Forest Not Trees.
There is a wealth of instructional information available these days on the web for the rigorous student and the casual peruser alike. It is easy to lose the forest for the trees when viewing a video with the niche specificity that you can indulge in from practitioners trying to make a name, a living or both.
Make no mistake, I’m no different, but I will take the road less traveled and pen a series of articles-that’s novel!-about macroscopic technical considerations and concepts. I hope to be able to help the reader inform his/her style, whatever it is, with some fundamental analysis of basic physical mechanics and practical reasoning. Each post in the series will have a picture to reference, but the real value will tally when the reader considers how the concept applies to his/her unique skill set.
The Boxer’s Box is the kickboxer’s box is the thaiboxer’s box! This is to say that within this gift wrapped box lie universal physical truths about balance, weight distribution and control, and efficient movement. I underscore this concept explicitly with new students in my basic boxing class. I use props. 90 degree intersecting lines that can be found where two right angled mats intersect. A jumprope stretched taut will do the trick as well.
Philosophers employ a device of reasoning called a thought experiment. If unable to conduct an experiment due to practical limitations, it can be useful to imagine a scenario in order to reason out a hypothesis. If done correctly one can draw conclusions about very tangible things like what counters might be effective against a particular technique, simply by reasoning it out in one’s mind. And so, in that spirit, imagine that your basic boxing stance, whatever it is, is externally bounded by a three dimensional quadilateral-fancy way of saying a box-that intersects the ground and the ceiling. Now pretend that the walls of this box are at the same time impenetrable but capable of shortening and widening. You can’t put your hand or head through it, but it will widen and shorten with your feet as you step about the ring.
Now imagine that you are in this dynamic box that can expand and contract as you move forward, backward, sideways, kick or even shoot a double leg. It is within this box that I need to keep my head. As soon as I lean my head in front of my lead toe or slip a punch by moving my head to the outside of my foot (lean my head outside of this box), gravity begins to compromise my stance by pulling one of my legs up off of the mat so that I can keep my balance. In that instant I am not in control of my weight (gravitational forces are significantly affecting my position and balance), and consequently I can’t efficiently attack or even channel my weight into an attack of my own. For an instant I will be preoccupied with just trying to reestablish my balance and my stance by moving my head back inside of “the box.” For that instant, I will be extremely vulnerable against a seasoned competitor who does a better job maintaining balance and position.
While this may sound a bit complicated, it is fairly straight forward. If your head leans out of the box, you have handicapped yourself. Strive to keep your head within the box-over your legs-at all times. When you slip a punch, change your level a bit towards your posts (legs) as you move your head off line-but don’t move your head out of the box!
Try an experiment. Begin in your boxing stance, and lean backwards until your head is just over or even slightly behind your back heel. Now try to step backwards without first shifting your weight forward. It should be impossible. Now imagine a common sparring scenario in which you pull backwards away from a jab as described above, but instead of stopping after that first punch your opponent doubles the jab. You won’t be able to back up any further without falling over or losing your stance in order to avoid the second punch and anything that might come after it, at least not quickly enough to be in a confident, balanced position to meet the charge, counter, etc.
If you feel that you are spending a significant amount of time off balance and trying to maintain footing when hitting pads or sparring, make the adjustment of keeping your head within this conceptual box. There are a number of corollary rules and positioning guidelines that complement this concept. One is to keep your chin down at all times-a cardinal rule, which while done when backing up, can lead to immediate performance improvements when sparring.