Counter Techniques for Sparring: Forced vs. Reactive

Throughout my many years of training, I have done a lot of sparring.  I have competed in well over 50 tournaments with varied levels of success.  I have studied sparring with an analytical mind my entire career whether fighting against opponents at a tournament, doing class drills, sparring with friends, or attending seminars.  One thing I learned quickly is that I am a counter fighter.  Most people think of counter techniques as a singular concept; you counter someone’s technique with one of your own.  I have dissected counter techniques much further than that and, in this post, I will be detailing two types of counters: the reactive counter and the forced counter.

The Reactive Counter

I sometimes call the reactive counter the universal counter since it is independent of what technique your opponent does.  Many people think that a counter technique is when you see your opponent do a technique and you react to it with an appropriate technique of your own.  At a macroscopic level this is true.  However, it is impossible to see your opponent do something, processes that information, figure out the appropriate counter, and have your brain tell your body to do it, all in a fraction of a second.  That is where the universal counter comes in.  We don’t care what technique our opponent does, we react with the same technique of our own when only one piece of information is presented: our opponent enters our space.  The only other requirement is what stance our opponent is in, open or closed.  An open stance reactive counter is a hook kick, and a closed stance reactive counter is a roundhouse kick.  For both open and closed stance kicks, it is important to remember the following:

  • The kick trajectory is a straight line from ground to right above opponent’s belt
    • No full chamber
  • Target right under rear elbow
    • Angle trajectory of kick to cut under rear arm
    • Doesn’t matter if shin or foot hits target
    • Target is anywhere along belt line, does not need to be precise
  • Doesn’t matter if it hits the body or arm
    • Make it hard enough to give them something to think about
  • Step to outside of opponent after kick

Check out this short video for a visual on how it’s done.

The universal reactive counter

The Forced Counter

A forced counter is different than a reactive counter in that the technique we choose to use as a counter is dependent, not independent, on what our opponent does.  Therefore, there are many different forced counters since each technique is specific to the attack.  How do we know what counter technique to use?  Didn’t you already say it was impossible to process that information in that amount of time?  The answer is simple, we already know what technique our opponent is going to do before they do it.  No, there is no Jedi mind trick here.  

Jedi mind trick in counter sparring

We know what technique they are going to do because they telegraph it, have a tell, or we bait them into doing it.  We then have the proper counter technique ready to go and just need to wait to pull the trigger.  Since there are many, many different forced counters, I can’t go over all of them here.  I will provide one example, so you get the idea.  The following example is a forced counter to a lead hand punch.  The counter technique will be a lead leg side kick.  We know they are going to doing the punch because they are telegraphing it or have been doing that technique repeatedly.  The counter technique will be executed with the following in mind:

  • Be prepared with weight on rear leg
  • Slight lean backward
  • Arms in defensive position
  • Straight line from ground to opponent’s ribs

Check out this short video for a visual on how it’s done.

Forced sparring counter techniques

If you are interested in learning more about counter techniques for sparring, feel free to contact me.  I also have an online video course on sparring counter techniques that covers this topic in great detail.  Check it out or contact me directly.

Published by masterelmore

I have been involved in martial arts for over 30 years. I own and operate a studio in Seattle. I am also a father to an awesome kid. My websites provide information, tips, and videos on parenting and martial arts.

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