What Happened?

what happened“What happened?

“Where’d I go wrong?”

“How’d he beat me?”

“Where was the breakdown?”

These are questions that plague every fighter after a loss.  Dissecting the minutia in a match seems like an impossible task.  If you have an untrained coach, you’ll typically get some generic reasons that do absolutely nothing to help you.  How often have you heard, “Well you just need to throw more strikes” or “You need to kick faster”.

What were your thoughts after such sage words of wisdom?  Probably, “Gee, thanks for nothing.  Mental note…find new coach.”

Fortunately, there’s a straightforward, methodical approach you can use to determine exactly where the breakdown was and what steps you can take to prevent it next time.

The method is called “The Training Factors Pyramid” and is discussed in The Science of Martial Arts by Charles I. Staley.  His book is an excellent read with a lot of good advise for the aspiring champion like yourself.Training Pyramid Chart 1
If you’re familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, then you will pick up on this concept faster.  Just like Maslow’s Pyramid, the needs on the lower end of the pyramid must be met before higher levels can be addressed.  The great thing about this pyramid is that it not only can be used for dissecting the breakdown in what happened in a match but also can be used for planning a training program.  Let’s dig in!

Level 1 – Physical Preparation

First and foremost, you must be in good shape.  Without at least a base level of conditioning, your strikes will be ineffective, slow, and you will tire easily.  Full-contact sparring is extremely taxing, so before any more complex training can be achieved, you must be in shape.

Level 2 – Technical Preparation

The 2nd level addresses your technical prowess.  Simply put, are you throwing your kicks and punches the way your trainer taught you?  Are they executed to be the most efficient and effective possible?  If not, don’t go any higher.

Level 3 – Tactical Preparation

The 3rd level focuses on tactics and strategy.  Did you employ the right tactics against each opponent?  Did you feint at the right time?  Were you too aggressive against a counter-fighter?  Did you go all out on round 1 and get gassed by round 2?  As it is with level 2, if your tactics were the problem, do not progress until you’ve properly addressed them.

Level 4 – Psychological Preparation

Finally, the 4th level is the mind game.  Do you psyche yourself out? Are you hesitating?  Does all your training go out the window when you enter the ring?  This is by far the hardest level to assess since the cause could be inside or outside the ring.  The cause could range from typical sparring jitters to having a bad fight with your girlfriend last night.

Personal vs Comparative Assessment

When using this process to determine where your breakdown was in a match, there are 2 different approaches you can use; personal and comparative.  I suggest you use both.

Personal Assessment – This approach focuses on how you performed in the match based on your performance in training.  Did you kick as fast in your fight as you did in training?  Was your sparring style the same as in training or did it fluctuate?  The advantage to this method is that it gives you a consistent baseline to make your assessments against.

Comparative Assessment – This approach focuses on how you performed versus your opponent.  Was he faster than you?  Did you wear out before he did?  Did he outsmart you?  This approach will fluctuate more wildly from match to match, but will give you a different perspective and point out any reoccurring themes.

Data, data, data.  The more, the better.

Now we’ll go through a basic example.  Athlete A executes a feint followed by a kick to Athlete B.  Athlete B avoids the kick and follows with his own kick to score a point.  Let’s break the encounter apart.  If at any part, the answer is “No”, you stop there and address that level before moving onto the next.

Training Pyramid Chart 2

So there you have it.  A methodical process to breakdown your fights.  To get the most out of this process you need a very experienced coach/trainer.  Videotaping your matches is also highly advised so you can go back and watch them over and over again.

This drill might seem tedious, but it’s crucial to understand where you messed up and how you can address it.  Remember… Train With Purpose.  If you don’t know where you’re messing up, you can’t Train With Purpose!

Best of luck…not that you’ll need it.


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