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The Invisible Enemy

Shadow sparring is the art of battling an invisible enemy.

In the absence of physical combat, in the presence of the coronavirus threat, there is space to battle a shadow.

Shadowboxing is at the core of boxing training. In every boxing gym in America, warriors wrap their hands, get into a guarding stance, slip, step, cross and sweat before they ever hit anything or anyone. This is Boxing 101. If you can’t shadowbox, you can’t box. (The converse is not true, what with getting hit, but anyway.)

Shadow sparring has not been a competitive sport, but the highest level martial artists are beginning to compete in this area. It is not the same as sparring or contact sports. Thinking that it is would be like judging someone’s ability to spar based on their kata.

In comparison to other sports: Dunking a basketball is a great skill but it doesn’t make someone the best basketball player. You can still judge the quality of the dunk for what it is.

In football, being able to throw the ball farther than anyone else is a great skill but it won’t win you a football game. However, you can still win a football skills contest.

Action Karate is incorporating shadow sparring as a larger component of our training and as tournament event, following in the footsteps of leading martial arts organizations in the world.

Here’s how we are doing it.

What makes a good shadow sparring performance?

  1. The judge can visualize a fight.

  2. There’s no rhythmic punching.

  3. There’s feinting to an invisible enemy.

  4. The action is nonstop. There is no time to reset.

  5. The sparrer attacks in multiple strikes in a row with multiple angles and combinations.

  6. There are both offensive and significant defensive maneuvers.

How do we judge it?

  1. If you stop moving, it’s the equivalent of getting hit.

  2. If you cross your feet or if they touch, it’s the equivalent of dropping a weapon.

  3. If you drop your hands, you drop your points.

How do we teach shadow sparring? Here is a 6-round concept.

Round 1: Warm-up and stretch - arm circles, forward stances, light jumprope, low kicks

Round 2: Focus on the Guarding Stance. This cannot be emphasized enough. If something isn’t working, go back to the guarding stance and make sure the hands are up, the feet are set toe to heel and the center line is protected.

Round 3: Foot movement

  • To move right use right foot

  • To move left use left foot

  • To move forward use front foot

  • To move back use back foot.

When one foot steps the other one follows so that your feet remain a guarding stance distance apart. When kicking, you will likely have a wider stance.

Round 4: Start with the Jab. Don’t stand there and jab. Jab and move. Stick the jab and move. Move, jab, move. Coordinate your feet with your jab.

Round 5: Add additional strikes off the jab: kicks, punches and combinations

Round 6: Rhythm, movement. Bounce on the balls of your feet, protect your center line and move constantly. A moving target is harder to hit, always.

After practicing and learning these 6 rounds, competitors should be able to complete a shadow sparring set. Practice for 8 two-minute rounds in a row with 30 seconds rest in between.

A shadow sparring competition incorporates all of the above into a 30-second shadow sparring round. The person who shows the most martial arts spirit, effective technique and fewest errors would be the winner.

Just because the enemy is invisible, the intensity and competition are real. And if you’re crushing the enemy in your imagination, you probably need a better imagination.

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