There’s sparring in the Petchrungruang gym every day. In fact, most of the training that the kids do is just clinching and sparring together in an endless cycle of playing for dominance and trying tricks from their favorite celebrity fighters on each other. Every now and then the sparring gets set up into organized fake “fights”, and the entire gym stops to watch and cheer, usually with some of the other kids jumping around like wild gamblers giving all the hand signals for who’s ahead, what their fighter should do, calling out the best shots, etc. This time didn’t have the little kids going nuts, but the whole gym stopped to watch Alex (13 years old, Italian) spar with Barbeque (13 years old, Thai), with Kru Nu playing referee. What was different about this psuedo fight was that Alex was sparring with only one hand. Above is a round of the action.
Alex is a fair bit bigger than Barbeque, probably outweighing him by about 8-10 kg (17-20 lbs) and has a huge reach advantage. He’s had his debut at Lumpinee and is fighting his 2nd fight there tonight, but Barbeque is more experienced and definitely is used to going against bigger opponents in the gym. He’s tiny for his age. Kru Nu has been irritated with the way Alex just uses a tight double-handed guard against his forehead to block punches – they block the punches just fine but he can’t strike out of it and remains too passive – so in this sparring session Alex’s right hand has been tied to his right thigh. He can’t use his right side at all, except maybe to check kicks with his right shin. He’s forced to block one-handed, move instead of turtling up, and definitely has to use his jab.
You can see Kru Nu in the video, staying very close to the action. He’s always in there during these mock fights in sparring, to act as referee, make sure you’re doing what you should be doing, but also to make sure nobody gets hurt. Barbeque is a little monster and at his size has been conditioned to come forward against bigger opponents. Alex is being developed as a femur fighter, which means he is more skillfull than powerful and uses evasiveness to land shots and then get away to protect the point rather than standing in. Here he is forced to attack and defend only with his left side.
I have to say, I’ve sparred with Alex many times (our weight difference is the same as between BBQ and Alex here) and it is amazing how different – how improved – his footwork is when his hand is tied to his thigh in this video. He’s also more aggressive. That might be because BBQ is smaller, but it’s really noticeable. Alex did great in this drill. When he gets his repeated kicks going it’s just pandemonium in there. But he wouldn’t do that without this handicap for this drill. He had to be put in this position in order to get him to rely on his teeps, jabs, defense, etc. It’s an interesting process because it’s forcing a strength (his right hand) to be a weakness so that the actual systemic weaknesses have to pick up the slack and take over. Injuries can work this way if you train through them; not being able to kick on your strong leg can do wonders for developing your non-dominant side and a cracked knuckle can help you improve your clinch or your long-range striking with kicks. This drill allows you to develop those weaknesses by choosing to put the other elements out of commission. Master Toddy does this with his students on a daily basis, starting sparring with only two weapons available (left jab, left kick) and then gradually adding options with each round. I’ve also seen sparring where one person is only allowed to use hands whereas the other can only use kicks. It’s a clever way to develop strategy and versatility in fighters. It’s clearly working really well for Alex here. And his confidence was pumped even into the next day.
This is maybe something you should consider at your own gym back home. Not only might it help you develop weaknesses into strengths, but it also might help in situations where there are no “fair” sparring match ups for smaller fighters. Have the bigger fighter spar a hand-down. It may teach the smaller fighter aggression against bigger fighters, how to locate a hole in defense and attack it, and also teach the bigger fighter a little more finesse.