I am learning Western Boxing and one of the most difficult parts of training for me is I tend to struggle quickly learning long combos "in-the-moment." For example, at training we will first do something like "Jab, cross, lead hook", then 5 mins later, add "cross, slip, lead hook, cross", and finally add "roll, roll, hook, cross". So, all of this together is a combination of 11 movements, and I will often struggle to remember bits and pieces of this, and even throw the wrong punches or moves, or completely freeze up. However, after probably repeating it correctly 10 times, I will get it... But then, we're moving on to another long combo already.

It seems according to the coach and people I train with that once I do actually execute the punches or defense moves, I do them pretty well, but it got me thinking: Is there any practical reason that the skill I am struggling with matters in a boxing match? I believe that in a match or even a sparring session, rather than trying to quickly memorize long combos, it's more about reacting, reading the opponent, and adjusting accordingly. Why bother with switching so many of these very long combos during training? Is this about the memorization or the repetition of the movements? Can the short-term memorization be improved?

3 Answers 3


I will admit to not being a boxer, but as someone who has practiced a number of martial arts, learning longer combos isn't really all that useful for fighting. Short combos make sense, because they basically teach you what moves might go well together, and builds up your muscle memory so that you don't have to stop and think about what you're going to do next. Learning a wide variety of three to four move combos is handy because you will instinctively switch them up periodically. Longer combos, though? Very seldom useful. The average opponent isn't going to wait for you to finish your ten hit combo, so you'd only be able to complete it if you're managing to tag them with the hits. If you're hitting them with all of them, then the fight is probably practically over. If they're dodging, then your next movements are going to be informed by how they're dodging.

What the longer sequences are useful for is in mass drilling where the teacher has several students to watch and they're doing more training for endurance. In an actual fight, you might be throwing a dozen techniques in succession, so you need to be in shape to move constantly through them. Making it the same moves for everyone means most people will be around the same movement in the sequence, so the teacher has a better chance of, say, noticing that someone is doing their uppercut in a way that will likely lead to a separated shoulder when that part comes up. And having some specified set of movements helps prevent people falling back into rhythms of only doing a series of straight punches, or always following their left hook with a right uppercut. But actually memorizing these sequences doesn't really do anything practical for you other than maybe a bit of mental exercise.

As for improving short-term memorization, that's generally done by doing it, practicing with shorter sequences and building them up. You can train with a partner in a sort of game of "Horse" where you alternate adding one movement until someone messes up. Alternately, I've been told that digital assistants like Alexa and Siri can often generate random lists of movements, you could build something on a generator site like http://perchance.org, or you could simply come up with the sequence on your own during practice, and do your best to follow it (recording yourself will let you check to see how accurate you were).

  • 1
    I appreciate you expanding the answer so much while at it. It really added another dimension to this answer that has been helpful. This site is a bit slower in terms of users than other SE sites so I upvoted it and am trying to see if anyone else wants to try to answer but if not I will select this answer.
    – the_endian
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 0:08

Covering a few points here, the point of the long combos that are done in classes is more so to just get you put punches together and get a feel for the way different punches work consecutively, give you some examples of combos, etc. You don't really need to memorize the full combos, I'd say it's much more important to just understand concepts that those long combos help you practice like if I throw my right hand it puts me in position to roll right, or throwing my left jab gives me the opportunity to slip my head right. Things like that will be very important down the line in an actual match situation.

You're very right that a match would rely a lot on reading and reacting to your opponent but also ultimately you need to be able to put combos together on your own, for example if you were to throw a left hook in a match and watch your opponent's head moves as a result of it, drilling those long combos helps you get a sense for what movement or what next punch to throw based on where you are relative to where your opponent is.

And then as well, the repetition is what is important here. You basically improve getting these super long combos right by getting more familiar with the different movements that they require, and then as you start getting more and more comfortable with putting the pieces together it gets easier to remember the combos and do them on the fly. As far as actually going to memorize combinations, some short ones are always good to know, which you can also be able to identify by breaking down some of these long combos into shorter ones, and seeing that some of the broken down sections of the combos get reused a lot throughout all sorts of combinations. ex. 1-2, 2-3-2, 1-2-3-4, 1-1-2, etc. Hope this helps a bit and good question!


Training longer combinations increases the variation that can be achieved within combinations.

A basic double-jab, straight right, left hook combo can be very useful, but there's only so many ways it can be usefully rearranged.

Why does this matter? Well... what is the ideal fighter would be able to do? Hopefully you'll agree that they become capable of throwing not just combinations they have drilled, but can adjust very quickly to the precise demands of the fight and launch whatever punches are ideal given a particular circumstance. In short, they are able to improvise at speed, drawing upon a diverse arsenal of attacks to adjust the particular demands presented by any given opponent.

Training longer combinations allows an instructor to create more variety within the combinations, which in turn can better prepare a fighter to react in a greater variety of ways to the demands of a fight. When a greater variety of longer combinations is trained, the more efficient neural pathways become at throwing not just the drilled combinations, but at improvised rearrangements of those techniques. A fighter who is able to improvise under pressure is far better placed to exert control than a fighter who relies on a limited repertoire of short combos.

Longer combo training is also very useful for high intensity fights where punch volume is high. In these contests, the puncher who stops throwing (and moving) first is often at a disadvantage. A fighter who has trained longer combinations might well be better conditioned to succeed.

If you keep at it, you may well find that your rate of adjusting to new combos increases greatly. Familiar portions of the combos become well drilled and easier to remember, freeing up mental space for the newer portions. Eventually, good fighters become capable of executing pad work combinations that are unfamiliar to them instantly, and to react to openings and attacks instantly in a fight.

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