What is it that all the skilled fighters have?
More powerful punches?
A slicker defense?
Or simply more fights?
I’ve compiled a list of qualities that I see in many intermediate fighters.
You’ll need all of these skills if you ever hope to become an “advanced fighter”.
Here’s what it takes to get beyond the beginner level…
What does it take to stop being a beginner?
No More Getting Tired
Getting tired is one of those things that only happens to noobs. Some last a few rounds, some last a few hours, but sooner or later, they all get tired. The most obvious indicator of a beginner fighter is that he still gets tired.
If you’re still getting tired,
you’re still a beginner.
Doing unnecessary work
The biggest problem is that beginners train with the wrong attitude. They’re always trying to use as much energy as possible and do everything the hard way. They go crazy inside the ring and use far more movement than is necessary. You will ALWAYS get tired if all you do is try to use all your energy and do everything with full force.
Instead of trying to do as much as you can, try doing only what is necessary. It sounds like I’m telling you to be lazy or be conservative but I’m not. It’s about being more efficient. Don’t jump 12 inches when you only need to cover 3 inches. Don’t throw with 100% when 80% will do the trick. Less is more. And the less that you need to do, the more you will be able to do. Being able to get the same results with less work, will allow you to do more.
Let’s take handspeed for example. I see so many guys trying to throw faster combinations by using more energy. Instead of trying to throw faster punches with more power…how about throwing faster punches with less power? (The less power you try to have on your punch, the easier it is to throw it quickly.) Instead of having all 5 punches with maximum power and maximum speed, why not try throw some of them at high speed and then only adding maximum power for the ones that are more likely to land?
This is something only serious athletes will ever understand. Boxers are athletes. Athletes are very physically capable people. I don’t become an athlete at the gym. I am an athlete 24/7, 364 days all year round. I’m athletic from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed. It doesn’t turn off. I can run 5 miles at any given moment. I can do it even after an all-day boxing workout. It’s no big deal.
How was I ever able to get to this level? By living like an athlete. Conditioning is something beginners do to get in shape and transition from their unhealthy lifestyles. True athletes are in shape all the time. We’re always up for a run, always ready to train, always ready to spar, always ready to play in every other sport with our friends because our bodies are conditioned for it.
We don’t need to train for anything, BECAUSE WE’RE ALWAYS TRAINING.
…BECAUSE WE’RE ALWAYS BEING ATHLETIC!
…BECAUSE WE’RE ATHLETES
Running for an hour? NO PROBLEM
Crunches for an hour? NO PROBLEM
Sparring for an hour? NO PROBLEM
How about all 3 in a row? STILL NO PROBLEM!
Fatigue in the Ring
The ring exposes everyone and most especially the beginners. Everyone looks like a superstar athlete until they get in the ring. It breaks people down. It makes people nervous. And for many beginners, the ring makes them quit. The ring is the ultimate test in boxing, nothing else.
I’m at a place where I don’t get tired in the ring. I might get beat up, but I don’t get tired. I might be outclassed or outsized, but I don’t get tired. I can be winded, with my legs stuck in the mud, and my arms punching through water, but I always have more in me. Do you know what I mean?
I’m not doing this to be a tough guy. I’m not trying to show off to be everyone in the gym or prove how crazy I am. I just love being in there and I’m comfortable. I could be losing a fight and still be comfortable in the ring. I love it in there. I trained for a long time to be in there and now that I’m in there, I don’t wanna get out. Being in the ring is as comfortable to me as being in a jacuzzi. I mean, yeah….it’s physical…but I love it, I don’t get tired of something I love.
- Beginners will trade punches. (ALL OFFENSE)
- Advanced beginners will evade, and THEN counter. (DEFENSE, then OFFENSE)
- Intermediate fighters will trade punches. (OFFENSE & DEFENSE, simultaneously)
It’s funny but that’s how it works. When you gain experience in fighting, you stop waiting around for the counter. You don’t do anymore of that “block & counter” or “slip & counter” crap. You start realizing that you can attack even as you’re evading punches. The point of boxing defense techniques is to put you IN position to counter, not make it harder for you to counter.
Beginners never get a chance to counter because they’re too busy covering their face and running away from punches. You’ll never be fast enough to counter if you keep having to defend first. It’s an unnecessary step and only gives your opponent more time to escape after committing to a hard punch.
