The late, great Joe Lewis shows you how to remedy not 10 ... not 20 ... but 40 mistakes that might be handicapping your progress as a kickboxer!

In any sport from football to fighting, when two opponents are practically equal, usually the one who makes the fewest mistakes becomes victorious. With that in mind, presented below is my list of the 40 most common errors martial artists make in the ring.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #1

Trying to counter when you should be leading the attack.

Counterattacking, like faking, is an advanced art. It requires knowing three things: the lead of the opponent, your method of avoiding his lead and the exact way of executing the proper counter-shot. Unless you know them all, initiate.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #2

Failing to step in when you punch.

Whether jabbing or kicking, you always need to put your weight behind your executions for maximum power. Stepping in also increases your energy when you use the pivot-shifting and waist-pivoting (hinging) principles for punching power.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #3

Rushing your closing kick after a punching combination.

The kick doesn’t have to be in cadence with the rhythm of any preceding punches. After the last punch, you should practice angling out of one of the side doors, resetting and then finishing with a power kick.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #4

Slugging toe-to-toe from the pocket with a slugger.

Remember the fundamentals of fighting: Don’t slug with a slugger or hook with a hooker.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #5

Standing square while you’re in front of an opponent or in the pocket.

If your shoulders are open, you not only present an easy target for your opponent but also limit your ability to fully rotate your hips through the centerline to create power in your knee strikes or inside punches.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #6

When facing a southpaw or a sharpshooting hard kicker, failing to possess effective feinting or faking skills.

Such skills would enable you to draw him off-balance by breaking his timing. When it seems impossible to back him up, you need to know how to disrupt his rhythm or cause him to hesitate using faking skills. Then you must work defensive timing to come in the back door with a counterattack.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #7

Failing to keep your back toward the center of the ring.

You’ll end up getting walked to the ropes and find yourself trapped and punished without any room to maneuver or escape.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #8

Remaining in the same pocket position and continuing to fire combinations.

You need to at least turn your opponent or change the angle or position from which you attack. Remember that standing in the same spot makes you an easy target.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #9

Failing to keep your feet directly under your punches.

When you overreach with your punches, especially a straight right, you’ll end up lunging off-balance without any power. You’ll have too much hang time at the end of your punch, which leaves you unable to follow up with a left ridgehand or hook. You’ll often find yourself collapsing into your opponent directly behind your overextended punch. Or you may leave yourself open to his counter.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #10

Positioning yourself directly in front of an aggressive opponent.

This will get you hit. To avoid that fate, you must know how to employ rhythm sets, both with your head movement and your footwork, to offset his alignment or range just before his trigger squeeze.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #11

Allowing yourself to get hit often while you’re coming in.

You need to know how to make your opponent miss while you’re breaching his defenses. Against an advanced or equally skilled fighter, you must be able to use faking skills or create angles to turn him after you’ve crossed the critical-distance line or bridged the gap. Failing to do this against a taller or more experienced opponent will definitely cost you.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #12

Neglecting to develop your ability to execute an educated jab or double jab.

You’ll have difficulty with your penetration skills, and you’ll be easily countered.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #13

Failing to counter immediately after using defensive movement.

If you move your body (rolling) or move your head (weaving or slipping), you’re trying to make your opponent miss. That’s your opening for a counter. If you don’t take advantage of it, he’ll just attack you again.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #14

Refusing to recognize the potential consequences when a taller opponent quickly steps back or pivots in from a clinch.

Both actions are designed to create a favorable range to fire a clearing hook kick or straight right punch. You must know how to read and react to this tactic. That usually entails stepping simultaneously to negate the positional advantage such an opponent is attempting to create.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #15

Not learning how to execute kickboxing techniques from a single- or double-arm clinch.

If you freeze in this position because you lack the skills, you’re making a physical and mental mistake.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #16

Being a headhunter.

