Fight Game Plan : Part 1: Identify Fighter Type

December 25, 2015 in KungFu, Sanshou - Tip of the Month

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the face.” While that is excellent advice for a novice fighter preparing for their first fight, it should also be noted that every one of Tyson’s losses came at the hands of a fighter who entered the ring with an effective fight plan. The fact is, whether you’re competing in boxing, kickboxing, or even point sparring, a carefully thought out game plan executed efficiently will result in success. Fortunately for the Pai Lum Tao practitioner, fighting philosophies and formulas are just as much a part of the training as conditioning. This post will be the first in a series on developing a strategy for either a San Shou or point sparring fight. Today we’ll look at identifying a fighter’s “type.” Future posts will cover exploiting a mismatch while playing to your strengths, fighting a mirror of yourself, and pre-fight mentality and demeanor.

Fighter Type Grid

Every fighter has strengths and weaknesses. While Pai Lum Tao is a deep, well-rounded system – and we should all strive to be great in every area – we’re all still training and learning. Thus, there will be elements we pick up quicker than others. Even a well-rounded master will likely have one area they prefer over everything else, and one thing they may do well, but it would not be their first choice in combat. In addition to their strength or preference, every fighter will have a style that they gravitate to. This style is a reflection of their level of aggression in the ring and what kind of pace or tempo they want the fight to go at.

A fighter’s arsenal can be broken down into 3 categories: punching, kicking, and grappling. Some would argue that this is splitting hairs and that punching and kicking should be lumped as stand-up. Others would take a more liberal approach and say that elbows, knees, and throws should be their own category. However, as you’ll see in a few moments, looking at fighting through these three categories will build a stronger eye for identifying mismatches.

Fighting style can be broken down into two distinct categories: aggressive and defensive. Neither is correct or incorrect, and as mentioned earlier, an experienced fighter will learn how to use both. However, we’re all going to have a natural tendency to one or the other. An aggressive fighter is an instigator – they’re swinging as soon as the bell rings. The aggressive fighter will apply pressure and stay on the offensive. A defensive fighter is exactly what it sounds like. They let the opponent come to them and react accordingly. To the casual observer, they may look like they’re backpedaling at times, when in reality, they’re luring the opponent in for a devastating counter. While there are many other nuances in each fighter’s style, one of these two characteristics will be most prevalent in them.

If we were to look at the three primary methods in vertical columns and the two styles as horizontal rows, we end up with a grid that can easily identify what a fighter’s type is. See the chart below:

Style/Method Puncher Kicker Grappler*
Aggressive Aggressive Puncher Aggressive Kicker Aggressive Grappler
Defensive Defensive Puncher Defensive Kicker Devensive Grappler
*It’s important to note that the definition of “grappling” will change depending on the rules. Some San Shou fights will allow for ground fighting. Other San Shou fights and some point sparring matches may only be limited to takedowns, but that still qualifies as grappling. Even clutching can fall under this category.

When prepping for a fight, the first key for developing a game plan is identifying where on the above grid both they and their opponent fall. After that, they need to be mindful of where both are most vulnerable. It should be noted that pinpointing a fighter on the grid does not necessarily pigeonhole them in that spot – they could be effective in other areas. Conversely, identifying your weakness does not mean scrapping that element. In future posts, we’ll explore the need to step out of your comfort zone to augment your strength. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at each one of these fighter types:

  1. Aggressive Puncher. This fighter brings to mind the phrase “punches in bunches.” They have fast hands and come with a minimum 3-4 punch combinations. This fighter is effective at using their jab to bridge the gap and set-up follow-up punches. More often than not, they have a heavy rear hand.
  2. Defensive Puncher. This fighter is a great counter puncher. They’ll fluster their opponent with ducks, covers, and intercepting hands. They will use their jab to create space and keep their opponent at a distance.
  3. Aggressive Kicker. With this fighter, it’s almost a given that they’ll lead with a linear kick. Expect a barrage of combination kicks and changing target zones. Their round kicks have knockout power.
  4. Defensive Kicker. Like the aggressive kicker, the defensive kicker will use the lead linear kick, only it will be to hold off an opponent’s advance. The defensive kicker will also use their legs to intercept or stuff incoming kicks, then follow-up with a counter kick.
  5. Aggressive Grappler. The aggressive grappler wants to get inside their opponent’s reach. Their goal is to keep the opponent close enough to grab. They won’t hesitate to go for the takedown when the opportunity is there, and if ground fighting is allowed, they are scrambling for advantageous positioning and the submission.
  6. Defensive Grappler. This fighter is looking for their opponent to leave themselves vulnerable when attacking and go for the takedown. If ground fighting is applicable, they will exercise great patience, allowing their opponent to wear themselves out and capitalize on a mistake.

If you’ve ever competed in any level of fighting, some of those points may have resonated with you, while others make you cringe. Those are some early tell signs of where you fall on the grid. When studying an opponent (either as a spectator or in the ring – we’ll cover that more in the next post), these are clues you want to key in on when developing your strategy. In order to develop a successful fight plan, it is essential to understand both who you are as a fighter and who your opponent is.

Over the next month, take some time to reflect on your strengths and areas for improvement and see if you can identify what your fighter type is. Try to watch some fights as well – either on TV, at a local tournament, or even just sparring matches at your school. See if you can recognize what kind of fighter each competitor is. In the next post with this series, we’ll breakdown what happens when each type of fighter squares off.

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