Last month we started our two part series on keys to working with focus mitts. The first part discussed five guidelines every striker should follow whenever doing pad work with a partner (see “5 Keys to Working with Focus Mitts (Part 1)“). But because focus mitt training is a two-man activity, the role of the pad holder is just, if not more, crucial then that of the striker. So this month we are addressing five keys to correct holding of focus mitts to ensure that both partners are getting the best training experience possible.
- Learn proper focus mitt “etiquette”
In part one we mentioned that the striker can only be as good as the person holding the mitts. So in order to offer the best and safest training experience for you and your partner, learning how to correctly hold and present the pads is the first order of business. First and foremost focus mitts must be held neutral while the striker is inactive. This means they must be facing towards you and away from the striker until you and the striker are ready to begin the appropriate combination of strikes. After the end of the combo, focus mitts must return back to neutral position until both are ready to repeat the strikes again. When presenting focus mitts, present each pad individually in the same order as the strikes within the combo. Usually the left focus mitt receives the left strike and the right pad receives the right. When presenting focus mitts do not extend the arms too far from your body and do not hold them too wide. Usually presenting them at the level of your shoulders and restricting their extension to no more than 10” away from your body will ensure proper targeting for your partner while maintaining safety of both parties.
- Time the punches by contracting your body
Correctly presenting the focus mitts is only half the work, it is also important that you time the strike of your partner to the engagement of your own body. The ultimate goal in training how to punch or kick is to be able to strike a hard target (like the face of a bad guy), transferring all of the momentum of that punch to that target thus causing damage to the recipient. But as we are striking the target, it too acts upon our strike by providing resistance against our punch (think back to physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). So in order to not sustain damage to your hand when punching, the striker must learn how to contract his muscles at the moment of contact to withstand the resistance the target exerts upon the fist. How does that relate to holding pads? Simple, at the moment of contact to the pad, when the striker contracts his muscles to focus the energy of the strike, the pad holder must too contract his muscles to offer equal resistance to the momentum of the strike. In essence think that you, the focus mitt holder, are punching the punches of the striker, except that the striker extends the punches further, while the pad holder only extends the mitts to the position described in the first point of this article. Meeting the strikes with your body will not only be better for your training partner, but it will also greatly minimize the possible injuries pad holders can incur because of improper pad holding, like shoulder, elbow and wrist pain.
- Cooperation is a must
When working focus mitts, the goal for two partners is to stay in sync at all times. Because both parties are actively moving the gloves towards the focus mitts and vice versa, it is possible that the timing between the gloves and the pad will become offset. If so, adjustments will need to be made to ensure a collaborative working pace, where the power and the pace of the strikes matches the power and the pace of the focus mitt work. So if a less experienced striker cannot keep up with the pace and power of the pad holding, then make the necessary adjustments on your end to match the power and the speed of the least experienced person. Similarly, if you are an inexperienced pad holder and the striker sets an unattainable pace, then feel free to slow him down to match your capabilities. By the way, remember that we never strike focus mitts with full force, that type of training is reserved for heavy bag work.
- Minimize unnecessary movements
Focus mitt work is more than just striking targets. It is also a great way for both parties to build stamina, get used to timing each other’s movement and strikes, manage distance, and develop other skills needed to prepare students for sparring. Because we usually run our striking classes in a way where the striker responds to the pad holder’s presentation of the mitts, it is crucial that the pad holder presents the pad in the most natural way without unnecessary and jerky actions. Any irregular movements will throw off the timing of the striker and will hinder his ability to learn and develop this essential skill. When holding focus mitts, maintain your fighting stance, stay relaxed in your movement and present the pads as smoothly as possible. This will not only help your partner, but will also aid in your development as a fighter.
- Give your partner feedback when appropriate
When working with a focus mitt holder, the striker has an advantage of having a pair of eyes observing their every move. So, if you see a repeated mistake that the striker is doing, correct it. What are the common errors strikers do, especially as they get more and more tired? There are a few, but dropping their hand while the other is striking is the most visible one that can be easily corrected with a little bit of feedback. Obviously you want to let your training buddy work without too many interruptions, so don’t overcorrect. But occasional, well directed feedback will be appreciated and will help your partner excel.
Focus mitt work is a crucial component of the student’s progression. Our strike lab classes in conjunction with our Krav Maga classes and ultimately our sparring program ensures that the student receives a well-rounded self-defense and fighting training. But as we mentioned several times in this two part article, focus mitt work is a two-man job where both parties need to understand and maintain their respective roles to ensure the most efficient and safest training environment. So keep training, have fun and get better together. We will see you on the mats.