No experienced fighter should develop a habit of always aiming for his opponent’s head — unless a specific opponent leaves himself open to such an approach. It’s better to use a game plan that first attacks his body, thus causing him to leave his head exposed.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #17

Standing upright and staying that way for the entire fight.

Unless you’re very tall, the use of such a posture demonstrates a lack of disciplined movement skills and sets you up to be hit. Example: If you’re short, don’t stand upright to fight a taller opponent.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #18

Neglecting shoulder and hip rolling as a defensive maneuver.

In the martial arts, too much emphasis is placed on using hand blocks as the primary means of defense. It’s better to use body-rhythm skills. They provide you with a more effective way of countering and enable you to more efficiently absorb or deflect incoming shots. Even worse: Every time you use your hands for defense, you eliminate any opportunity you may have had to use them offensively. Don’t trade offensive tools for defense.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #19

Practicing each combination using the same amount of speed and power.

If you’re executing a three-punch combo, be sure to vary your speed and power. Suggestion: Fire the first two punches with speed, almost like slapping, just to get your opponent’s attention or cause him to drop his guard. Then throw the third shot hard.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #20

Not having an “attitude technique.”

In sports, all teams have that one play, serve or pitch that they call their “attitude play.” It’s the same in the combat sports. All great fighters have one technique or combination that puts fear in the hearts of the competition. You should spend an hour a day perfecting one maneuver that you’re certain you can execute with total conviction at any time, against any opponent and in any situation.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #21

Habitually stopping inside the pocket after attacking.

If you do that, it’s easy to stop working and just cover up. Unless you make an attempt to disengage or reset, you’re a sitting duck.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #22

Not making your ability to throw body punches as refined as your ability to throw head shots.

This doesn’t make sense because the body is a much larger target than the cranium and contains just as many nerve transmitters, which determine your chances of scoring a knockout. Word to the wise: Practice your body shots.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #23

Failing to develop your ability to properly rotate your hips past the centerline when you execute a power punch.

Do that, and instead of a knockout shot, your punch will be a glorified slap. For maximum power, rotate your hips (which serve as hinges) until you cross the centerline, after which you release the punch.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #24

Not maintaining your composure when fatigue sets in or when you get hurt.

It’s all too easy to do when you’re inexperienced. A related problem that stems from inexperience is not developing your ability to maintain your focus after a momentary loss of control. The best way to prevent both from cropping up is to study under an educated trainer.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #25

Positioning your hands too low to mount a proper defense, which is worsened by a lack of head movement.

That combination makes your skull an easy target for your opponent. You can’t expect to survive long when you do that.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #26

Getting so aggressive or cocky that you overcommit in an effort to get your opponent to act.

That means you’re getting too physical and attempting to use your body and muscle strength to get the job done. In reality, you should trust in your techniques and let them do their job. Fight with your head, not with your hands or feet.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #27

Coming in headfirst or upright when you attack.

If you always lead by slightly tilting your head toward your opponent on your initial move, you’ll leave yourself open for a counter that travels straight up the middle. You’re better off using rhythmic head movement.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #28

Freezing up.

In the ring, non-action has consequences, and they’re usually not consequences you’ll like. Learn to avoid non-action by focusing on only what you have control over and then acting accordingly. Not doing so is both a physical and a mental mistake.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #29

Refusing to listen to your trainer and allowing your ego to dictate your actions.

This all boils down to not following directions. If you trust your trainer, do what he says. Note that it’s possible to be on your own and still find yourself the victim of a bad trainer. In such cases, don’t fall into the trap of letting your ego override your strategy.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #30

Allowing your opponent to get set.

It’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. The reason is, once you’ve mastered controlling your opponent’s set point and maintaining the advantage of distance, you can beat 90 percent of the fighters out there.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #31

Getting cute and doing ridiculous things in the ring.

Both are huge mistakes and send a message that you either don’t know the fundamentals of fighting or don’t see a need to stick to them.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #32

Succumbing to a mental laziness that encourages you to hold back and not let your techniques go.

