strategy tailored for him. Usually, when it starts, all you have to go on is his stance and posture to figure what kind of fighter he is and I will quickly decide some general strategy, such as side movement or charging straight ahead.

After a few seconds you know if he's jumpy, likes to counter, throws many combos, likes keeping distance or fighting close in, etc., and then you can plan strategy with a little more detail on the fly.

I will plan and practice certain techniques and tactics to use IF the opportunity is there. Here it's important not to force them in just because you've practiced them. My last tournament I planned to use a couple of moves from Chinto kata (just to make a point that kata has practicality) as well as attacking his lead hand. But he kept his lead hand in close and the openings for the kata technique didn't present themselves.

So, to answer your question, IMO, some planning can be in order, but it has to evolve or be discarded if needed. If one has superior speed, reflexes and timing, free flow spontaneity precludes the use of planning. This is the stage we'd all like to be at.
 

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There's a couple of ways to plan. One from the mindset of practice, and one from the mindset of winning (which you are also practicing).

For example, I might go into a sparring session thinking "I'm going to use a back kick." This is not because I think my back kick will win the match. It's because I think I need to work on my back kick. I've noticed it's slow, or inaccurate, or I don't hit quite right with it (glancing blows, wrong part of the foot, etc). I may also have some ideas to help make it land.

On the other hand, I like to read my opponent and see how I can trap them. For example, I will throw a crescent kick early in the round. If they throw up their hands to block it, I know I can do an inverted question-mark kick to nail them in the ribs. On the other hand, if they dodge it, I know I can rechamber and catch them with a side kick. I wasn't necessarily the best at getting headshots, but man was I good at punishing people for defending them.

However, I go for these when they're open. If my opponent is playing the long game, then neither of these are going to work very well. So in that case, I'll go with the flow.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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It's better to force your opponent to play your game, than to be forced to play your opponent's game.

Old saying said, "Try your plan 3 times (create opportunity). If all fail, you play defense and go with the flow (wait for opportunity).
 
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Dirty Dog

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This is something I've considered for a long time, and a recent thread made me think of it.

When I spar in the dojo or in a tournament (I no longer do, actually, due to heart condition), I do not make plans. I do not think to myself "If he does X, I will do Y," for example. I do not strategize. I just let things happen as they happen. I react. Sometimes I anticipate, but not that often (he threw two low kicks to sucker me into blocking low, now he's going to throw a high kick).
Some. If I want to do something in particular, I'll leave an opening to invite an attack that sets up my planned counter. Nothing is easier to avoid than a known attack to a known target at a known time. And I watch for patterns that might help me predict what they're about to do.

I trained a young man who, initially, loved throwing rear leg kicks. He was 6'6" and played for the local University the last time they won a national championship. It was a great year for them. They lost one game. So his kicks had some ooomph to them. He telegraphed it terribly, but he was strong enough that he could knock other students off balance, or totally down even if they blocked. So I did two things. I used him as an example to teach students how to recognize a tell. And I sparred with him a lot. For him, I had a plan. Every time he threw that telegraphed kick, I would jam it before it got near me. By using my front leg to put a foot in the way. Generally a side kick or front kick to the mid-thigh. Now that the other students knew how to read his tell, and how to counter the kick, it became less effective. So he stopped using it alllllll the time, and learned not to telegraph.

Planning is good, so long as you can change the plan as the circumstances change.
 

Rich Parsons

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This is something I've considered for a long time, and a recent thread made me think of it.

When I spar in the dojo or in a tournament (I no longer do, actually, due to heart condition), I do not make plans. I do not think to myself "If he does X, I will do Y," for example. I do not strategize. I just let things happen as they happen. I react. Sometimes I anticipate, but not that often (he threw two low kicks to sucker me into blocking low, now he's going to throw a high kick).

However, quite a few of my dojomates do plan, strategize, and use specific techniques that they've decided ahead of time to use. Even to details like "I'm going to hit him in the patch three times with my left hand and then kick him with a side kick."

Do you strategize and plan when sparring? Are you thinking about what techniques you're going to throw, or do you just go with the flow?

I'm not claiming how I do it is right or wrong; it's just how I do it. I'm not the world's greatest fighter, but I do mostly OK. I feel far more confident in my ability to defend myself against an untrained attacker or a brawler than against one of my highly-skilled dojomates, but that's OK. We can't all be champions. We can all get better.

When I am sparring for me / fun / competition I go with the flow, and react, and once I get some read I make a quick plan.
As with all plans they almost never survive contact with the enemy. :D

When I am teaching I will stand straighter , part of my personal trigger to know I can use bad habits, and leave openings for others to recognize or be told to look for and work that in to their training.

If I have a plan, it is because I am trying to make a point, or show a specific technique, I usually don't hunt for anything.
And even if looking for something, the bait to get the response one is looking for as stated be others is used. I also
will always be willing to abort a technique to counter their counter attack. (* See Plans above - Ouch :D *)
 

Tony Dismukes

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Sparring is a learning drill for me, so how I approach it depends on my goals for that day. Some days I just want to have fun or work on my mental focus or my ability to relax and flow. In those cases I dont make specific plans and just react to what Im given. On other days I am trying to develop specific techniques or tactics or work on handling specific situations and positions. In those cases I try to create opportunities to practice the particular items on my agenda.
 

punisher73

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I see both as two sides of the same coin.

