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I have been practicing kung fu for the past one and a half years. I can do head level basic kicks like roundhouse, side and front kicks but when I spar I don't feel like attacking the opponent. I seem to prefer blocking. How can I get rid of this mental block?

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+1 Welcome to the site! This is a nice question, so have some reputation to get you going. –  Sardathrion Feb 18 '13 at 8:13
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Your question is implying that by preferring to block, you are in some way doing something wrong. That is not the case. There is nothing wrong with being a defensive fighter as long as you block AND counter. –  Sheph Feb 19 '13 at 0:15
    
@vijay : from your other comment that you are "worried about hurting the other opponent". There is nothing wrong with you, some people will never be comfortable with hitting others no matter what, so maybe change of styles or just accept that who you are and practice the art not worry about competition. –  Arjang Feb 19 '13 at 10:09
    
I found that true when I first started a martial art. But after some time, I think I gained more confidence in my own abilities (not seriously injuring myself, not seriously injuring someone else, etc.). It also became easier to see opportunities for striking. I also agree with Arjang: some people will never be comfortable with hitting others. Everyone responds to sparring differently. If you want to get better at it, just do it more! –  harmlessdragon Feb 21 '13 at 20:45
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10 Answers

I have two methods I rely on when I become a counter-puncher (or counter-thrower, or passive grappler).

  • The first is to simply attack constantly. You will become tired. That's okay, you'll get in better condition. You will make mistakes. That's okay, mistakes are what practice is for. Start every round (against competent, non-noob partners) with an unrelenting torrent of controlled attacks.

  • The second is to set a mental timer. It goes up to, say, ten and resets every time you make a committed attack. This allows for timing, feints, and counter-attacks and spares you a little wind compared to the first option. It imparts urgency.

Introspect

But really, the best solution is to look inside yourself, and ask: why do you feel like blocking? Are you afraid of getting countered, knocked down, blocked, injured? Is this a new problem, or did it arise recently? Track down and destroy the root of this mental block.

If the issue is that you're afraid of hurting someone, then ask yourself why that is. Did you hurt a partner in the past? Do you not have control of your technique? Do you not enjoy being hit yourself? Recognize that trying hard to defeat your opponent is the very best thing you can do to help their progress. In judo, this is known as jita kyoei, or mutual benefit and welfare. The idea is that by challenging each other, all students improve together. By depriving your partner of a diligent attempt to kick them in the head, you are stunting their growth as a martial artist.

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I think I'm worried about hurting the opponent. I will come over it, I realize it doesn't help either of us! –  vijay Feb 19 '13 at 8:00
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@vijay I was the same way. I've been doing my art for about a year and a half now. When I first was able to go to sparring, I wasn't sure about my reach, my power, and was afraid of hurting my partner. I found as I practiced more, I learned my reach, and learned to control power, and became more comfortable. It's just a matter of time as long as you keep at it. –  eidylon Mar 18 '13 at 16:51
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+1 for By depriving your partner of a diligent attempt to kick them in the head, you are stunting their growth as a martial artist. –  Roland Tepp Apr 10 '13 at 16:43
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I believe most of people have ingrained into system a social unwritten law. We do not hurting other people.

The law is unconscious and generally it is a good thing. Fighting systems do teach how to go over the psychical restriction, or I should rather say fighting systems should do it. Your problem is common and you need to work on it.

I remember the first time when I kicked someone in the head with full power, I felt the door opening and that was weird.

Lack of attacking is caused by the unconscious fear of hitting and being hit. Additionally if your system is allowing head punches the barrier will be stronger. As hitting the head is as socially unacceptable.

When you spar put your mind in the predator state. What I mean is think about your partner as a prey that you are hunting. Keep it in mind. Make your body ready for attacking, not for defense and do it by focusing on attack. Always when partner does brake the distance you go. Once, you brake your mind. You will see that even when you do block you putting yourself to attack position.

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+1 for When you spar put your mind in the predator state. –  Roland Tepp Apr 10 '13 at 16:40
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You could try to focus on counter attacks for a while.

As soon as you receive a kick (and preferably block it) you immediately answer it with a kick on your own.

This helps your reflexes, may catch you opponent off-guard and -most importantly- you don't have to think about when might be a good time for an attack: your opponent gives you the command for your attack by their action.

This way you may get used to the feeling of attacking and later start your own attacks to get more control of the bout.

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imho, you can do it in 3 ways; I am not sure what could be applied in kung fu, but here it is:

  • hard: your block itself is so strong and hard that it will hurt the attacking arm/leg (like in shotokan)

  • soft: let the attack fall through, attack at the same time (some variations of aikido)

  • semi-hard: cross the direction of the attack with your vertical punch (wing chun) - you should strike at the same time (perhaps, a split second later) than your opponent, deflecting his strike and delivering yours at the same time

(if you want to know more, please take a minute to read my answer, explaining soft/hard/semihard concepts here)

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A good attack is an attack that succeeds. In order for an attack to succeed, it has to make contact with a proper area on the partner's body. In order for an attack to make proper contact, the way has to be clear, that is to say, it must not be blocked.

So, how do you throw an attack that does not get blocked?

  • Throw the attack so fast that the partner cannot react
  • Throw so many attacks that the partner cannot keep track of them
  • Feint so the partner tries to block somewhere else, this will open the area you really want to hit
  • Throw a strike the partner cannot see: if they don't know it's coming, they can't block it
  • Make your partner over-commit to an attack, so they open up and you get a nice target

If all else fails, you could always ask them to stand still and then beat them up...