Intermediate level fighters are constantly attacking, and then defending simultaneously only as needed. The only time they wait is when they’re looking for a bigger opportunity. Otherwise, they’re constantly on the offense or counter-offense.
Another way to look at a fighter is to see how well he flows. Being able to flow allows you to be natural in your boxing movement. it gives you efficiency, speed, and power. Being able to flow is the difference between feeling that boxing movements are easy natural to you vs feeling like boxing movements are hard and unnatural to you.
When a fighter flows, I see a guy who makes 1 movement, but it AFFECTS 10 times.
When a fighter doesn’t flow, he makes 1 movement but only gets 1 effect.
In other words:
- A fighter that flows only has to generate 1 energy and with that he can turn it into 10 different movements.
- And when he doesn’t flow, you can see his body constantly having to re-generate new energy with every single movement.
When a flowing fighter moves around in the ring, it looks so easily and effortless even as he’s jumping in and out. But when a non-flowing fighter moves around, it looks like he’s using a lot of energy and having to push back and forth and using a lot of muscle. The flowing puncher looks like his punches are rolling out of his arms, whereas the non-flowing puncher looks like he has to keep pulling his body back and forth.
- Can you flow with constant in-&-out movement?
- Can you flow two left hooks together?
- Can you flow while slipping and punching simultaneously?
The difference looks like when you see somebody relaxing easily down a slide without having to do much. Whereas as the non-flowing guy is constantly jumping up and down. If you don’t understand this metaphor, don’t worry about it.
There used to be a time when I practiced slipping and ducking everyday in front of the mirror because it was such a hard move to do. Nowadays, the move is natural for me. To some degree, it’s because I’m more coordinated for it. But to another degree, it’s because I’ve learned to slip using the natural movement of my body. I slip by letting my body twist with gravity rather than pulling it over with muscle. And I’m breathing naturally the whole time. It’s completely natural and completely relaxed. I can flow through multiple slipping movements instead of jerking my head all over the place.
Intermediate-level fighters know how to deal with awkward foot placements. They know how to readjust or fight from any position in the ring. I’m not talking about a guy who turns southpaw occasionally. I’m talking about a fighter that knows how to fight when his legs are tangled on the inside. He knows how to step or pivot or readjust his body to help him land shots. It’s not about being southpaw or doing shit that you rehearsed in shadowboxing. It’s about being able to move your body to a comfortable position (EVEN IF IT’S ONE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN IN BEFORE) and fighting from there.
He’s comfortable when the feet are tangled up. Or when one fighter is behind another. Or when his opponent is leaning on him. Or when his opponent is grabbing his hand. All the random scenarios that happen during a fight. Like I said before, “awkward foot placements”. This is something you only learn after sparring so many times with so many different people. Part of being experienced has to do with being able to respond well in situations you’ve never been in before.
You can tell different levels of fighters even by the sound of their breath. A beginner fighter’s breathing sounds very labored and weak. The more experienced fighters have a very sharp and powerful breath. You will know the difference simply by watching high level fighters spar.
The way I feel about it is that the more powerful the breath, the more powerful the engine (the core) and the more powerful the athlete. When the experienced fighters punch, you can feel the power of their breath. You feel its quickness and calm strength. It’s like they’re releasing power. The beginner’s breath feels like work, like they’re struggling to push out the air internally.
While the beginners are still arguing over the “perfect punching technique”, the intermediate-level guys are switching up their punching technique with almost every combination during the fight. A beginner is obvious to me because he only throws one jab and it looks and feels the same every time. Beginner jabs have the same thing in common: they only care about speed and power.
The intermediate-level jab feels very different inside the ring even if it looks the same from the outside. Sometimes he’s using a little more shoulder and reaching in to try and get me to go for the counter. Sometimes he’s using more forearm because he’s waiting for me to open up for his right hand. Or he’s using more lat muscle because he’s trying to pop me with a hard jab. And then he’s moving his head to new positions with the jab or walking in different directions because he wants to walk me into a right cross or a left hook. There are a million more variables that I can’t explain. And this wasn’t only for the jab!
