Whether coaching a friend in class or cornering a fighter during a bout, the ability to give simple, effective instruction/command is necessary. If your instructions are too vague, nothing happens. If your instructions are too complex, the fighter can get confused and the last thing you want is a confused fighter.
We're going to look at how to give better, more effective commands to a fighter who is sparring or otherwise in a bout. When you're explaining something for the first time or dissecting a performance after the fact, you've got all the time in the world to explain things however you want but during a bout or drill, you've got precious little time to issue your command.
Here's the secret: state what you want, not what you don't want.
Think about it this way, what happens when you tell someone "don't drop your hands?"
They drop their hands even further, right?
What happens when you tell them, "hands up?"
They bring their hands up.*
Another way to look at it: state your command as a positive.
The reason we want to do this is that while we're sparring we're in a trance. Not necessarily the stiff-armed, "yes master" trance, but a state where your conscious mind shuts down and lets the sub-/unconscious mind handle things.** As Neuro-Linguistic Programming types like to say, the unconscious mind can't handle negatives. Richard Bandler states in Richard Bandler's Guide to Trance-formation:
"words such as "don't," "can't," "mustn't," "shouldn't," -- exist in language, but not in the way the brain works. Linguistically, we are putting forward and idea [...] and then negating it with words like "stop" or "don't." As far as the brain is concerned, the command has already been given." (p. 220)
Your conscious mind reads "don't drop your hands" as "here are my hands and they are dropped and I need to not drop them, which means do the opposite, which is to raise them," your conscious mind isn't (or shouldn't!) be active while you're sparring. Your sub-/unconscious mind, processes the statement like this:
"Don't drop your hands." Uh, what's 'don't?' Let's ignore that for now, "-Don't- drop your hands...DROP YOUR HANDS."
You can see why this is a problem.
There is, of course, the possibility that our fighter will be able to puzzle out the negative command, but to do that will require the conscious mind to kick in, effectively pulling him out of the trance for a few seconds, which can result in a sort of confusion or "loss of momentum" and can prove disastrous.
Also note, that we're issuing one command for one thing and one thing only. Too many directions in one statement can cause confusion, especially if they are to be performed in a certain order. In other words, one command for one response.
Perform an experiment the next time you find yourself watching a classmate spar. Spend one round only giving negative commands and spend another round giving the same commands but phrased in a short, positive manner. If you're a real sadist, you could try coaching both fighters - one with negative commands and one with positive commands. Just make sure no one's gonna get hurt.
In a future article, we're going to mash up our NLP techniques with Eddie Bravo to learn out how to give complex, multi-part instruction with a single commands.
* It gets a little more complex than that of course - fighters who keep their hands low as a matter of course will drop them again in time, but that's a problem with their training and not your command.
** If you have a problem with the word "trance," replace it with "being in the zone/in the mode/training kicks in/etc."
CC-licensed photo by underground bastard.