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Problem Applying New Techniques in Sparring


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Hello everyone,

not sure if any of you have ever noticed anything similar in your training, but lately I've been experiencing the following situation in my training and I'm not sure if this is simply a normal part of trying to learn something new or if perhaps I may be having issues with some mental block or whether I'm experiencing a bit of burnout from training too much/not enough rest:

I'm usually training 5-6 days a week, with the sparring sessions being later at night, usually the last class of the evening at 8:30pm, and those are the only sessions that I can go to since I work during the day time (wake up at 5am, finish work at 4:30 in the afternoon, start training at 6:15 in the evening). I've been trying to force myself to stay for the sparring classes even when I'm already tired since I would like to get more practice before my trip to Thailand in 4 months, however, I find that I'm becoming slower, more hesitant, and have difficulty incorporating new techniques into my sparring, instead end up using the same techniques over and over, it's almost like I can't beat my reflex in favor of a different technique; I practice different techniques in shadowboxing but it doesn't seem to be translating into practical application...I'm not really sure if this is simply because of not enough sparring practice, or if there's some kind of mental training that I could be doing that would make it easier for me to apply what I know, or am I simply doing more harm than good by forcing myself to stay for sparring when I'm already tired.

If you have ever noticed any of those things in your training and if you have any suggestions for my issue it would be much appreciated.

Thank you

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I am sure that I am not the most experienced here...so take what I say with a grain of salt...But I think that you can't overemphasize the power of muscle memory.  You just have to do those new techniques enough that you don't have to think about doing them when you are sparring...They just come to you naturally.  Don't be too hard on yourself that it doesn't come to you naturally when you are just learning something new.  Do it over and over and over until those techniques "belong" to you and your body can do them automatically.  Also, it is exceedingly difficult to spar well when you are not relaxed...and who can be relaxed when you are trying to think too hard about a new technique.  Be kind to yourself and soldier on!

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Hi TZ, I think I know what you're talking about. I might have the same issue, I always thought the reason is mental, that I'm too old to learn something new (compared to when I was in high school and learning karate).

I'd love to hear advice from more experienced people as well.

The only think I managed to work out (and it's progressing really slow) it's concentrating on one thing. Before I go into the ring for sparring, I breathe in, breathe out, visualise what I want to work into my sparring technique and I need to keep it in front of my head throughout the sparring rounds. I think it would help me if someone on the sidelines would remind me of that, but I'm not confident enought to talk about this issue with my trainer or gym guys...

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Don't just go in an spar, have a plan. Doing new things is harder than falling back on what already works, you have to force yourself. My coach in Japan always told me to have three things I want to do in sparring and focus only on those. So for example last time I sparred it was

- I will land at least one clean kick&hook combo, I will block kicks instead of catching them, when he moves backward I will not pressure but wait for him to come forward again

These are all behaviors that don't come naturally to me, so I focus only on these and auto-pilot the rest of it. It's slow going, "I will block kicks instead of catching them" has been with me for several months now, and I'm still bad at it... But I notice that if I don't have this plan, I will just do whatever I do well already and learn nothing.

It also means dropping your ego to a degree, but you can't win in sparring, so who cares.

What I've noticed is that once you've trained yourself to spar like this, you can do it in a fight, too.

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I still get this all the time with myself. I've reasoned for myself that it's all about relaxation. You can learn and execute on a bag or with no pressure and it's no problem, but under pressure it's much harder to access those things that you have learned. Doesn't mean you don't know them, just means you can't get to them under pressure... yet.

It's like learning a new language. You can sit in your room and practice, you can repeat after tapes, you can watch movies. But actually talking with people in the real world, on the fly, when there's already a misunderstanding and you're trying to make yourself clear - all of that pressure makes your access to the language limited. Then you get away from the pressure and think, "why didn't I just say this." Same with techniques.

Micc's approach to breathing and visualizing for relaxation is great. I need to do that more. And Arrow is dead on from what I've experienced, too, in that when you're tired you just do what you know best, which is muscle memory. Even if it's not what you want to do.

What I do - and keep in mind I'm crazy, but I think it's a great way to do it - is to get myself really tired on purpose and then try to access the techniques or responses I want in that mode. You'll fail a lot. But that's okay. You're teaching yourself how to access that stuff when you're tired, making it what you know in those pressure moments. I also fight a lot because I want to be able to calm down and relax in fights. Other people get a lot of sparring practice and so they learn it that way, rather than in fights, necessarily. But you have to consciously practice it. The first step to that is changing your mindset from "what's wrong with me?" to "this is exactly where I want to be to strengthen these skills and grow these techniques." Being tired is great! It just doesn't feel great, so you have to get your mind right to keep it fertile when nothing is going to feel good. It'll feel good afterwards.

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Thanks everyone for your responses :) It's true that I do find it difficult to relax at times, even a few of my sparring partners told me on Friday that I need to relax, so it is something I will need to work on, as well as setting specific goals for each session rather than trying to apply everything at once...back to it on Monday :)

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Do the technique you want to integrate into your repertoire for 100+ repetitions per day for a week (or month) (mental reps help too), then go into sparring with the intention to use this technique. You won't be very good at it, but you need to force yourself into the uncomfortableness again and again, until you start to get it. I am MT beginner, but this is what I used to do in bjj and judo. Hopefully it helps.

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Sounds like you've already got plenty of good advice here. I'll also endorse relaxing, going in with a plan, and focusing on just one thing at a time. Every session before I go to spar I have something specific in mind that I will work on. Even if it is something simplistic like moving more, being more cognizant of where my weight is balanced, etc. If you have a plan and chip away at it little by little it will get there. And make sure you are having fun! Sometimes it is hard to recognize that you aren't relaxed. Sylvie has mentioned in her blogs the importance of "playing" and I really think it goes a long way into making you fluid and able to incorporate new things into your style.

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