Intermediate Boxing Techniques
I imagine some of you don’t care to hear that intermediate-level fighters are better at moving their bodies. You only care to know what it is that they can do in the ring. I’ve provided the list below for your entertainment…but just know that all the previous points are far more important.
Flowing Right Hand
One of the easiest ways to tell a fighter’s experience is from watching his right hand. The jab is easy because it’s the first punch everyone throws. You’re always in position to throw it and it’s the punch you throw the most often so it’s easy for everyone to have a jab that looks good.
The right hand is so much harder for many reasons. First off, it’s longer and requires more energy and commitment to the punch. You have to be confident enough to throw it because your head and body is completely exposed when you throw the right hand. (This is why practicing on the heavy bag doesn’t mean much.) A lot of it will have to do with timing. If you don’t know or don’t understand the timing, you might feel like you’re never in position to throw the right hand against better opponents.
On the technical side, a great right hand is difficult to throw because it comes after the jab and requires you to rotate your shoulders in the opposite direction. You have to really setup the right hand and part of your right cross technique has to do with your jab technique. If your jab technique sucks, you will offset your body and make it harder to throw the right. The jab should SET UP the right hand, not make it more difficult to throw the right.
When a beginner throws a 1-2 combination, it looks and feels like two separate punches. But when an experienced fighter throws the 1-2, it looks like two punches but feels like one punch that hits twice. Imagine the jab is the arrowhead, and the cross is the tail of the same arrow! A great right hand will flow beautifully after the jab.
The thing is the right hand can’t be trained on the bag or even on the mitts. A truly effective right hand can only be made in the ring. A great right hand is not so much about its speed or power but how well it flows after the jab and delivers power accurately to the intended target. The right hand needs to be setup and it needs to have purpose!
Left Hook to the body
This is definitely a tough skill that beginners don’t have. It’s not about only being able to aim a left hook to the body. The real skill is getting in position for the left hook to the body. Advanced guys are very comfortable at slipping or getting into position without coming off balance or contorting their bodies or feeling like they have to rush the punch.
When I see beginners throwing the left hook to the body, they always look like they’re taking a giant risk. First off, it looks like they’re afraid of the right hand counter and don’t even know how to throw around the right elbow. Second, they don’t know the timing for the left hook so it always feels like they’re rushing to sneak it in before the opportunity closes. Lastly, they need so much movement that they’re never fast enough to put the hook there in time.
The more advanced guys almost never block punches. From a visual standpoint, it LOOKS like a block because they’re putting their hands in front of the punch but they’re doing so much more than that. Usually what they’re doing is parrying, except so slightly and subtlety that you can’t see it. Every “block” is really just an opportunity for them to make contact and use that contact to divert the punch elsewhere.
Anytime that you block a punch straight on, it becomes a pushing battle. WHICH MEANS…if you’re going to block a punch straight on, you should use it to push your opponent back, rather than to let him push you back with his punches. The point is: it’s never just a “block”. You’re either directing the energy elsewhere, or sending it back into your opponent.
Slip 3 Punches Comfortably
You can slip any punch simply by jerking your head in almost any random direction; you can even slip 2 punches simply by jerking it twice. You know an experienced fighter when he slips a 3-punch combination without blinking. Or one that rolls easily under a combo. I’m not talking about a guy jerking his head around. I mean one that doesn’t even look like he’s trying. It’s looks like he’s doing it in slow motion. It looks like he did it while still breathing slowly.
It has a lot to do with experience. After being so good at slipping single punches, such as the jab or cross or hook, you start to get good at slipping entire combinations. There will be certain combinations that you start to learn over time such as the 1-2-3 or 2-3-2 or 3-2-1, etc. Sometimes you get into the ring with a guy and you already know how he’s going to move because his movements feel so familiar to you.
Experienced fighters can slip punches,
without looking like they’re slipping.
Roll Under Punches
Intermediate level fighters can roll under punches comfortably. They do it calmly, relaxed, and without having to bend down too much. Many of them can do it even as they’re almost standing upright. The trick is in knowing the timing and knowing when your opponent is about to punch. I start rolling under as I feel him about to turn his body for the hook. I don’t wait for the hook to actually come out (by then it’s too late).
The problem with beginners is that they can’t sense the hook coming and so they’re always too late. You can practice all you want on the slip rope or exercise your legs but you’ll always be too slow if you start rolling under too late.
