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Book article » Role of the Pads – Hitting your target!

By Tommy Thompson and Rocky Sondhi

MYTH: “Wind it up to hit hard” – unqualified coach/instructor

I remember training down at Sneinton in my youth (last year!!), with my then coach, hitting sixteen punch combinations without movement off my coach, or myself. The targets were unrealistic, and massively big. I used to question the logic behind this approach, which is still adopted by the majority of instructors today, in both boxing and martial arts. Over the next 25 years, I vowed to develop a better approach to the use, and application, of pads in the development of boxers and martial artists.

Rationale for using the pads

There are many reasons for using pads in training martial arts. These include the following:

1. To present realistic targets
2. To speed the boxer up
3. Correcting faults – e.g. punch shy boxer
4. Developing cardiovascular capability
5. Introducing new skill techniques
6. Slow the boxer/martial artist down
7. Final sharpening process before competition
8. Developing intuition through broken rhythm technique
9. Develop the feel of being hit by holding the pad

When does the coach introduce students to the pads?

All students should be introduced to pads from their very first visit to the gym. This does not necessarily involve hitting the pads, but does involve using the pads for the purposes of coaching and correcting students body posture, stance, guard and movement. Students the get used to the fact that they will always be hitting a target, and will be conscious of the importance of distance.

Why introduce students to pads?

The pads represent the most realistic target a student is likely to face, with the exception of a “live” opponent. This suggests that the role of the holder is critical to ensuring the skills are developed in the most advantageous way. For example, the many instructors hold the pads for the left and right combination, as if to suggest that the opponent actually has two heads, which are quite a distance apart!

The pads also allow the student to receive feedback on his own posture and stance, as a competent coach will be looking for holes in the student’s stance and position, which will leave him open for counter punches. For this purpose coach spar gloves are ideal as they allow semi-contact with the student, giving vital feedback to the student.

Pads are tailor-made for the introduction of new skill techniques. However, the coach needs to possess an excellent understanding of the technique to make the pads work effectively. The coach needs to develop an intimate knowledge of the mechanics and role of the different techniques.

One of the most neglected aspects of martial arts development, particularly with respect to punching, is the lack of movement as students hit the pads. Rarely, will students be given the freedom and time to hit the opponent, as appears to be suggested when many people hold the pads. This largely demonstrates the lack of competitive knowledge on the part of the instructor. It also illustrates on of the deficiencies of the misunderstood “one hit, one kill” mentality present in some of the martial arts. Boxing due to its continuity, and emphasis, of movement, offers some excellent lessons in the use of pads to simulate athletic, skilled opponents.

Role of individuals in using pads

There are essentially two players, the hitter and holder. All students need to be familiar with both roles. They need to be able to switch from the hitting mindset to holding mindset very quickly, as both roles are very different and develop quite different skills. The holder sometimes takes on a passive role, feeling they are getting nothing from the experience. However, fundamental boxing skills and competencies should be honed from holding the pads. The table below shows the different skills and competencies that students
should be looking to develop through hitting and holding the pads.

Table 1: Skills and competencies of the hitter and holder

Correct position of feet
Total relaxation before delivery
Gather acceleration and whip
Tension on impact with target
Having no expectations of what shots are going to be presented
Quality of tightness in punching with little or no wind up or pull back
Realistic responses when hit by power shots
Taking boxer to different positions when hit from different shots
Being there for the boxer with the pads, in time for the next shot
Present realistic movement, angles and variations
Be creative in presenting targets that challenge holder
Never allowing the boxer to know what is going to be there

Programme Development using pads

The following table recommends a training scheme for developing the jab, using the pads, for the three different levels of student i.e. beginner, intermediate and advanced. This regime can be applied to all aspects of striking, whether it is with fist, elbow, knee or foot.

Table 2: Training scheme for students for developing the job

Objective of holding the pads Develop the feel of hitting a target correctly in terms of technique. Develop timing of hitting correctly a moving target Develop intuition and instinct when presented with pads in any position
Suggested Drills Static pad presented to student as close to coach’s chin as possible Present movement off the first jab to encourage boxer/martial artist to move appropriately for the second jab Use the pads to develop advanced counter jab techniques by coach throwing responses to initial job
Results/feedback Whip crack effect
Same line being hit on pad
Retraction on same line of job
Finishing position should be on guard
Time to respond for the second jab
Use of feet when punching
Key attributes
Possible faults      

Developing the programme

Through practise, the coach should look to stretch the student at the end of sessions, making them feel comfortable, temporarily, but then making them feel uncomfortable, so as to encourage them to evolve (see our last article on the stages of learning that students go through).

Dimensions of the Pad

The pads may be used to recreate a number of training scenarios, typically found in the ring. These are shown in the table below.

Single Direct Attack (SDA) Hand Immobilisation Attack (HIA) Progressive Indirect Attack
Attack by
Combination (ABC)
Attack by
Drawing (ABD)
Simple Response          
Deflect feed
and respond
Evade feed
and respond
Stance Change –
front to back shift, back to front shift
Movement –
forwards and
backwards, side to side, up and down

(Look out for Tommy Thompson and Rocky Sondhi’s book, “Martial Arts Training Through Boxing Concepts” published by Airworthy Publications, due to come out in Autumn 2002).

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