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Interview with Bob Breen

Posted by Matthew Chapman on


Bob Breen, Matt Chapman


I was lucky enough to get an interview with Martial Arts Superstar Bob Breen about his thoughts on pad training. 

Enjoy. There is plenty of gold in this interview.


Mittmaster Matt: Hello, Bob. 
Guro Bob: Hello, Matt. 
Mittmaster Matt: Do you use focus mitts?
Guro Bob: Yes all the time. But you have to use them for the right thing.
Mittmaster Matt: Which is?
Guro Bob: They are not for banging hard, but for understanding range, movement, accuracy, you know. And I try to make pad training very fluid.  Generally we do it on the spot for beginners, so they don't have to move, so they know how to strike whilst stationary. As the student improves I add in more footwork and head movement.

I think what's really important early on is the sound, the audible sound of hitting pads. And the sounds of different punches should be the same. So, for a lot of people, the jab sounds weak when it hits the pads and the cross is hard. There are two different sounds. So I go, “No, no, I want bang, bang”, not tap, bang.

The sound your punches make when they hit the pads tells you a lot about your accuracy and power. Bang, bang, on everything. I try to permeate that sound through every technique. And obviously some punches have got better mechanics than other punches, so therefore it's easier to get a bang, but then that makes you work the mechanics and structural stuff.

Once we’ve got them hitting hard and accurately on the spot, we generally add footwork, just front, back, left and right in a grid in the beginning. I don't curve them or anything to start with because they just need to move. Grid first, then curve and some pivots.

Mittmaster Matt: Great and how long do you spend on pad training during a typical session
Guro Bob: Twenty minutes to half an hour? In an hour class, yeah.  And as you know with some rounds I let it go a bit longer.
Mittmaster Matt: Yeah, I remember training at the Hoxton Academy and we once did a twelve minute round. Ha ha
Guro Bob: But then we turned out beasts yeah? I think the big thing with pads is you wanna have variety, and even with something that seems very simple, there are lots of layers. You can't get through those layers instantly, you have to work them, work them and then you go, oh, I suddenly realize that with my shoulder there, I'm hitting much harder.

So that's what we're doing, we work a lot on going very deeply on each technique so guys are really banging. Then I can add a complex drill for variety on top of that. I'm a real stickler for how I want the pads held, which is the old-school way, not moving the pads forward into the punch too much. 
Mittmaster Matt: So you don’t move the pads forward into the strike much?
Guro Bob: A little to protect my joints, so I'm actively going forward as the punch hits the pads, you know. But not too much. I also like to hold them at 45 degrees facing towards you, slightly downwards, so therefore you can do whatever you like.
Mittmaster Matt: So, in this position, it’s possible for the hitter to throw any punch and you catch their technique?
Guro Bob: Yes, so also, it's a process, isn't it? You don't really want people taking orders, which is what 99% of what pad holders are doing. They tell you to jab, and so you jab, they tell you jab-cross, and you jab-cross. So you're always waiting to be told what to do. You need that in the early stages but later on, I don't have any of that. Pad training is freer as you increase your skills.
Mittmaster Matt: So the person who's hitting the pad is dictating what you're going to do, rather than the pad holder.
Guro Bob: Yes. At advanced levels it’s the hitter who dictates, it's not the pad holder who dictates. That way the hitter can work all the techniques they want at the appropriate time. 
Mittmaster Matt: When do you encourage your students to move to this type of pad work?
Guro Bob: Very late, really. Because the majority of people really need lots of basics and mistakes corrected before they can freestyle.
Mittmaster Matt: So you don’t advise having too many variations of the basics?
Guro Bob: No, because you can go and get lost in the word of variations. I might have said what it's like, but it's a sort of masturbatory thing, isn't it? How many drills you know. I remember when I first went to L.A. and there were guys who knew a hundred drills, but I hit them hard, you know? 
Mittmaster Matt: Right.
Guro Bob: And even guys who were taller than me, they're going, "Oh, wow, how are you doing that"? Because all I'm interested in is hitting you. It's not about quantity of drills, it's about the quality of technique. Saying that if you can get both quality and quantity, that's great. But quality comes first. 
Mittmaster Matt: Yes, true.
Mittmaster Matt: What else is important on the pads?
Guro Bob: Get your positioning and structure sorted first. What most people do on the pads is they hit with their hands and their arms, they don't hit with their body and from the planet. So, we work with hitting with the planet all the time. So I'm hitting you, not with my arm which is weak, but with all of me pushing from the ground, yeah? 
Mittmaster Matt: Yes, agreed, you're 67 years old, and weigh how much?
Guro Bob: Twelve stone.
Mittmaster Matt: You hit so hard, it's ridiculous how hard you hit for your weight. It's amazing, sir. Whatever you are doing is working.
Guro Bob: Yes, so that’s what I've been trying to get for the students. Once they are hitting with planet then we add short and long, in and out, high and low, and body fakes, just really simple stuff. The simple stuff works the best, doesn’t it?

Mittmaster Matt: Yes it does. Do you do all that sort of thing on the pads as well?
Guro Bob: Yeah, we do all that. I tend to do, as I said, the passive stuff, then a few challenges. Then we'll do interactive stuff. Where you would tap me with the pads, I'd do a defense and then come back with a combo. Then we build up to four and five counts, and add different things for hammers and elbows. But really that's it...there's so much stuff there that you could drown in it, you know?
Mittmaster Matt: Right, okay. So you always go back to the basics?
Guro Bob: Yeah. You want to have good tools that you own right? And as I get older, I'm doing more with less. I want to find the key ways to apply any technique using less energy.

Mittmaster Matt: That’s very cool. Thank you. 

Guro Bob: And I think you need to be a good pad holder for people because what lots of people do when they hold pads is, they're waiting for their turn to hit.
Mittmaster Matt: Exactly, they don't really care too much about the quality and the coaching,
Guro Bob: They don't really care, they are just waiting for their go. Instead, you should treat it like you're in the fight. Not just holding pads, but a chance to look at your partner and analyse their style, their tells, their mistakes. If you do that, then when you are sparring you can say, "Oh look, I remember he telegraphs that on the pads".   
Mittmaster Matt: Yeah, you can watch for tells when holding pads, can't you?
Guro Bob: Yes, You watch for tells, footwork errors, times he’s off balance or his alignment is out. So I think sometimes you learn more from holding pads, than hitting pads.

Mittmaster Matt: So you can train when holding the pads as well? You get to train your brain at the same time?
Guro Bob: Yeah, I'm training as hard as they are.
Mittmaster Matt: Cool.
Mittmaster Matt: Thank you, Sir 

Guro Bob: Pleasure Matt


Check out Bob teaching at one of my instructors seminars here:

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