One good drill to help you is to work with a partner at quarter-speed. You always attack, he always blocks. Both of you are moving at only a quarter of the speed of a normal sparring match. Neither of you is allowed to speed up. Your goal is to chain your attacks, that is, as soon as one attack ends, another one begins. You must always attempt to make contact: there is no feinting in this drill. None of the attacks are allowed to be 'setup' attacks, either: there is no such thing as 'this round-house kick will get blocked but will put me in a good position for the strike I really want to throw'. Do this for three minutes, then switch roles. The defender's role is relatively simple: he is not allowed to attack, but he is allowed to sidestep, dodge, block, roll, weave.. Whatever is necessary.

Quarter-speed is important: your brain will not move as fast as your body, at first.

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Ouch, I really thought this was a good answer! I'd like some feedback from the downvoter, if possible, so I can improve as a martial artist. –  Trevoke Apr 10 '13 at 22:49
    
I have no idea why the downvote. This is a great answer in term of advise, drills, and humour! +1 –  Sardathrion Apr 21 '13 at 10:54
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This question has already been kicked around here a few times in slightly different forms.

There is a whole list of things I could mention but personally I think the key thing is to gain experience, which you can only do by training more and sparring more. The exact 'thing' required is different for each person. For me (many years ago) it was the realisation that I could (i.e. had the capability) hurt and disable my opponent and therefore end the fight - this mainly came down to having confidence in my ability and technique.

Don't forget that you are not there just for your sparring partner to practice on - by 'beating' your sparring opponent you are doing them a favour and showing them the weaknesses in their technique (while building up your own proficiency - success breeds success).

While you may feel comfortable doing head high kicks in practice this in no way translates to sparring ability - in fact I would always advocate not using a head kick until the moment is right (a head kick is considerably slower than other types of kick). Stick with some shorter and more basic moves and don't forget to move around and read your opponent.

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I think you are pretty much on the right track when you say 'mental block'.

You are not attacking; and it is very likely that you are not attacking because:

1 - you don't have enough confidence in your knock-out power 2 - you are afraid you will be exposed and counter-attacked.

for the first one, I would train control and precision. Train in slow-motion. This cannot be over-emphasized. Accuracy, control and economic movements (as to not telegraph what you are doing) are the three main components for this.

For the second one, you need to acknowledge that eventually you will get hit. This is something that only experience will provide you with confidence that a) your technique is polished and b) that your confidence will provide you a safe betting on risking exposure via an attack.

I would advise against trying to block. learn good foot-work and keep your distance while keeping your stance down. When it feels right to hit, hit with confidence... it is all about letting it go (with control)

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There are already a bunch of good answers here, but let me indulge myself and try to rationalize the experience I've had in both learning myself and learning along with my classmates.

The most common reason for this blockage is usually fear. There are several types of fear and consequently several ways of overcoming the fear:

Fear of getting hurt. This one is probably the very first fear that inhibits attacking and counter attacking. To hit an opponent, you have to step into the distance where the opponent can also hit you.

Prospect of getting hurt is frightening. This is something that you just have to get used to. The best cure so far is that in the controlled and low energy sparring situation, you deliberately let yourself be hit every once in a while. That will get you used to the sensation of being hit and knowing that sensation, it is no longer as frightening.

Fear of hurting the opponent. This is the other side of the coin. If you are a normal human being, you have some level of empathy that forbids doing onto the others what you do not want to be done for yourself. This is normal to a point. I do not really know any other way to fight it except dropping the concept of "attacking" or "violence" from the interaction.

I've heard people recommending humming your favorite tune while sparring or imagining that instead of gloves on your hands, you are holding two cups of beverages that you are trying to offer to the opponent. Any way, the act of sparring is mostly not about violence but rather about strategy and tactics.

In some sense it is a very much like playing a very quick version of contact chess. You just see an opening and you go in. Not thinking of hurting or hitting.

Fear of the antagonist. This is somewhat tied to the fear of getting hurt, but it is different. Even if you are used to being hit and are not afraid of being hurt, quite often, what gets you is the fact that the opponent is attacking you.

You usually start dealing with the attack, and you block it, but then comes the other attack and then next one, and then the next one. You are left dealing with one attack after another and it seems that the opponent is overwhelming you, and not giving you a chance to counter. And if the opponent stops, so do you, to compose yourself before you start looking for openings.

If this is what you feel, you are concentrating too much on the antagonist. Instead of exclusively turning your attention to the attacking limb, you should instead look for opportunities to use that attack to slip in and counter, blocking or deflecting en route. Thus, the act of deflection will start feeling more like a side effect of the counter rather than primary means of defence.

In any case, there is a wisdom in something that my teacher once said:

Fear comes from not being in the moment of here and now. It is thinking too much of the past and extrapolating it into the future, that creates fear and distorts reality. There is no room for fear or deception in the immediacy of here and now. You either deal with what is coming at you or accept it.

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The way I learn to avoid bad habits is sometimes to suffer the consequences of why they are bad in the first place.

Spar with fake knives... perhaps some markers as you can see where they hit. Sometimes full contact (like boxing) is good as well. Multiple attackers are also excellent practice for learning the limitations of defensive combat.

Another option is practicing attacks in drill (freeform or planned) until they become more habitual.

And, of course, keep in mind what you are trying to do when sparring. Get some role-play in mind as to why you want to defeat your opponent rather than just not getting hit.

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If the reason for your mental block is because you don't want to hurt your sparring partner, then you must think about it this way:

If you don't attack your sparring partner, your sparring partner will most likely not learn anything from the fight regarding defense, and will possibly feel insulted that you find it hard to attack because you might hurt him.

See it like this:

Your sparring will think you find him weak because you don't want to "hurt" him. In my opinion that is just disrespectful. Giving it all you've got is good sportsmanship. Holding back is disrespectful.

Once you think about it that way, you'll have less trouble overcoming that mental block.

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