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The Do's and Don'ts of Pad Holding

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Pad holding is an art in itself. It’s a skill that requires confidence, speed, spatial awareness, and strong communication skills. It’s an essential component in the repertoire of a Martial Artist and many sports incorporate them as an indispensable part of the curriculum. 

Types of pads will vary from sport to sport.


Thaiboxing uses Thai pads: rectangle-shaped pads a little longer than the forearm that is thick enough to absorb powerful kicks to the body. They are also used to catch punches. 


Boxing has much smaller pads, called focus mitts. They vary in shape and hardness but are often round and small to encourage and improve accuracy.  


Taekwondo pads are relatively thin in comparison and are held by a long handle. This allows the pad holder to meet the speed and precision of strikers by moving them quickly at a number of heights.


Regardless of the sport or its equipment, it’s important to learn how to use them appropriately.  How you pad hold not only affects you, it also affects your training partner, the striker. Classmates are usually understanding of beginners, but after a certain point, it’s time to take responsibility for the part you play in another’s progress.  

While it does take time and experience to become a good pad holder, the basics are easily achievable and will help you stand out as the partner everyone wants to train with. Here are our do’s and don'ts of pad holding:




Give Feedback

Feedback is one of the most crucial parts of being a good pad holder. Confidence or lack of experience is often an issue here, but it's critical to the improvement of your striker. Listen carefully to what your coach has outlined for the round and try to make sure your partner is achieving it to the best of their ability. If you feel like you’re unsure, call your coach over to double-check

Feedback should be both positive and negative. If something connected really well, let them know. Equally, if it’s misplaced, needs more power, etc, tell them. You do not help your partner by omitting negative feedback. In fact, it can be detrimental to their craft. They can’t see what they’re doing. You can and flagging up mistakes prevents bad habits from developing.


Adjust to Your Partner:

 When you are holding, the rounds are for your teammate. Firstly, make sure you are in their stance. They will be orthodox most of the time, but if they are Southpaw (lefthanded), it’s your task to change for them, not the other way around. It may feel awkward, to begin with, but it’s a skill that will also benefit you as much as it does them.


Secondly, make sure to hold the pads at an appropriate height and width. It’s surprisingly common that tall students will put the pads too high for shorter students. Another common mistake is that they are held at chest height. The pads need to be at head height for your partner, their rib height for kicks, etc. Again, if in doubt, check with them for their preferences and needs. 


Encourage Them:

 Use positive energy to get the best out of your striker. Encourage them when they are doing well and especially when they are not. Push them forward in a  way that demands more from them. Reinforce good habits, responses, and effort by vocally acknowledging it as soon as it happens. Sometimes all you’ll need to do is match their energy, and for others, you’ll need to give more than them. This is part of training on a team, and they will do it for you when it’s your turn. It can make a big difference to the striker to have a pad holder cheering them through the struggle.


Take Control:

As a pad holder, you are in charge. It is up to you to give your teammate a good session. Make sure you communicate what you want, whether that’s a combo, a counter, or a sequence. Maintain good eye contact to make sure they are listening and understand your commands. Don’t let them slack off; always ask for just a little more than they are giving. Additionally, don’t let them run the round. Be confident in your requests, and you clear the most significant hurdle of pad holding.




Stand in One Spot:

No opponent will ever stay in the same place, so why should pads be done in the same place? The best pads are a fight simulation, so be sure to keep it moving, at least. Make the best use of whatever space you have by changing directions regularly. Move backward and forwards to test their range and reaction. Move sideways, so they learn how to cut off the ring. Sometimes, move quickly like an aggressive opponent, then switch it up by stepping back and seeing how they react to a counter fighter. 


Again, this leads back to making it realistic and keeping your striker engaged, and most importantly, thinking strategically.


Don’t Smash the Pads into Your Striker:

Meeting your striker with the pads too early inhibits their ability to reach full extension, which is necessary for them to gauge and understand their range. Hold the pads at realistic distances. Punches should be caught just in front of and to the side of the face. Kicks and knees should be caught as close to the ribs as possible. 


It's always necessary to have your weight behind the pad to protect the striker from overextension and the pad holder from getting hit in the face with the pads, but this can be misconstrued and overapplied when you end up shortening the length and possibly doing damage to your partner.  If there is a significant weight discrepancy between pad holder and striker (smaller pad holder), then you will need to add a bit more resistance to protect your wrists and elbow. 


Call Out Strikes at Random:

Put some thought behind your directions as soon as possible. Ideally, everything you ask for should have a purpose. Try putting some combos together. Throw a strike and know what defense and counter you want in return.


If you are a beginner but want to take it seriously, watch a fight or tutorial for some combo inspiration if allowed. This is a great way to learn new techniques, and your partner will love the challenge.


Be Afraid of Constructive Criticism:

We all benefit when people offer constructive criticism. When pad holding, it’s essential to feel comfortable giving and receiving critique. We don’t help each other to grow if we allow flaws to stay under the surface. 


If your striker asks you to adjust your pads, as long as it is safe to do so, then do it. You can only gain from learning various ways of pad holding. Equally, as much as some of us hate criticizing others, it is necessary to make sure your striker understands how and what went wrong so that they can fix it. It’s a two-way street. Being able to give and take criticism is a skill that will take you far in Martial Arts.


Think about your best or favorite pad sessions and what made them so enjoyable. Usually, it’s a combination of good direction, confident strike catching, effective feedback, and getting pushed to your limits. Once you’re able to achieve that, make it as dynamic and realistic as possible. Don’t forget to send your encouragement along the way. Padwork, especially in a fight camp, can be used to break us down. Ensure that you are also building people back up. 


Finally, be patient. Practice patience with yourself as you learn and extend that same compassion to new to learning Martial Arts. Inevitably, you will work with various strikers, and they won’t always be up to your speed. Pad holding is a skill that is defined not only by its physical capacities but its virtues too.

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