You must — by reflex, not by consciously thinking about it first — fire the moment your opponent is in range. Build that skill by sparring a lot, staying in shape, having and using a strategy, and practicing timing drills.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #33

Trying to execute a kickboxing technique when you’re off-balance.

When you’re off-balance, it’s better to focus on covering up and clinching. Or, if the rules permit, you can tactically drag your opponent to the ground.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #34

Underestimating your opponent and then finding yourself falling behind in the fight.

This is a real fear experienced by all fighters. Be like the great martial artists who overcome it: Never let your mental guard down. Realize that no matter who he is, your opponent is tough. Prepare for a real battle.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #35

Simply firing at your target, hoping to hit it.

It’s better to always execute your techniques through the target. Be certain that you will make contact.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #36

Allowing your opponent to constantly back you up.

Few martial artists know how to fight while moving backward, especially when their weight is on their heels. They often leave themselves in an open stance with squared-up shoulders. Retreating also increases the momentum of your opponent’s attack. Avoid all that by not backing up except when absolutely necessary.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #37

Letting your opponent beat you to the draw.

This is bad even if you’re a counterfighter or a grappler who likes to let his upright opponent strike with the intent of getting under his attack. Not permitting your adversary to fire first is one of the cardinal rules of fighting.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #38

Having a sparring-partner frame of mind.

It can leave you fighting a defensive game in which your opponent attacks and you block when you should counter. The remedy entails learning to work behind your blocks. For example, if your opponent executes a jab, don’t just block it or cuff it and then stop. Instead, time a right cross that travels over his jab as soon as you complete the cuffing movement.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #39

Getting too hungry.

This refers to the habit of leading with power shots like the straight right, left hook and power kick. Those techniques are primarily for counterattacking, not initiating.

Kickboxing Training Mistake #40

Not knowing how to reverse the momentum of the fight when it starts going downhill.

Fine-tune your ability to return to a base stance or style of fighting when the going gets tough. Then stick with an “attitude technique” or immediately change strategies to one that’s designed to shift the momentum in your favor. The best way to apply the 40 lessons listed here is to remember that training is a process, not a game of unfounded predictions. Predictions never justify anything in the fight game, especially the end result. What counts is not what you say; it’s what you believe. A successful outcome stems from self-confidence and adherence to a work ethic. As they say, the journey is always more important than the destination.

Story by Joe Lewis

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"Unlike karate training outside a combat zone," Cpt. Yoon explained, "it is important here that the troops be able to turn their techniques into devastating, bone-crushing blows. There is no place for mild strikes in combat when a VC is trying to push a bayonet into your stomach."

For that reason, the compound is peppered with makiwara punching boards, and the Korean Tigers spend much time conditioning the weapons of taekwondo. Also, throughout Vietnam there are plenty of sandbags, which are used to protect all kinds of constructions. They make excellent striking bags for a karateman.

The next unit in the schedule is to display free fighting. The commander again explains that this form of fighting is used to test the Tigers' skills against one another rather than to demonstrate the actual methods of close-quarters combat, as a fight on the battlefield is nearly always over in an instant.

The sparring matches are exhibitions of technique and control. Perhaps the only recognizable difference between these and matches held in tournaments is the consistent power the soldiers put behind their blows and their concentration on hard taekwondo techniques rather than elusive ones.

Against Weapons

At last, a final group prepares to show what happens when an unarmed Tiger meets a VC with a knife or a bayonet fixed to his AK-47 rifle. Two pairs of soldiers stride to the center of the hard-dirt arena, face the commander and render a snappy salute. Then they fall into a four-man square and await orders.

Sgt. Lee barks a command, and the best of the best explode into action. One gladiator leaps for a knife that has been thrown into the arena. He jams it, hard, at another, who violently kicks the striking hand and jumps shoulder height, scissoring the attacker's neck and tumbling him forward onto the unyielding ground with a crash. The knife spins away.

