Boxing Tip #15: Pre-Emption

To preempt someone is to forestall or prevent (something anticipated) by acting first.

It is a mission verb used in combat to describe a situation where you attempt to launch an offensive effort before your opponent in order to seize and then maintain the initiative. You know your opponent is planning something, but you need to beat him to the punch (literally).

Everyone has a decision cycle (also referred to as an OODA loop). When you see something happening, your brain has to process it, make decisions about that event and then cause you to react to it.

In boxing, reaction is bad.

Actually in combat, reaction is bad.

If you are reacting, you are always in the defensive. Proactivity is the remedy for reactivity. I've made it clear you that you can not win without an offense, so to be reactive means defeat.

Back to the OODA loop, if you can launch your offensive before your opponent makes his next decision, you get inside his OODA loop and pre-empt his attack. You always want to be one step ahead of your opponent, planning your next move while he is still reacting to the last one.

A while ago I wrote about universal and idiosynchratic tells. These are the little cues people give off before they do something that basically tell you what they are going to do. For this boxing tip, we are going to look in depth at tells that forecast an opponent has decided to throw a jab so that you can pick up on them and preempt his attack with a jab of your own.

To preempt someone is to forestall or prevent (something anticipated) by acting first.

It is a mission verb used in combat to describe a situation where you attempt to launch an offensive effort before your opponent in order to seize and then maintain the initiative. You know your opponent is planning something, but you need to beat him to the punch (literally).

Everyone has a decision cycle (also referred to as an OODA loop). When you see something happening, your brain has to process it, make decisions about that event and then cause you to react to it.

In boxing, reaction is bad.

Actually in combat, reaction is bad.

If you are reacting, you are always in the defensive. Proactivity is the remedy for reactivity. I've made it clear you that you can not win without an offense, so to be reactive means defeat.

Back to the OODA loop, if you can launch your offensive before your opponent makes his next decision, you get inside his OODA loop and pre-empt his attack. You always want to be one step ahead of your opponent, planning your next move while he is still reacting to the last one.

A while ago I wrote about universal and idiosynchratic tells. These are the little cues people give off before they do something that basically tell you what they are going to do. For this boxing tip, we are going to look in depth at tells that forecast an opponent has decided to throw a jab so that you can pick up on them and preempt his attack with a jab of your own.

A Quick Story

A Quick Story

Once you know what your opponent is going to throw, it causes shock and disbelief when you beat him to the punch. I remember sparring with a young guy and it was incredibly easy to see when he was going to throw a jab. Repeatedly, I would strike first knowing that over and over again, he was going to tell me exactly when he was about to throw his jab. Not only did I preempt his attack with an offense of my own, but I also disrupted his attack. (another combat mission verb).

By the end of the sparring, the lad was completely demoralized. He thought I possessed super speed to be able to beat his jab time and time again with a jab of my own, and his nose was quite sore where he got popped over and over again.

I was completely inside his OODA loop and knew what he was going to do before he did. It's about this time you begin to feel invulnerable.

Once you know what your opponent is going to throw, it causes shock and disbelief when you beat him to the punch. I remember sparring with a young guy and it was incredibly easy to see when he was going to throw a jab. Repeatedly, I would strike first knowing that over and over again, he was going to tell me exactly when he was about to throw his jab. Not only did I preempt his attack with an offense of my own, but I also disrupted his attack. (another combat mission verb).

By the end of the sparring, the lad was completely demoralized. He thought I possessed super speed to be able to beat his jab time and time again with a jab of my own, and his nose was quite sore where he got popped over and over again.

I was completely inside his OODA loop and knew what he was going to do before he did. It's about this time you begin to feel invulnerable.

Preempting the Jab

Preempting the Jab

To preempt anything you need to be quick. Jabs are well suited for preemption because you can throw one from pretty much any situation - off balance, stepping back, down, up, and so on. So first thing you need to do is practice your jab, throwing it out quickly, cleanly, and with decisive force and then recovering to your guard just as quick. Practice from odd angles - in close, and far out. You need your jab to flick out with force and intensity and 100% accuracy.

To preempt anything you need to be quick. Jabs are well suited for preemption because you can throw one from pretty much any situation - off balance, stepping back, down, up, and so on. So first thing you need to do is practice your jab, throwing it out quickly, cleanly, and with decisive force and then recovering to your guard just as quick. Practice from odd angles - in close, and far out. You need your jab to flick out with force and intensity and 100% accuracy.

Read Your Opponent

Read Your Opponent

In order to preempt, you need to know when your opponent is going to launch his attack. So, watch for the signs of an incoming punch. For a jab:

  • weight shifts slightly to his front foot;
  • hips begin to rotate;
  • shoulder drops (in poor jabs);
  • elbow of the front arm begins to rotate up;
  • you can see it in your opponent's face; or
  • you see movement of the glove.

Obviously not a definitive list and it will vary from boxer to boxer, but all of us forecast our intentions in some way. The quicker you can pick up on your opponent's tells, the quicker you can decide how the fight is going to go. 

In order to preempt, you need to know when your opponent is going to launch his attack. So, watch for the signs of an incoming punch. For a jab:

  • weight shifts slightly to his front foot;
  • hips begin to rotate;
  • shoulder drops (in poor jabs);
  • elbow of the front arm begins to rotate up;
  • you can see it in your opponent's face; or
  • you see movement of the glove.

Obviously not a definitive list and it will vary from boxer to boxer, but all of us forecast our intentions in some way. The quicker you can pick up on your opponent's tells, the quicker you can decide how the fight is going to go.

Strike First

Strike First

As soon as you see any of these signs, strike. Do not think about it, just throw the punch. If you are right and he is throwing a punch, by the time yours makes it to him, he will be wide open. Have faith that you will hit first. You will be elated the first time you do this and you connect. It's like your opponent just drops his hands and lets you hit him.

As soon as you see any of these signs, strike. Do not think about it, just throw the punch. If you are right and he is throwing a punch, by the time yours makes it to him, he will be wide open. Have faith that you will hit first. You will be elated the first time you do this and you connect. It's like your opponent just drops his hands and lets you hit him.

Look for the Surprise

Look for the Surprise

A bonus feature - look for the look of utter surprise in your opponent's face following your jab. He will have no idea how you managed to throw a punch that quick. Remember, he is caught up in his decision cycle and is oblivious to what is happening around him. His brain is engaged in deciding to throw a jab. He won't be able to react to yours until his cycle has completed - so beat him to it and you win.

Do you have any stories of pre-emption? Is there some tell you've noticed your sparring partners give before they launch? Leave a comment, or ask a question.

A bonus feature - look for the look of utter surprise in your opponent's face following your jab. He will have no idea how you managed to throw a punch that quick. Remember, he is caught up in his decision cycle and is oblivious to what is happening around him. His brain is engaged in deciding to throw a jab. He won't be able to react to yours until his cycle has completed - so beat him to it and you win.

Do you have any stories of pre-emption? Is there some tell you've noticed your sparring partners give before they launch? Leave a comment, or ask a question.

    Coach Aaron

    Coach Aaron founded Commando Boxing in 2003. When he's not boxing, he's running ultramarathons or using data science/blockchains to create mixed reality HoloLens applications.

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