Home Fighting Techniques What is Scientific Fighting?

What is Scientific Fighting?

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Photo via Fight Science, National Geographic

Scientific fighting is a positional approach to combative encounters which enables a fighter to plan when, where and how to attack. It is based on the belief that you should thoroughly know and anticipate an enemy before you risk commitment to any one action. Study his strengths and weaknesses. Avoid the former and exploit the latter.

You should never enter combat with preconceived notions about which attacks to use or in which order. Just because your opponent comes from muaythai does not necessarily mean that he will consistently use low kicks. Everybody is different, even within a well-known system. Each person has conditioned themselves to respond with different moves.

A positional fighter will vary his attacks with each opponent based upon that opponent’s responses. And, the specific attacks he selects will often change as the fight progresses. Consequently scientific boxing must be considered an ongoing process that continues until the encounter concludes.
The backbone of this process is a simplified form of the scientific method. Think back for a moment to elementary school science class. You will recall that the scientific method involved three major steps:

  1. Collecting data through experiment and observation
  2. Formulating a hypothesis to explain the data
  3. Testing the hypothesis for accuracy

Unless you have seen your opponent fight before, your opening moves must be concerned with the first step of the method. All fighters have certain preferred moves which they tend to use above all others in both offense and defense. Through experimentation and observation, you try to find out those moves early. These opening skirmishes also will help you 
discover any idiosyncrasies or bad habits your opponent may have developed.

His defensive reactions can be tested through quick, superficial attacks to different target locations. These initial probes force him to reveal his defensive system. Some fighters will rely on routine parries while others like to mix blocks, jams, ducks, dodges, weaves, slips, spins and sidesteps. You want to know exactly what your opponent does.

Continue your attacks, supporting them with an occasional fake or feint. You should be able to determine the opponent’s reaction time. Study his predilection for counterattacks and, in particular, the type of counterattacks. Use a feint, preceded by a grab or sudden pull on his lead arm, to assess his likely reaction to traps and grappling techniques.

Deliberately draw a few attacks to uncover his offensive reactions but be prepared to retreat out of range at the first sign of danger. Draws will enable you to determine the extent of his reach, his speed, and the type of athletic finesse you are up against. Here, and throughout the fight, take careful note of the attacks and target locations he chooses. Always be on the lookout for any new or varied pattern to his movements.

The next step in the scientific method is to analyze the data you have just collected and formulate a theory regarding the opponent’s probable responses to your combat stimuli. This analysis is an important component of positional theory because it requires you to isolate and categorize the observed data according to the relative arrangements of the limbs.

When on guard for example, an intelligent opponent will position his two arms in front roughly equidistant from all parts of his body which they must protect and all parts of your body which they might attack. This minimizes execution time while maximizing the efficiency of his defense. At kicking range, one hand may be about shoulder-high and the other about waist-high. But at closer range, both hands will rise up or attempt to grab you in a controlling manner.

In analyzing his movements, regard the possible actions of each arm as moving along its own Cartesian graph. Traveling along the X-axis, movement away from the body is said to be in the outside lines, and movement toward the front of the body, the inside lines. Along the Y-axis, upward movement is said to be in the high lines, whereas downward movement, the low lines.

Now, superimpose one graph atop the other so that the vertical Y-axis, running down the lead side of the body, is intersected at the shoulders and hips by the horizontal X-axis. Six positional coordinates are created. They are used to describe all positions of the limbs whether on guard, defending or attacking. These positions are the inside high, middle and low coordinates, and the outside high, middle and low coordinates. An attack is directed to a positional coordinate whereas a defense is made from a positional coordinate.

Graphic 1 - Scientific Fighting

Six Positional Coordinates

Based on your initial observations, formulate a theory about which offensive and defensive techniques your opponent is likely to use. You must be able to predict how he will defend all six coordinates. You must anticipate the form his attacks or counterattacks will take. And you must identify the coordinates in which they are likely to begin. If you cannot make these predictions, continue to analyze your opponent until you can. Only then will you have enough information to implement your specific battle plan on a moment to moment basis. When your plan calls for a dominating offense, you will naturally need a more thorough analysis of his defense and counterattacks. But when your plan calls for defense and counterattack, you will need a more complete analysis of his offense.

The final step of the scientific method is to prove the validity of your theory. Truth in combat is different for every person and changes with every opponent. This is the reason for so many different battle plans. Yours can be demonstrated by designing attacks to take advantage of the opponent’s predicted movements. The accuracy of your theory is directly proportional to the success of your planned attacks. After several triumphant exchanges, your hypothesis may be considered confirmed.
But the scientific methodology does not end here. It continues to help you develop attacks as the battle progresses. You must constantly observe your opponent. Note any changes in his movement patterns due to strategy, emotion, fatigue or injury. Then formulate new theories and new combative tests until the decisive assault concludes the struggle. Through the scientific approach, your movement pattern becomes a result of your opponent’s movement pattern. Your chosen technique becomes a result of his predicted technique.

You become, in short, a stream of motion.

Excerpted from Strategy in Unarmed Combat by Permission of the Author © 1980
  • JohnEngelman

    A boxing match can be won with a single insight. When examining movies of Joe Lewis’ fights Max Schmeling noticed that after throwing a left jab or hook Lewis
    lowered his left fist. Schmeling reasoned that if he threw a right hook whenever Lewis punched with his left, he could usually land. He was right. In their first contest, held in June 19, 1936 he knocked Lewis out in the twelfth round.

    Gene Tunney noticed Joe Lewis’s lowered left fist also. When Lewis lost to Max Schmeling Tunney was thirty-nine years old. Could he have defeated Lewis if he was still boxing? Perhaps. Whether or not he was training for a fight, Tunney believed in clean living, good nutrition, and regular exercise.

    In 1922 Tunney lost badly to Harry Greb, although he was not knocked out. Later he said that by the time the fight was over he figured out what he needed to do to defeat Greb. They fought four more times. Tunney won twice. The other two ended without a decision. Tunney claimed that during his five fights with Greb he learned what he needed to know to defeat Jack Demsey for the heavyweight title.

    If Tunney ever wrote down what he learned in order to defeat Demsey, I have not read it. I doubt it was a single insight. Demsey later admitted that when Tunney figured out how to counter his style, he did not have a chance.

    If you have watched a movie or video of the two fights between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston you may have noticed that Ali kept circling around Liston’s right. That was due to an insight by Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee. Dundee figured out that Liston’s strongest punch was a left hook. By circling around to Liston’s right, Ali made the left hook travel further, losing power, and being easier to block.