Intermediate level fighters are very adept at dealing with the clinch. They know how to push you, pull you, spin you, or move away without taking any damage.
When I watch beginner fighters in the clinch, they make it look like such a big struggle. I can see them resisting each other and trying very hard to control the situation instead of letting the situation pass through. They look like 2 guys trying to push each other without letting themselves fall. The way intermediate fighters wrestle is different, they try to “fall” first so they can get to the new position faster so they can take advantage.
When I clinch, I can feel which way my opponent is more likely to fall. And then I give him just a simple pull or push and watch him fall through. If I feel myself falling, then I connect my body to his and let my body weight affect his balance. If I feel him push me, I redirect his push so that he bounces off me. I don’t actually think about all of these things of course, it just happens naturally.
Imagine if you were to close your eyes and walk up to a bike, and then figure out the best way to push it over. That’s how I feel my opponents in the clinch. I can feel which way they are likely to fall and then I LET them fall. The harder they try to push me, the easier it is to let them fall. Sometimes it’s not a fall, maybe it’s a rotation. Whichever way their body wants to move, I let it move that way while I move my own body to take advantage of the new position we will soon be in.
Intermediate fighters wrestle very quickly. A quick bump on the inside and then a spin-out and the fight resumes. Beginner fighters on the other hand are hugging each other for a whole minute even. Intermediate fighters only take a few seconds in the clinch. I mean…c’mon…how long does it take you to fall?
Intermediate level fighters are incredible at stalling a fight. It’s a very useful skill and something I should write about some day. They know how to close off the angles and keep moving so that the opponent has to keep readjusting his feet or reestablishing his balance in order to punch. It can be as simple as rolling under an opponent and grabbing his waist and spinning him around you. Or it can be using your forearms and constant head movement as you keep walking away from him. It can also be parrying in a way so that he always falls into your clinch.
I couldn’t think of an easier name for this but basically the intermediate guys are very good at being grounded and un-grounded. When you fight a beginner, it feels like you’re pushing over a bookcase. They feel tall and not very well balanced so you feel like you can push them over easily.
But when you fight an intermediate level boxer, one moment you feel like he’s as heavy as a rock and that you can’t push through him. But then in another moment, you feel like he’s non-existent and that you just fall right through him and then he counters you. But the real trick is that he looks the same in both moments. You never know when he’s grounded or un-grounded and you’re never sure when to commit to your punches.
We’re All Beginners
In the grand scheme of things, we’re all beginners. Or at least that’s what I think I am. Some people say you need to have that attitude to keep your ego quiet so you can learn things from others. But I actually KNOW I’m a beginner. The way I’ve seen other fighters move around in the ring…holy shit…they’re definitely doing something I don’t understand. I feel blessed even just to be able to SEE what they’re doing.
Being able to appreciate the skills of others is what motivates me and inspires me to work harder. I think everyone works harder when they’re able to see the next level. Which is why I wrote this guide. Hopefully, it’ll open up your eyes and take you where you want to be.
See you at the next level 😉
That breath thing is what im so interested in and want to get down first. Ive read all your other blogs on it and In hitting pads and training I’ve been able to execute the proper technique you talk about by “BREATHE SLOWER, while exhaling out quickly, by constantly shutting off the exhalation”. Yet in sparring if Its competitive (hes around my level or a tad better) I completely forget the technique and forcefully exhale with every punch unconsciously its such a hard habit to break ugh, its sooo frustrating.
I guess its better than holding your breath when u punch, but still….I want to get this
This is why you have to practice easy sometimes to help you develop a rhythm for what you’re SUPPOSED to do. If you’re always going too hard, you’ll always be out of your comfort zone and never get a chance to practice the right thing.
Would you say this is the kind of breathing thats pro level https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_tW-JPmJ8E
It’s definitely the right breathing technique that everybody does. Amateurs, pros, everybody. The only ones not doing it are the beginners.
Johnny, how long it takes for a beginner to build a good stamina and never get tired ?
Stamina has to do with conditioning and technique. Getting in shape is easy. You can get your body in great shape after a couple years worth of training. Technique is harder to develop but makes a bigger difference.
