Boxing Tip #5: Learn to Read the Signs
When you can read your opponent like an open book, you can flip to the back to spoil the ending.
Everyone has tells. To be a successful poker player, you have to learn to read your opponent to know when they are bluffing. The same thing happens in boxing. Beware though, one man's tell is another man's deception.
There are two types of tells:
1. Universal tells. These are based on physiology. For instance, the hips have to rotate a certain way to throw a certain punch.
2. Idiosyncratic tells. These are unique to your opponent. They are habits they have developed over time which have either gone unnoticed or unchecked.
How to Read the Universal Signs
1. The hips don't lie. Shakira knew it, and boxers know it too. Stop looking your opponent in the eyes and start looking at his center of mass and how it shifts. If a hip begins to rotate towards you, something is coming from that side. It is a sign of loading - bringing power up through the legs, torso, to the punching arm.
2. Watch the twitch in the shoulders. Inexperienced boxers will lead with their shoulders. Much in the same way you can read the hips, if a shoulder begins to move, expect an attack from that side, especially if your opponent is new to the sport. Experienced boxers will check this habit delivering crisp punches straight out without a lot of shoulder movement.
3. Watch for the load. This is a bit harder to do, but when your opponent is about to throw a punch, they will generally load up. This could be anything from a more firm stance on the ground, bend in the knees, hip movement, shoulder movement or whatever. What is happening is that he is getting ready to throw a punch. The harder the punch, the bigger the load as he positions himself to shift weight into the attack. It's hard to describe but you will almost get a feeling of impending doom. That is, after enough practice, you will almost be able to sense an attack coming. That sense is your subconcious analyzing the fight to that moment and hypothesizing or predicting probable outcomes of subtle movements.
4. Watch for tension. Related to point 3, but an opponent who suddenly tenses is likely to attack or move. You have to be relaxed when you box. Tensing up in an effort to jab speedily will only forecast what you are about to do. Practice jabbing from a relaxed state, and look for this tell in your opponents.
5. Beware of the eyes. This depends on your opponent, but the eyes can really mess up your boxing match, or aid you in victory. Generally speaking as experience level goes up, the amount of trust you can put in where your opponent is looking goes down. Beginners, for obvious reasons look at their target before hitting. It's like hockey. If I'm going to pass to someone, should I look at them basically telling the other team, "hey intercept this". No, I look at someone to draw attention away from where I am really looking to hit.
How to Read the Idiosyncratic (Personality Driven) Signs
1. Make your opponent tell you what they are. Throw something at him and watch closely. You may have heard the term "feeling out" round. Both opponents are seeing how each other react. So, throw a good jab at his face and watch what he does. Especially early in the fight, he will very often show you exactly how he is going to react to your advances.
2. Look at his history. Easier to do in the pros because fights are taped, but if you are scheduled to fight someone, do your homework. Get video of past fights or go watch him or her in training (if you can...) Get a friend to go watch -- Yes, spy. Time on recce is time seldom wasted.
3. Let your inner mind do the work. Over time, your mind will instantly pick out the tells whether you are consciously looking for them or not. The key is to be aware so that you pick them out sooner than later. Your mind is an incredible pattern recognizing machine. Remaining relaxed and observant will serve you well. It may take a few rounds, but soon enough you will know what the predictors are. Common predictors include:
- rhythmic footwork (patterns)
- funny steps
- deep breaths
- eye movements
- breathing movements
Pretty much anything can be a tell and it is in your best interest to find them early and exploit them fully. Just remember, if you are looking for your opponent's tells, he is probably looking for yours. This is one reason shadowboxing in front of a mirror is so important. You can actually see what your opponent is seeing. As well, a good trainer will be watching for your patterns and predictors so he can at least alert you to them. This will allow you to make a conscious decision to hide them.
What kinds of signs have your opponent's shown you?