Sunday, 28 August 2022 15:51

My Favourite Hacks #2: 5 Tips for Leveling Up in Martial Arts... On Your Own!

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Around 2014 I broke my right ulna quite badly in a training accident. I had emergency surgery, and my right arm was useless in training for the next 6 months. And yet, by the time I got back to boxing, I had improved tremendously in sparring despite not having sparred at all for 6 months. Many people asked me how I continued to improve and were surprised when the answer was ‘I trained by myself a lot’. 

Solo practice has a long and established history in martial arts and combat sports. Whether that’s kata, forms, patterns, shadow boxing, bag work, or movement and mobility drills, solo drills can be an important part of your skill development, especially during times when you might be injured or limited in your ability to train with partners. In fact, some of the greatest improvements in my martial arts practice came from solo practice done right.

 That being said, solo practice can also be a complete and utter waste of time if not done correctly. 

So, the questions is, what makes good solo practice and how do you get the most out of it?

To start with, the most important question you need to answer for yourself is ‘what are my training goals?’

This will help calibrate how you can best use your solo practice to propel you towards your goals. 

For example, if you’re training for full-contact competition, then spending all your time doing kata or forms is not using your time effectively (sorry, traditional martial artists). In that case, then shadow boxing and drilling specific concepts will give you better results. 

 Once you have an idea of what you would like to focus on, you can then tailor your solo practice to help you improve specific skillsets or areas of your game. 

 Here are a five great tips on getting the most out of you solo practice, regardless of what you are training for:

  1. Visualise: A lot of people spend their solo practice simply going through the motions. However, when we visualise something specific, we build the same neural pathways as if we were going through the experience itself. There is a ton of research that supports the benefits of visualisation for almost any area – sports, business, healing, etc.
    Next time you go through your shadow boxing routine, try calibrating your thinking and call it shadow sparring instead. Visualise an opponent and treat it just like you would a sparring session (or whatever situation you are training for). You’d be amazed at the difference it makes in your performance – you’ll see a huge return on that change alone!
  2. Have a goal for every minute of every session: To follow from the point above, don’t just shadow spar; shadow spar with specific opponents or outcomes in mind. For example, you might visualise a tall, lengthy opponent who is trying to snipe at you from a distance. Spar with them for a round and visualise how you would deal with that opponent. In the next round, visualise an aggressive, inside fighter, visualise how you would deal with that opponent, and shadow spar them – and so on, and so forth. You can do the same with simply focusing on one technique, for example a round of focusing on throwing your jab long and snappy, a round of defending takedowns, etc. The point is, again, to avoid simply going through the motions and instead focusing your attention on specific elements.
  3. Spot check: One of the great things about solo training is that you can control the pace and speed. This means you can remove the pressure to go fast or hard and enjoy simply focusing on improving technique. Every so often stop at the end of technique and analyse your posture, balance, alignment, etc. Then make some micro-adjustments and keep going. You’ll be amazed how much better your technique will get!
  4. Critically reflect: Critically reflect on your performance and think about what went well and what didn’t. Take some notes, and then set your goals for your next training session! If you want to find an excellent formula for critical reflection and writing, read this.
  5. Have fun: Solo practice can be a really great way to unwind at the end of a busy day, get reps in if you don’t have time to go to the gym, or just tune out for a little while. Put on some of your favourite tunes and give treat yourself to a few minutes of ‘me’ time that will take your mind off everything else! Not only will it improve your skill, but it will also help you find a bit of space and time for yourself which will do wonders to your mental health!


To help you get started, here is a routine that I like using, whether shadow sparring or on the bag. You can set the rounds and rests to whatever you want, depending on your cardio and the time you have available:

  1. Long range, hands only
  2. Close range, hands only
  3. Changing ranges (i.e. closing distance or creating distance), hands only
  4. Long range, hands and legs
  5. Close range, hands and legs (can add or change clinch to this as well)
  6. Changing ranges (i.e. closing distance or creating distance), hands and legs
  7. Using strikes to set up takedown (and/or takedown defences)
  8. Creating angles
  9. Compound attacks/breaking rhythm
  10. Defence and counter

 These are still relatively broad. There are times where I will break these down further. For example, slipping the jab, working a specific footwork pattern or angle, practicing a specific counter, etc. 

 Put the principles above into practice, and you’ll be amazed at the improvement you will see!

 Stay safe, stay tuned. 


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