That depends on the person and how they build up the stamina. Everyone’s different so it may take longer for some people to build up very good stamina while it may take a short amount of time for others. It also depends on the type of workout you do. For example, if you were to do sprints as well as jogging, you’ll be able to build up stamina quicker than if you were just to do a light jog.
By the way, it’s impossible to never get tired. You will always end up feeling a bit of fatigue after sparring/fighting.
Anyways I hope my comment helped a bit. 🙂
Exactly! You can get tired…but you can’t stop working.
Not to be a grammar nazi or anything, but under the “Flowing Right Hand” section, 3rd paragraph, “The jab should SET UP the right hand, now make it more difficult to throw the right.”
just change “now” to “not” like you intended. sometimes you get fools who actually think it’s intentional.
Thank you, Larry. I write all my articles on Notepad so it’s very kind of you to look out for me. 🙂
ah, i gotcha. no problem, i love your work!
hey johnny iv’e always wondered is there a good exercise to improve dashing i mean obviously running and other calf exercise will improve your leg strength but is there a specific exercise do built up the muscles for dashing in a very practical movement?
Use the jump rope. Shadowboxing. And of course footwork drills.
Thank you for yet another exact and precise lesson. Easy to grasp and go through the physical side of all the exercise/fighting elements in your head as you read.
Yesterday after a short train I looked at my calendar and realized that too many days had passed after the previous session, but now, having read this at 6 AM, can’t wait to get moving again. Just good job, bud, good job.
See you at the TOP!
Hey Johnny, i recently started boxing and my trainer taught me with shadow boxing and pads before i went did a heavy bag workout, he told me that without proper technique i would wreck my hand, i stressed i shouldn’t throw with more then 50% power, me being excited i threw a hard right hand and broke my right hand(after engaging in a silly power punch contest with the other beginners). My trainer rightfully got mad and told me i’ve got good natural power and i shouldn’t throw to hard, and it made me wonder is punching power natural. I’ve talked to many and gotten different answers, some say you its 10% natural and 90% technique some say it’s all natural. So i guess i’m asking your take on the where punching comes from.
It doesn’t matter how “natural” you are. What you start with will never be good enough at the highest levels. I was a naturally hard puncher too when I first started. But I owe my punching power today to pretty much 90% technique.
Johnny I will be reading this a fair few times because 100% of it is spot on.
Well done mate.
ive been looking at your articles for a few months now and you make it all sound easy ive been training around 5 months now with henry wharton at his gym in york (youtube him, MEAN left hook) and just feel like i arent moving forward i have a good set of skills good jab and feet etc but when i spar i cant seem to land much or dodge much i have around 4 months until my 1st amateur fight and need some pointers on how to see punches coming
Unfortunately, that’s a common feeling. Like you’re doing so much and improving so little. The better you get, the better everyone else seems to get. You really have to push harder and do a little more thinking to really figure things out. Switch things up, try new things, and open your mind to really develop yourself outside the box.
Thanks for another great article, Johnny. The fight density description was great; I’ve been working on splitting my guard down the middle as you recommended in your “Drowning Style” article, and this alternating strong/pliant description is another perspective that dovetails well. As always, I appreciate the time you take to share your knowledge.
is there a difference between boxing shoes and wrestling shoes
In my opinion I would say not so much…. But I do see boxing shoes with higher tops.
Try them and see. They’re more similar to each other than other shoes but I would say boxing shoes are probably more specifically made for boxing.
Really enjoyed the read Man!!
Once again another fantastic piece of work Mr. Johnny.
I’m 43 years old and still a beginner, regardless of a JKD and boxing background from age 13. I still tell all the coaches and sparring partners that I don’t know s&@$ because its true. Quick question: since different opponents offer different problems, if I come to a point in a fight where I need to press a lot of action , how do I regulate my breathing without hyperventilating ?
Example; skilled , aggressive , semi-pro FAST swarmer with hight and BIG reach advantage. Not to mention I’m orthodox and he is southpaw. You weren’t kidding when you said you had to work hard against these guys. If i were to exhale on every move including slips I’m totally out of breath and don’t get a break to catch my breath. Is the only way then to have to punch and slip during a full inhale?
