In the 1980s, Joe Lewis was voted the best fighter of all time by Karate Illustrated magazine. In the 1990s, he was called the best fighter in the world by Chuck Norris. Before he died in 2012, Lewis was renowned as the creator of some of the most highly developed sparring strategies and training methods — which is why he was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame twice. In this interview, he doles out some of his best advice ever.
What can advanced practitioners do to improve their sparring ability?
Joe Lewis: There are a number of things; one is preparation. When you step into the ring, three things should cross your mind. First, make sure you are physically tougher than your opponent — that you can outlast him, out-endure him. You need to get your body in incredibly good physical shape.
When I say “good shape,” I don’t mean by doing kata, lifting weights, jogging or that kind of stuff. I’m talking about hard, one-on-one sparring with a partner who is as good as or better than you. That’s how you become better — real, intense, pressure-type sparring with a tremendous amount of attention devoted to stamina training and pacing yourself. Try to spar at a much faster pace than you are going to spar in competition.
The second aspect is to make sure your opponent can’t hit you. You’ve got to work on your defensive skills — not necessarily on blocking. It could be in the area of dealing with a good kicker — being able to move in quite a bit on the outside and denying him access to the target. As a last resort, if the kick does get close enough to score, you can work some kind of blocking maneuver to make him miss.
The third aspect is the need to keep your opponent from getting set in the first place so he can’t fire first or beat you to the draw. So you figure a way to smother his speed — take the momentum out of his attack. I’m talking about the two most important factors in fighting: aggressiveness and speed. If you can figure a way to take that aggressiveness and speed away from the other man, it gives you the upper hand.
What comes next?
Joe Lewis: Now you are ready to deal with mental skills. You need to come up with a good game plan to help you figure out a way to neutralize your opponent’s advantages. If he’s fast, you’ve got to smother his speed. If he’s more aggressive, you’ve got to take the momentum out of his attack.
If he’s got a reach advantage, you’ve got to outdistance him. If he’s bigger, you’ve got to keep him off-balance so he can’t use his size against you. If he’s a good leadoff fighter, you’ve got to force him into a counterfight. If he’s a good counterfighter, you’ve got to force him to lead off. If he’s a good kicker, you’ve got to force him to punch. If he’s a good puncher, you’ve got to force him to kick. There are different ways of stripping him of his advantage.
The many fighting styles do not always agree on how things should be done. A teacher may say, “Do it that way,” but you say, “Do it this way.” Which is right?
Joe Lewis: There is no such thing as which is right. It always comes down to what works best. A good fighter is someone who can adjust quickly to any opponent in any situation — being able to use the means at your disposal to meet the adversary in front of you.
If, in a given situation, a front kick and a round kick won’t work, you must use a side kick or a spinning back kick. If no kick works, you need to be an excellent puncher. You must be able to resort to those types of skills.
It’s not how big your toolbox is; it’s the confidence you have in the one tool that does work. I believe in developing one good primary punch and one good primary kick that you definitely have confidence in rather than 100 techniques that you have absolutely no confidence in.
(To be continued.)
To read “Joe Lewis: Fix the 40 Most Common Kickboxing Training Mistakes,” go here.
To learn about Joe Lewis’ Okinawan karate roots, visit this link.