By Rob Wulforst
What's one weird trick to find a sparring partner?
All jokes aside, shadow boxing is a great way to practice your martial art techniques. If your not familiar with the term, it is the method of sparring with an imaginary opponent. Even though they exist in your head, they can help you work through any routines and "what if" scenarios you can come up with. It can also give you a nice cardio workout and helps build muscle memory. All you need is a little room to maneuver and you can get started.
Many years ago, when I started kung fu again, I was practicing long distance and I didn't have any of my "kung fu brothers" to work with. Many of the movements had two man routines, along with throws and joint locks, but no one really wanted to help out. So, every day, I would imagine working with a partner and continued going through the movements. For one weekend every month, I would visit the school for training and work with my (real) partners. While you progress slightly slower by yourself, once you start working with actual people, you catch up very quickly.
In martial arts, there is a Yin Yang aspect to training. Yin, the foundation, is usually trained by yourself. These are the forms, katas, and technique practice. Shadow boxing also falls into this category. Yang, the practical part, is trained with other people. You use what you learn in the Yin and apply it to the Yang. Once you're finished with the Yang (sparring for example), you take those experiences and come up with new routines and exercises (Yin). This is a constant, unending circle of learning and practice. That said, Yin and Yang are always balanced. Doing only one can cause problem with the other. So, if you practice shadow boxing, make sure you practice your routines later against an actual person. You'll find they can come up with counters you didn't know or didn't expect.
Shadow boxing can also help boost confidence in your techniques. When you work out with an actual person, you (or your partner) may worry they might hurt the other by accident and that can change the tone of practice. Because of that safety concern, you may not be able to spar the way you want. When shadow boxing, you don't have the problem, as your opponent is made by you and you can make them as dangerous or soft as you'd like. There really is no threat of getting hurt. Of course, you could knock into things or push yourself too much during the cardio part. It's happened before ... admit it.
This type of practice will not make you fearless though. Imagining yourself as invincible from shadow boxing creates false confidence and just leads to getting your butt knocked to the floor so much faster. As stated before, too much of one type practice leads to problems. Without testing your foundations and techniques against another actual person, they'll never truly be effective when applied. Always keep this in mind.
So, challenge yourself! Start with 5x two minute rounds with 30 second rests between each round. Work your punches, kicks, blocks, and combinations. See if you can step into position to do a throw or sweep. Focus on your timing and movement. Feel like you need to do something more? Add hand weights and increase the number of rounds you do or free time it. Shadow boxing's potential lies in your imagination.