Each exhale is just a small portion of your whole breath. Don’t exhale completely on each breath. Imagine that you inhale a full breath and then keep chopping the exhale so that it becomes 5-6 explosive movements. Ideally, you’re working in spurts and limiting your combinations to 5-6 punches at most. Any more than that and you’ll probably run out of air and get tired.
P.S , I read and digest all your stuff and I think I remember you saying you have enough lung capacity for 20 or so punches before a need to inhale. I guess the question would be put in context better to ask , if I only have the wind for ten shots and a couple of slips but in a situation where I have finally gotten somewhere in the fight and can’t stop now I guess I would have to continue to punch and slip during an inhale
If you run out of air then yes, you would have to move during an inhale. Or you can use your last few exhalations to get away. The point is not to have more lung capacity, it’s to be more efficient with your air. Smaller, sharper breaths, for more compact explosive movements. It’s not about releasing only as little air as possible but to release only as much air as need to generate the power.
Your article on weight traning was very good. You had pics of yourself on one that showed you were pumped up like a beast when you were weight traning. How much strength did you lose when you quit the iron? Then as compared to now. Did you lose say 75 or 100 lbs of your bench or squat . Were you able to retain a good portion of your strength when you gave up the weights?
My max strength on the bench press probably went down to 30-50% when I stopped powerlifting. I would say I was able to retain more than enough strength for boxing and while I wasn’t able to bench as much weight, I was still very strong in many other ways that weights can’t develop. I felt strong and I was strong.
Love you’re articles am beginner working my way up to intermediate , I have muay Thai background and jiu-jitsu primarily
I have to say boxing has been more fun and more useful to me. It’s way harder to learn than I originally thought though but your articles have helped a lot, especially since I spar I a lot. it gave me good pointers, slipping for example only worked for me after I read you’re 3 position article and from there started using positions to lure out the right hand, now I counter much quicker and stay in range more often with slight movements. It turned boxing into chess game for me. Thanks a lot johnny
Great article. I have trained for two years and still consider myself very much a beginner and always looking up to the more experienced fighters to learn new skills. I am happy to say i’ve accomplished most of the milestones mentioned in this article – but still a couple of others to work on. You can literally never stop learning as a boxer.
I would love to hear your thoughts on hand trapping.
I’m a kickboxer primarily but have found some success using hand traps I learned from my years of doing Hapkido, especially for landing left hooks to the body (my favourite punch).
Hand trapping can be effective and boxers do a more simplified (in my opinion, more effective) version of hand trapping in the form of parries. The key to the hand trap (or ANY defensive movement) is having a plan to counter attack after the defensive maneuver. Otherwise, you’ll simply take shot after shot until one gets through.
really good observations johnny I agree with it all.alot of thought has gone into a boxers progression from beginner
You are just the best person Johnny
Watsup Johnny.i think a guide on using angles is really important for all fighters.While sparring a week ago I noticed something.when in the path of an incoming jab instead of using a defensive technique I sidestepped to the left and pivoted slightly as soon as he committed to the jab.Then I threw my jab at the same time and made contact while his missed because I was on a slightly new angle with my jab blocking his.i did this again and it worked for the second time . I was amazed.First time I have ever used an offensive attack and and angle as offense and defense.Maybe you could expand on some of these useful topics in the future if you have some free time.
Good idea, Tom. I have one halfway written.
I have 2 things I would like to share with fellow readers.1.I have seen Bernard Hopkins and George foreman use this technique which is a right sidestep combined with a right hook.Its used for more leverage,a better angle,etc .A left sidestep with a left hook which is the reverse of the right hook technique and I believe works just as well. 2.This little tip majorly impacted my timing ,hand speed ,accuracy,allowed me to not telegraph punches and also my ability to effectively throw and land combinations.Its to throw all your shots ,especially those hooks people love to load up ,from your fighting stance and pulling back as little as necessary . Even if you pull back just one unnecessary inch it impacts your shot more then you think because you also have to cover the inch you just pulled your hand back effectively turning 1 inches distance to 2 inches.In boxing having your punch go 2 extra inches is the difference between hitting ,missing,or worst case someone capitalizing on your slower, telegraphed shot with a devasting counter.I feel punches also kinda flow and less effort is required to throw them.Hope this is of use to someone.
I see bits of gold in there, Tom. 😉
Thanks for the share.