I used to hate shadowboxing. It seemed like an odd concept when I first started training at KMS. I was supposed to punch and kick...the air? I felt like everyone was watching me fumble around the room (by room, I mean my little square of space; no one moves that much when they first start shadowboxing). I spent far more time than I care to admit worrying that I looked stupid. I know this is a feeling shared by a lot of students; one of the most frequent comments the instructors get is that shadowboxing feels weird and awkward. However, there’s a reason why we do it so often. Shadowboxing is one of the most beneficial, and most misunderstood, training tools used at our gym.
Think of it like this: shadowboxing is a period of structured “play time” where you can work on good form and proper movement, either for everyday skills or for skills you may not get to practice that often. This is where you can tackle some of the techniques you are struggling with and incorporate them into a stream of combinations and movement. For example, I was introduced to a spinning back kick during an instructor training class. My first attempts were horrendous. I flopped and stumbled through the whole motion. I tackled that technique in shadowboxing for the next few weeks. I focused on movement, the spin, reacquiring my target, and landing the shot on an imaginary opponent. I still haven’t mastered it but implementing it into my shadowboxing routine has helped tremendously. I will apply that form of practice to just about anything in shadowboxing. If I bomb a combination or defense in class, you can bet that I start practicing it during shadowboxing in terms of striking/defending, recovering, and reacting.
Shadowboxing lays the foundation for a lot of excellent training habits, which is why a lot of our classes start with this as a warm-up. It’s supposed to warm you up and wear you out a bit. Every movement you do in shadowboxing will translate to your actual technique and striking form in other areas, whether it’s good movement or bad movement. I have formed a lot of good habits in shadowboxing, but I have also formed a couple bad ones because I’m usually focusing on other things. However, this is the time where I can recognize and adjust those little things. Since I have become more tuned into shadowboxing, I have noticed that things I practice in that time will slip into other aspects of my training. This develops muscle memory as much as anything else we do.
This also applies to movement and aggression just as much as it applies to form. KMS emphasizes movement in all of our classes. Realistically, our opponents will never stay squared up to us in a fight, no matter how much we may want them to. It’s harder to remember to move during drills in class, but shadowboxing is a free-for-all of movement. You should be moving from one section of the floor to the next constantly. You should also face different directions as you move. This is where visualizing things makes a huge difference for me. I always try to visualize a move I want to do successfully or an opponent throwing a specific combination that I have to defend. Not only does this help come up with new ways to move and defend (which I desperately need), but it also keeps shadowboxing engaging. I don’t zone out into autopilot as much as I used to.
Additionally, as always, this is the time when you can pick up the intensity. It’s one of those rare occasions where you don’t have to worry as much about injuring another person (you should still be situationally aware though). Move with intention and aggression. If you hear an instructor yell out for more intensity or aggression, it’s because the shadowboxing looks a little lackluster. Remember, you can shadowbox anywhere; it doesn’t have to be just a gym skill. I’ve used shadowboxing as a warm-up to other workouts or as a way to just practice skills if I haven’t made it to the gym as much as I wanted to that week.
Here are bits of advice from other KMS instructors regarding shadowboxing:
Brayson: “Full rotation on your striking. Your shadowboxing will look like your regular striking. So try to make your shadowboxing look sharp and aggressive.”
Dustin: “I like to use it to dial in my technique and striking. A lot of times people will try and
improve everything at once. I have always thought it was best to focus on one small thing you
want to improve while shadowboxing, and perfect that one small thing before moving on to
refining something else.”
George: “Move in the direction you are sending your strikes. It will help build confidence in
movement, develop muscle memory toward aggressive movement, and it will expend more
Overall, this is one of the most beneficial things we do at KMS, and one of the most versatile. Take advantage of it for what it is: a period of free-striking where you can work on form, aggression, and movement. I promise you, no one is watching you or judging what you are doing. Do your thing. This is “you time” where you can work on the things you need to work on or try new combinations. The options are limitless. It’s really up to you and what specific thing you want to fine tune that day. Lastly, shadowboxing is required for every test you will take in Krav Maga. We’re graded on it, so embrace it. The results may surprise you.