Train long enough at a gym and you’ve inevitably sparred everyone dozens, if not hundreds of times. You know how they play, you know the techniques their good at, and they know your game too. This can be great because as you continually shut down each other’s games, things get pushed ahead. They figure out a way to stop your leg kicks, so you have to add in body kicks. You figure out how to defeat their armbar, so they have to move to chokes. It’s like race between predator and prey – except both partners are chasing and being chased.

In these continually evolving conversations with sparring partners, one thing that can really mess them up is to play in a completely different way. If you have one way you like to move and they’ve figured that out, do you have another way? Can you switch between your favorite way of moving and that alternate way? Do you have a third way? Can you weave them in and out, adapting them to what your partner is doing as they are doing it? If you can switch between these three games right before your partner figures out what you’re doing, your sparring and movement become incredibly difficult to predict.

Be unpredictable. Make your partner predictable. Use their “good” reactions to set up your counters. Learn new techniques and expand your repertoire. Watch videos of stylistically different fighters.

As a side note, unpredictability doesn’t mean random. There is a place for random (and even weird) moves, for sure, but don’t mistake twitching spasmodically like a malfunctioning octopus for being an unpredictable fighter.

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