Sparring – High-Low/Low-High Principle

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Sparring

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Sparring

Whether you find yourself sparring someone with greater or lesser skill, one basic principle to employ is that of high-low and low-high.  It will be difficult for beginners to grasp this as they are learning the basics of attacking and counter-attacking.  However, intermediate and advanced students should be able to utilize the concept as they have basic ownership of punches, kicks and other types of strikes.

One option is to attack, counter-attack or feint high to your opponent’s head or chest, but then to immediately follow it with a low attack to the legs or lower torso.   Most modestly skilled opponents can defend themselves from the first high attack, especially one that is fairly conventional and expected like a straight punch.  However, attacking high with the knowledge that it’s an intentional ruse allows you to focus on your next attack to the opponent’s lower half (or to an expected counter-attack from your opponent).  Although your opponent might be able to step away from or block your initial high attack, defending your low attack will likely be a bit more difficult.  Should they quickly counter your initial high attack, defend against it and counter to their lower body.  This combination will require your opponent to think and react quickly and skillfully to avoid being hit and only a trained fighter can handle powerful attacks to his/her low, medium and high points in rather quick succession.

A simple example of a high-low attack is to use your front hand to jab at your opponent’s head or upper torso or to use your front hand to grab your opponent’s front hand.  This is mostly a distraction for your primary attack (the legs in this instance) and whether the high attack was successful or not, quickly attack the foot, knee or thigh of your adversary.  If they are able to avoid or block the second attack, quickly move to a mid-line attack.  Should all three of your movements be blocked, either you need to work on your technique (speed, choice of movement, telegraphing, etc.) or you are facing a formidable opponent who is feeling you out.  Of course, for sparring purposes with your kung fu classmates, DO NOT attack joints or muscles with enough force to hurt them.  We are training to prevent being damaged in a conflict, not be damaged in the process of learning.

A second option, is to attack or feint low to the feet and legs, but then to immediately attack high to the head or torso.  A simple attack to your opponent’s lower body is to hook or step on their front foot so they can not step away or counter you with a kick.  In doing so, you must also be aware of their hands and how they might try to strike their way out of your low attack.  This is ok – just be prepared for it.  Like the high-low attack, your first attack is typically not more more than a feint to get them thinking about something other than your prime target.  You are mostly concentrating on their upper body and what their hands and arms are doing.  Again, whether or not the second attack lands, quickly attack your opponent’s mid-line.

The concept of high-low or low-high attacks is the same.  Most fighters simply aren’t prepared to defend quick and smooth attacks to parts of the body that aren’t close to each other and require more advanced defenses.  Try putting this to work the next time you spar.  It will likely take some trial and error with various techniques before you find some consistent success with techniques you feel good with.  Keep trying.  Sparring is an excellent teacher because you won’t get seriously hurt trying new techniques within the school, but you will quickly learn what works and what doesn’t work because if it doesn’t work, you’ll be on the ground or will know for sure that you have lost the contest.  If it worked, then try it again until it doesn’t and then find another combination to use.

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