Many of the things we drill, and the way we train in modern martial arts is taken for granted – because of this, often the reason behind a drill is misunderstood. One of the most misunderstood practices is training combinations. There isn’t a boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, or MMA gym in the world that doesn’t make combination training a staple of their workout. In Crazy Monkey we train combinations too, but our reasoning is different.
I have spent the last decade or more coaching around the world, and one of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “What are the best combinations to use in sparring or to win a fight?” This kind of question suggests a misunderstanding of the point of training combinations. There is a belief, which likely stems from traditional forms of martial arts and Hollywood – that one can apply a specific formula, a sequence of moves, that has the ability to beat any opponent.
The truth is, physical combat is unpredictable, chaotic, and unless you can read minds, is often largely dependent on reacting to the unfolding milieu in the moment it happens. In this sense, there is no such thing as a set of ‘best’ combinations for fighting, rather, the only ‘best’ combination is one that lands — and when it does, you more than likely had little to do with pre-planning it. Fights are fast, and your reactions in that fight, what you do next, is often outside of your immediate conscious control. In fact, any fighter will tell you, if you try to think and plan your next move, then that which you wanted to execute on, disappears. For example, I see my opponent drop his hand, I think to myself, “Next time he drops his hand I am going to do X,” but as soon as you attempt to do X, the mistake the opponent was making disappears, or moves somewhere else, or you forget what you wanted to do, and revert to tending to the opponents barrage of attacks now aimed at you. If we come back to combinations then, the natural follow-up questions is, “Then why train combinations at all?”
The whole point of combinations as I see it, is to help you develop the efficacy in multi-dimensional movement. In other words, combination training, trains you to be able to hit in, and at any angle at will. The goal then when training combinations is not to see a specific combination as you trained it unfolding exactly like that in a fight, but rather the goals should be to create combinations that will challenge your movement efficacy from one angle to next. The more complex you can make the angles merge from one to another, the more beneficial that training will be for you in a fight. For example, its hard to jab, then immediately execute a hook off the same hand. This is not something that comes naturally to people. Because it doesn’t come naturally, this is exactly why it should be trained. My goal in combinations is to challenge my hands to move from one angle to another seamlessly. So in this sense, it is not so much that a Jab, should be followed by a cross, and then a hook – but more to do with how complex I can make my striking angles, flow from one to the next, with ease.
What am I trying to achieve?
Because a fight is unpredictable, I can never be a 100% sure of what will open up on an opponent. Therefore, I must be able to hit into any opening as it emerges. These openings may occur in absence of a specific sequence of combinations I trained, but what will be there is at the very least the angle I trained. For example, I jab to the body, an opening appears on my opponents face off my lead hand side, which now may require a lead hook (of the same hand I just jabbed to the body with). My ability to respond in that nano-second to that opening, is not so much down to a specific combination I trained (I may have never trained that specific combination), but rather that I have been spending time challenging my hands to move in directions that are not always easy to accomplish. My combination training then, is exactly that, it allows me to combine movements, often done in opposite directions to one another fluently. The outcome, when an opening appears I am able to hit into that opening, regardless of the angle, because I had previously, through combination training forced myself to make every possible angle when punching work.
So here is my advice, forget about a right or wrong combinations, because it doesn’t really exist. Rather, try work out combinations that really challenge your movement efficacy. If it feels difficult to pull off, then its probably good for you. The goal is to be able to move from straight lines, to hook lines, to uppercut lines, from high lines to low lines seamlessly. What comes out as far as technique, isn’t as important than your ability to move from one line, and from one angle to another with ease. This is why, when I am training combinations for example on heavy bag, I try and make the moves as challenging as I can, moving from one line and angle to another — the fact that it may come out as a lead jab, lead hook, rear uppercut, to lead hook, is irrelevant so much as did that actually challenge my movement fluency?