Meanwhile, another black belt catches a rifle with a fixed bayonet that is thrown to him from the sidelines. With a guttural shout, he lunges for his opponent. The defender spins to the left, brings his knee sharply inward against the weapon and rolls the attacker onto his own shoulder while tearing at his windpipe. It's over in seconds.

The couples repeat the performance again and again, smashing full tilt against each other. Every time, the attacker thrusts hard with his weapon. It's just less than miraculous that the practice doesn't turn into a blood bath.

Korean Budomen

Initiated as the Capital Infantry Division, the Tiger Division was activated on June 20, 1949, in Seoul with the mission of providing security for the capital. It was charged with additional security of the 38th parallel in Ongjin in September of the same year. When the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, the division began to prove itself in heavy fighting during battles at Ahn-kang and Kyung-joo along the defense line of the Nakdong River in the southeastern part of the country.

Following the successful Inchon landing by Gen. Douglas MacArthur's forces, the division penetrated deep into the North across the 38th parallel, overrunning enemy strongholds and advancing close to the Korea-Manchuria border. As their ability became recognized, the division was committed repeatedly and saw the armistice signed while fighting at the front in the spring of 1952. They captured more than 9,920 enemy, killed more than 91,000 and seized more than 31,000 weapons. As a result of their valor, the division was awarded five ROK Presidential Citations and a U.S. Presidential Citation, an ROK National Assembly award and 42 other plaudits.

After the armistice, the division had already been dubbed with the Tiger laurel and was deployed along the front line of the central part of the Korea DMZ. They remained under continued training and constant combat readiness.

Upon approval of the National Assembly, the division was directed to combat in the Republic of Vietnam on August 20, 1965. Three separate elements arrived at Qui Nhon on November 1 after four weeks of preliminary training. That month, it received its tactical area of responsibility, which consisted of 1,400 square kilometers in Binh Dinh Province in central Vietnam. The division's general mission objectives are to protect travel routes, military installations and facilities within its TAOR and to assist the Republic of Vietnam in its pacification plan by eliminating Viet Cong in the area and helping the people rebuild their destroyed homes.

Since 1965, the Tiger Division has stabilized security within their area to an impressive degree. The TAOR itself has expanded from 1,400 to 3,800 square kilometers. As of mid-June, the Tigers had killed more than 9,000 enemy, captured nearly 3,000 and counted 4,500 defectors, as well as seizing nearly 4,000 weapons.

All this leaves little room for doubt about whom historians will count as the true elite of Vietnam combat. In the ranks of the VC and the NVA, mention of these ferocious Koreans brings shudders to the comrades. Even as he fights those from North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, the Tigerman knows that he has full command of his body and his mind. When he's faced with hand-to-hand combat, he need not rely only on the ferocity of his rifle to equalize the score. He can hammer out punches with machine-gun rapidity or swing a full-flogging kick with sufficient force to gain the advantage. When a man is trained in karate, or to be more specific, taekwondo, he's ahead of the game and the Viet Cong, that crap-shooting armada of insurgent forces, and the crack North Vietnamese troops who come to do battle. They know full well that the Tigers with their taekwondo as well as armaments are tough to beat.

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The roots of taekwondo are in Korea, and for the ROK GIs who enter the Tiger ranks, the intensive routine of training in the martial art is strictly par for the course. No doubt every Tigerman hopes to use his martial arts training sometime in a tournament as well as he does in combat. That's the dream of every GI in the ROK division.

The Tigers, under Maj. Gen. Lew Pyong Hyon and with taekwondo's Capt. Yoon, have been making headlines throughout the world. They are the only troops, it's been said, who fight fire with fire, who use guerrilla techniques and ambush techniques in much the same manner as the Viet Cong. In a war such as this — where the boundary lines are questionable, where there is no front line and where your neighbor can turn into your enemy — such techniques are indispensable. Thanks to the hand-to-hand techniques and the combat-karate emphasis of this militia, the odds are clearly shaping up in the Tiger Division's ledger. Thanks to taekwondo, the Tigers are smashing the enemy with no holds barred and, if anyone doubts it, plenty of contact!

