Setups, not situps
by Sensei Neil Prime
June, 1998

Without an effective plan as to how I'm going to set-up my technique I am only guessing if my technique will score or not.

There are a few things to consider if you want to gain some time to execute your plan. If you can change the timing or control the rhythm in a sparring match, you generally should be able to react quicker to your opponents attack. You should also be able to get a jump on your opponent when you initiate the attack.

When sparring we have to create our opportunities. Distancing and timing your execution can be effective in a number of ways to help create these opportunities.

If you are very fast and your opponent allows an opening on their own due to a lack of defense, you should be able to score on this person just by speed alone. This is easy. It becomes more difficult when you are matched against an opponent who may be faster than you. It becomes even more difficult when they are faster and bigger and have good defense too.

What you have to do is neutralize these advantages. To do this you want to distance yourself so that you are safely out of reach. Everyone has a line that you can not cross without that person reacting to your presence. You have to find it by probing. Use your foot work and be patient. Once you hit this line you'll know because your opponent will react. It doesn't matter at this point if it is offensive or defensive because your not going to stay there long enough for it to make a difference. What is important is that people are creatures of habit and if reacting, their not thinking. If their not thinking, they'll probably do the same thing more than once. This is important because this is when they are telling you to where to hit them. Learn to read the body language.

If someone moves their hands to cover their face because they believe your attack is going that direction, then you want to go to the body. This sounds like an obvious statement but one of the major mistakes people make is to fire without direction. You may only have a split second to get your attack into range to score.

By previously calculating where the opening is going to be, then it makes it much easier to determine what technique you are going to use to score with. Probe your opponent once again, get the same reaction again, but this time you don't move out, you move in. If you have successfully convinced your opponent that you are going to go to one target and you actually go to the other, then you will score.

A fake works the same way. However, there are 2 very common mistakes people make when doing a fake. One is that we tend to pull our fake back too soon which means we're not going to be convincing in our set-up. The other is we tend not to gain enough distance in our approach. If you don't gain distance on a fake, it's a waist of time. You may get a reaction from your opponent but if you are no closer to your opponent after the fake, even if they react you have just lost on that time gained by still being out of range.

Things might not always go according to your plans when sparring but you will find results if you continue to pursue the idea of setting an opponent up before you attack. When we first experience sparring it is almost survival. With experience and confidence, sparring is more like a well planned battle. All of your weapons may be equal in strength, it is how you utilize them that will make the difference between winning and losing.

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