Why You Need To Do “Live” Training In Your Classes

Ah, How Soon The Body Forgets…

Sparring can be an enjoyable experience if students are introduced to it properly

Sparring can be an enjoyable experience... if students are introduced to it properly

So, last Saturday I decided to do some boxing and kickboxing sparring, after many long months of laying off any hard training or sparring (joint issues – trying to let them heal). So, I’ve been feeling good and decided to get back in the ring for a few rounds…

Oh, it was fun – I missed sparring a lot – but boy, was it also frustrating.

My timing was off, I was stuttering my footwork, I couldn’t seem to put any decent combinations together, and I was covering up when I should have been moving.

Now, I know within a few more sparring sessions I’ll have shaken all the rust off and 90% of that will pass – but it’s sure as heck frustrating to feel like you’re starting all over again when you step in the ring after a long layoff.

You see, skills and attributes deteriorate quickly when they’re not used regularly. I’d say attributes deteriorate faster, and I’ve read that just three weeks of no training can result in diminished “wind”. Certainly, I’ve noticed that my reaction time diminishes significantly within a month of training solo exclusively.

And that’s why you need to do “live” training in your classes.

What The Heck Is “Live” Training?

I believe the term was first coined by Bruce Lee, but I first became aware of the concept after seeing Paul Vunak’s materials. A lot of his training methods seemed to involve taking specific skills sets and performing them with a partner who was really trying to score on you, or prevent you from scoring.

And that’s what “aliveness” equates to – live training that is unrehearsed and non-patterned, where two or more practitioners are seeking equal or opposing objectives in real time.

Later, I would see the same types of training emphasized by other instructors, most notably Burt Richardson. Burt’s materials emphasize a lot of live training with progressive resistance. Really good stuff.

Now, if you’re a practitioner of the grappling arts, this is nothing new to you. Judo, jiu jitsu, wrestling, sambo – these are all arts that are practiced in real time sparring on a regular basis. Grappling lends itself well to this type of resistance training, especially styles that emphasize submission over high-impact throws.

But in the striking arts, many times we tend to keep our training in pre-arranged patterns with little if any resistance from our partners. Not that it’s all bad or good to practice prearranged patterns – such drills can teach you certain attributes and skills that are beneficial. But if that’s all you practice, I’d say you’re missing out on some of the most enjoyable and rewarding training you can do.

But, If You Over-Do It…

If this is the only training experience you offer your students your school wont be around long

If this is the only training experience you offer your students, your school won't be around very long...

One thing I’d like to point out is that no matter how tough they are, nobody joins a martial arts class to have the snot beaten out of them every day. And while it’s true that some contact training is a necessity (at some point, you need to learn empirically that you can take a hit), constant hard-contact training is not necessary. In fact, it’s counter-productive.

Acute injuries are injuries that occur instantly. We all know that acute injuries can run the gamut from a nasty bump or bruise to broken bones and torn ligaments. But chronic injuries are the ones that sneak up on you, and are generally the outcome you get from repeated trauma to soft tissues over time.

Sure, you can take some bumps and come back for more – the human body is an amazing thing. But, the body also needs time to heal. Every bruise, bump, and tweak you get in sparring results in some form of micro-trauma to your body’s soft tissues. Without adequate rest to heal, over time these micro-traumas accumulate… and eventually they can lead to macro-traumas, otherwise known as…

Yep, acute injuries.

And Here’s The Million Dollar Question

So, the question is – how do we practice striking skills in real time without over-training and taxing the body beyond its limits?

One answer has traditionally been controlled contact sparring. The problem is that beginners don’t have much control, which means that as soon as they are pressured they either start swinging for the fences or they freeze up.

This leads to sparring being a negative experience for many students, and is also the reason why many people drop out of training. What to do, what to do…

The answer, as a few savvy instructors have discovered, is to progressively introduce sparring through skills and attributes training that is done “live” under controlled conditions.

Live Training Builds Real Skills Fast – And It’s Fun!

Now, the great thing about this sort of training is that it’s fun for students to do. The pressure is off because you’re removing most of the risk of injury (or the fear of injury). It can be made into a game, and once the student is free to enjoy the process, learning often occurs at an accelerated pace.

Once I started doing more of this type of training in my adult classes, I began noticing that my students were gaining usable skills much more rapidly.  Not only that, my adult attendance and retention improved, and my adult enrollment increased.

Suddenly I’d tapped into something I’d known all along but could only produce artificially and not spontaneously – that when students have fun, they stay longer, come to class more often, and tell their friends. Sounds like a win-win to me.


  1. sean russell on September 1, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    You are on to it!! This is exactly how these skills are developed in a striking art. If you want some good ideas for your program look at the art I teach called Kung fu San Soo. THis will give you better direction in the type of martial practice you are developing. Feel free to contact me if you need any information on this type of practice.

  2. Mike Massie on September 1, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Hi Sean,

    San Soo is a great art. I’m always open to learning new stuff – shoot me an email and let’s exchange ideas.

  3. Jason Stanley on September 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    There’s a good article at my site by a guy Darran Laur who talks about “Fear as Your Ally”. Basically he explains how to make the shift in your mind so that you operate from “challenge” instead of “fear”.

    In other words when you stop being scared it allows your body to be in it’s best physiological condition to perform. When you operate from fear, blood pressure goes up, heart rate increases and controlling your motor skills becomes increasingly difficult.

    But when you operate from “challenge”, your body stays relaxed, heart rate and blood pressure stays lower and allows you to perform the task at hand.

    How does this relate to sparring?

    Most people, especially beginners operate from “fear” and this is when injuries occur through lack of control. Seasoned fighters operate from “challenge” which allows them to flow and control their movements. ..

    They see a fight as a game of tag with the hands and feet and enjoy the experience, while beginners are concerned about being hurt and either “swing for the fences or freeze up” as you say (fight or flight).

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