Read Part 1 of this article here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

Scene: A group of soldiers is gathered for a bull session. The subject under discussion is the Tiger Division of the Korean army. The soldiers are engrossed. One, a lean, tanned GI, pushes back his beret, squints into the darkness and looks out to see a mountain of burning embers.

"We were on recon operations in southern Binh Dinh Province," he explains. "One night, we caught the sounds of a skirmish. My squad leader held up his hand and when he smiled, we knew we were in for some action. As we approached the area, we were a little surprised that there was no small-arms fire, but we could hear a lot of guys yelling.

"When we got there, it was an unbelievable sight. Here were those Korean troops in close-quarters combat with what must have been superior forces, as there were [Viet Cong soldiers] all over the place. I've never seen so many broken necks and caved-in ribs in my life. We helped clean up what was left."

So goes the legend, and just in case you're casting a cynical eye as to the Tiger Division's aptitude in the use of martial arts, the record speaks for itself. If there was ever a primer on combat karate, these troops would write it. In two grueling periods daily, every troop in the Tiger Division trains in the taekwondo method, the official karate of Korea.

At one time, there were many factions, but in the past year or so, they've all been absorbed by the International Taekwon-Do Federation, with its headquarters in Seoul. In fact, with the Koreans, and even in many areas in Vietnam, taekwondo is synonymous with karate. Numerous Vietnamese do not even understand the word "karate" — but mention taekwondo and their faces light up with recognition.

Way of Life

At Qui Nhon, division headquarters, visitors are surprised to see sparkling white uniforms — and a sea of black belts — virtually in the middle of a combat zone. While on actual operations away from their base, the Tigers work out in field gear, but at the training center, everyone wears a gi and keeps it as immaculate as any other military uniform.

On the left side of the gi, each person wears the proud division emblem of a roaring tiger. On the other side, if he's an instructor, the soldier wears a black insignia of a fist with white dots above indicating how many degrees of black-belt rank he holds.

Commander of the massive taekwondo corps of the Tiger Division is Capt. Yoon Dong Ho, himself a third dan. But the rugged, intelligent captain is no armchair commander. He's on hand daily at the dirt arena, watching the troops go through their paces and often teaching a special class of officers.

Capt. Yoon is responsible for the official taekwondo training of more than 15,000 Tiger troops in Vietnam. Although popular belief holds otherwise, there are actually more than 200 black-belt holders in the Tiger ranks. Of them, three are fourth dan, 29 are third dan, 57 are second dan and 115 are first dan. There are roughly 600 red belts and 2,300 blue belts, as well as 9,000 troops holding degrees of white belt. Approximately 2,900 men recently began their training in Vietnam. Many of these, of course, already hold rank they won in Korea.


Each element of the Tiger infantry arriving in Vietnam goes through intensive schooling at Qui Nhon. The 26th of these classes began in July, to run just over a month. The sessions lead off with classical techniques under the direct supervision of Sgt. Jun Jae Gun, head taekwondo instructor for the Meng Ho in Vietnam. Sgt. Jun, one of the division's tough trio of fourth degrees, displays a certificate signed by Gen. Choi Hong Hi, International Taekwon-Do Federation president.

When a trooper is promoted in Vietnam, however, he's awarded a military certificate of training by his supplement company commander, who acts as a representative of Lt. Col. Jai Chun Ko, division field commander. All promotions are recognized by the federation. In cases of promotion to the higher grades, however, special recognition is often meted out. For example, Sgt. Kim Duk Ki was recently awarded his third dan by Lt. Gen. Chae Myung Shin, field headquarters commander for all ROK Forces in Vietnam.

"The major objective of our formal taekwondo classes," asserted Cpt. Yoon, "is to take the minds of our troops and replace civilian thinking with military spirit and fierceness. 'Tiger' is the nickname the division has been tagged with because of the fierce nature we have demonstrated in combat. We intend to live up to it."