I think it is important to have sparring goals other than "just win". If that is your only purpose, you are going to limit yourself technique/concept/strategy wise and plateau. As others have said, have a goal of what you want to accomplish. For example, just working distancing and angles or defensive only. Even selecting a specific technique to use and vary the setups and entries for the technique.

If you are talking about "free fighting" version of sparring (like in a tournament) than I think it is more important to "harmonize" with the other person and be more free flowing so you don't get caught up. Based on training and experience, you may loosely pre-plan something based on the way the other person is standing and what they are presenting. For example, a wrestler's type stance versus a boxer's type stance etc.
 

Earl Weiss

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I don't treat it as one or the other. For training I may focus on certain techniques which of course requires a plan. Then there may be times when I go with the flow. Just going with the flow does not force you to try and develop a broader spectrum of techniques. For competitions I tell students the first round can be the toughest if they do not know the opponent. They have to try and figure out weaknesses and tendencies on the fly. So it may be more go with the flow. But they need to watch fighters in their bracket who they may meet in later rounds and take note of those fighters strengths and weaknesses - plan strategize accordingly.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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If you keep moving in circle toward your opponnt's blind side, you will force your opponent to turn with you. When you do that, you are not going with the flow.

Anything that you can do to make your opponent to feel uncomfortable will be toward to your advantage.

 

MadMartigan

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Not so much a plan... but I do have certain principles that govern most of my sparring. Circling to the back (as kungfu wang said), using x move to set up y move, creating known counters, or just using proven combinations. It's not exactly winging it, but it's not a set plan either.
 

jks9199

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What am I practicing?

Sparring is a form of practice, so how I spar is shaped by what I'm practicing. On the broadest level -- am I practicing offense or defense? Offensively, I'll have a strategy and plans. Defensively -- there's much less of a plan, more go with the flow. It gets more complex as the focus of the practice gets more specific.
 

JowGaWolf

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Do you strategize and plan when sparring? Are you thinking about what techniques you're going to throw, or do you just go with the flow?
My answer is going to be greatly different since sparring for me is all about learning.
Most of my sparring is done using techniques that I'm learning to be good with or learning to understand. I still use strategy because I have to understand the context in which I must use a technique. This means that I have to understand if my sparring partner is going to take me down and if so, what windows of opportunities will he go for it.

I also have to think of how I can Iead my opponent to my technique vs trying to randomly apply a technique to my opponent. The better I'm able to lead my opponent to where I need him/ her to be, the more successful I'll be in executing the techniques. I know if I can shut down opportunities then my opponent will be less able to use the techniques that he depends on the most.

In short. The better I become at manipulating my opponent. The easier it will be for me to dominate him. For me that often means I'm going to make a lot of learning mistakes and errors until I can understand the challenges that stand in front of me. Sometimes my strategy is singular. How to I learn to use this technique? Or how can I force my opponent to unexpectantly change his footwork. I do a lot of "watching my opponent" when I spar, so there's always some kind of strategy going on in my mind. Before, during and after sparring strategy planning is a must. I can't learn without it.
 

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Great question!! I have been training in Muay Thai in Thailand and have learned there are many styles of Muay Thai. The primary style I'm learning is Muay Femur, which is a counter fighter style.
Muay Femur practitioners are known for having an amazing fighting IQ, and an ability to counter, land any strike at any time, with extreme precision.
So how is this achieved? The secret(as far as I can tell) is in how the pad work is conducted. It's been pretty amazing for me to observe how they are training and preparing me to counter with any strike at any time. It's a very step by step, methodical, no stone unturned, scientific process, slow process. Sometimes painfully boring and slow progress.
This is extremely different than the pre-determined, nearly static combination training I see being conducted with pad work in the US.
I'm not a talented fighter, but I'm definitely getting better at relaxing and countering. It takes a high degree of timing, balance, footwork, repetition, and distance management.
Of course I'm learning offense also, including setting up strikes with fakes. But the offense also is more about having eyes for openings, as you continue your attack strike sequence, versus creating openings through predetermined combos. So it's more like throwing a 1-2 combo, then identifying strikes 3-4-5 as you go. And being able to see an opening on strike 3, selecting the weapon (punch, elbow, knee, kick) and executing it, then looking for the next one.....
 

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Since fighting is essentially a random set of events and thus difficult to predict, surely one has to observe, assess and react according to what is thrown at you? Practising a particular sequence of techniques to be rolled out at some point may be a useful opening gambit to ascertain how your opponent will react, but one still has to observe, asses and react in case theyre better than you think Then one can apply the mitsu no sen.

They are are sen-no-sen (桀), go-no-sen (敺桀) and sen-sen-no-sen (桀).

The sen-no-sen means to strike while your opponent in in mid-attack or in other words, to move before they can, and land your hit before they land theirs.

The go-no-sen means to strike after your opponent attacks地ttack, block, counter.

Sen-sen-no-sen means to invite your opponent to strike you, thereby creating an opening in which you can strike back.

To summarise-

12DA184B-D8A1-4E37-A520-B3DDF1423BB7.jpeg
 

isshinryuronin

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one can apply the mitsu no sen.
Good concept - Can hit the opponent before, during or after his attack is executed. In other words, anytime is a good time - proper timing is king - there are many ways to defeat the opponent.

If memory serves, Musashi wrote of the identical concept with his "three shouts."
 
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