This is the question put to me by Charles, who is preparing for a stick-fighting odyssey to California and wishes to know how to improve as his local sparring partners either age and fall behind or are tending to stagnate.
Charles is showing better footwork and functional mobility in the ring than I have seen aside from Top Dog Knaus in his prime and Aaron “The Stick God” Seligson in his competition days.
The answer I gave him is simple and can be used by any of our readers out there who wish to improve while sparring with people who are not improving.
Slow your hands down.
Top stick fighters have much better forearm conditioning than new and intermediate fighters, and have more speed and stamina in their stick hand than aging fighters who have damaged their forearms and/or are suffering from slowed reflexes.
Your first dedication in sparring should always be not to get hit unless you are giving your opponent a chance to get into the game and work on combos.
The second point of dedication in sparring is no power. Use the bag for power, not your exceedingly rare and valuable sparring partners.
Your third point of dedication in sparring is to navigate and dominate the combat space.
Charles has found himself doing all three against Erique who is currently stagnant and myself, in terminal decline.
So, we go back to each of the three points of sparring dedication and amplify them by slowing your hands. Your hand and stick must move more slowly than your opponent’s is. If he slows down you slow down more. If he speeds up you stay slow. Not your feet, just your hands. Your goal is to always defend with a slower hand, hit with a slower hand and combination strike on the move with a slower hand. Even if this guy is having a real bad day, if you stand in front of him with a slow hand he will still punish your or take your stick.
Spar with a slow hand.
This will improve every aspect of your game except for speed, which can be improved in static contact and non-contact drills in your garage or basement.
As a fencing master once said, “Practice slow and learn fast, practice fast and learn slow.”