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Cpt. Yoon reinforced that statement with an impromptu demonstration of his own favorite techniques. Choosing a brawny trooper with a bayonet, the captain rushed him, parrying the weapon with an onslaught of power strikes with the elbow, palm, heel and fist. He ended with a forearm strike to the windpipe, which he explained is effective when one wants to silence the enemy quickly.

Key elements in hand-to-hand combat, the commander explained, are attacking the weapon directly or the hand that holds it while simultaneously attacking the most vulnerable spot within reach, then pressing the assault to keep the enemy off-balance while finishing him.

Field Testing

Stressing physical fitness in preparation for the application of these techniques, Cpt. Yoon said his troops rely heavily on powerful, smashing blows against the smaller Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communists. He explained that the enemies are often undernourished because of their long treks from the North and therefore may fall easily under a strong attack.

"One particular situation where we encounter hand-to-hand fighting," Cpt. Yoon said, "is when the VC hide in bunkers and Tiger patrols do not have heavy weapons available to blow [the bunkers] apart. In such a case, the troops simply go in after them. The VC stand little chance against my men in close-quarters fighting."

In addition to the training of their own infantry, Tiger taekwondo instructors teach U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers, as well as other Allied Forces infantry soldiers. Presently, some 1,250 Vietnamese and 150 U.S. soldiers are being taught by the Tigers at Qui Nhon alone. At other installations throughout South Vietnam, the Koreans teach their art to Allied Forces and Vietnamese civilians of both sexes and all ages.

There are scores of Korean black belts who are not members of the Tiger Division but who teach taekwondo to the local troopers and civilians. Many of these men belong to the larger White Horse Division. Especially in populated places such as the Tan Son Nhut Air Base–Saigon area, taekwondo has become as popular as baseball is to Americans. Today, self-defense is serious business to the Vietnamese, as no one knows when a VC terrorist squad will break into his home.

The Tiger Lair

Several miles away from the main training area on the Qui Nhon Air Base where the new arrivals hold classes, the Tiger instructors have their own compound, carved out of the verdant Vietnam countryside. Bordered on two sides by mountains and banked by the South China Sea, the encampment nestles into a serene and clean-smelling natural cradle, somehow out of place amidst the turmoil of war. The site has never been successfully attacked, and no one remembers the last time even a single mortar landed within the perimeter.

The perimeter itself is defined by roll upon roll of barbed wire, machine-gun posts and sandbag-reinforced bunkers. When not actually leading class, the instructors perform most of their military duties wearing their gi, often barebacked in the all-pervading heat. Somehow it doesn't seem quite right to see a fierce fighting man carting pails of water for the makeshift shower or spreading rolls of concertina wire — until you recall how budo masters of ancient times made their charges perform menial tasks before they would be accepted. Perhaps this accounts in part for their dedication and the respectful attitude the troops invariably display.

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Cpt. Yoon decides to review the instructors' training methods, so he has the select corps organize into a squadron to demonstrate their prowess. Sgt. Lee Jin Ho, whose official title is post instructor, leads the formation. They fall swiftly into ranks. The commander steps forward and receives the squadron's salute, then turns the command over to Sgt. Ho.

At a signal, the Tigers break ranks and rush into new formations with precision reminiscent of the Roman legions. The first squad is directed to show taekwondo forms. They snap through the kata in coordinated pairs, demonstrating the adroitness that can only come from military discipline. The forms are technically the same as classical Korean karate but are executed with the confident power of soldiers who have seen what their stuff can do to a man.

The next group forms behind a line of boards, bricks and tiles. Stacks of four and five bricks, up to 15 tiles and four 1-inch boards lie before them. The unit is called to attention, salutes again and assumes a ready posture. Sgt. Lee barks a command, and a dozen heads, hands and fists smash into the solid objects. Not a single one remains unbroken.

Read Part 2 here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

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