Tuesday, 23 September 2014

What is an MMA Fighter?

The Growth of MMA

I have been involved in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts for around 20 years. First as a spectator, then as a competitor & now as a trainer of fighters.

Since the early days there was a push within the MMA community to make the sport more mainstream & more appealing to the general public. I never really cared about this because I was interested in the sport & loved it whether the general public knew about it or not.

Thanks to the expansion of the UFC the sport has become much more popular. Everyone knows about the UFC & MMA, its easier to watch events on TV & on the internet, fighters get paid more money so can now train full time & there are more MMA gyms so its easier to find places to train. 

Huge Increase in Popularity

I never imagined MMA would reach this level of popularity for various reasons but mostly because for the majority of its history it was seen as a controversial & violent blood sport which should be banned rather than popularized. In the early days it was necessary to promote the sport as a border-line illegal death match spectacle to attract more fans. 

True fans of the sport knew that MMA was’t just about two angry steroid users locked in a steel cage trying to injure each other for money & an ego boost. To us it was about skilled martial artists who had spent their life diligently training to perfect their skills & were now given the chance to test themselves against an equally well trained opponent in an environment that would allow them to use the full range of their skills i.e. All types of fighting skills grappling, striking are allowed under the rules. 

Changes in the Sport

These days however things have changed. Rather than athletes who have spent their whole lives training in martial arts or combat sports now we see people who watch MMA on the TV and think ‘yeah i can do that’ then training for a while so they can be a cage fighter & impress their friends/fans.This is the opposite of what the sport of MMA should be about. It should not just be people off the street beating each other up in the cage for entertainment. 

I think this is a dangerous development in the evolution of the sport. In a time where authorities are trying to find ways to crack down on street violence it is much harder to justify the existence of this sport.

Private Student Training Video

Here are some videos of one of my students - He's been training in martial arts for his whole life & still trains super hard & is a big inspiration to everyone at the gym.

Sunday, 23 March 2014


‘Training doesn’t get easier - You get Tougher’.
One reason why some people become derailed along the way in their Martial Arts training is due to a condition known as ‘Blue-belt-itis’. This condition was first explained to me by my former training partner Simon Hayes who is probably the only person to be a multiple black belt in BJJ, Judo & Tae-kwon-do and also an Oscar winner.
This occurs when the student reaches a fairly significant milestone in their martial arts training, for example they achieve their Blue Belt in BJJ or compete in their first amateur fight or they win their first gold medal. What happens next? Suddenly they find lots of excuses not to turn up to training. Lots of injuries that they had previously been training around suddenly show up & make it impossible for them to turn up to class.
Why does this happen? Why do some people go to all this effort & then waste it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to continue with your hard work and keep improving & building on the progress that you’ve already made rather than cutting down on your training or dropping off & pretty much throwing it all away?
Previously my training partners & i believed that the cause of Blue-Belt-Itis was that the newly awarded Blue Belt was now under pressure & had a target on his back. All of his training partners who were still white belts would now be gunning for him trying their hardest to tap him out in every session. The pressure would be too much and rather than coming in to face this pressure on a nightly basis the newly promoted blue belt would suddenly get bogged down with work even though they had somehow managed to make it in to training every day for the last six months leading up to the promotion.
I’m not sure if this idea of pressure from your training partners really explains it all though. I think the big reason is that the student pushed really hard to get to the point where they did their best performance but they just aren’t prepared to keep making anything close to that same effort day in & day out to keep improving or maintain their level.
The truth is that no matter how difficult something is it is always possible to get through it if you just need to do it for a short time. This is the reason why some people can get good results with short term drastic diets but as soon as they stop the diet they go back to a worse position than they were before. Martial Arts isn’t a short term solution like a fad diet, its a long term solution where you are continually trying to make small improvements.
For this reason I always like this quote but not sure where i heard it from. ‘It’s not about who’s best, it’s about who’s left’ Anyone can come in and train hard & rough up their training partners for a few weeks, a few months or even a year. Try to keep doing it consistently for five or ten or twenty years. Its this kind of discipline that makes Martial Arts different from other sports.

Its also possible that the student has reached his goal but has then forgotten about the reasons that motivated him to get there in the first place. Maybe they were doing it all for the wrong reasons anyway. But whatever the motivation was that got them started its more important to focus on all the benefits that they gained from training on the way to achieving their goal (for example, fitness, confidence, weight loss), are they really prepared to throw away all these benefits & the progress they’ve made & go back to how they were before?
To get over all these problems I think its important to look as Martial Arts training as a long term part of your life rather than something that you just do for a short time and then forget about. Receiving a belt in BJJ or any other martial art is just an indication of what level you were at on that day but you need to look at it as a level that you need to maintain & improve upon rather than seeing it as a final destination.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Martial Arts Success

Why do some people succeed with their Martial Arts training while others never get anywhere?

Over the years of running our gym I’ve seen lots of different students coming through the doors. Many have gone on to be really skilled & some have been successful as competitors & fighters. Others have turned up trained regularly at first then dropped off after a while and are really no better at martial arts afterwards than they were before they started training.
What are the qualities that make the successful competitors improve so much while the other guys don’t get anywhere? Are they turning up for secret invite only training sessions? Are they taking some kind of new supplements that make them better than everyone else? Are they just genetic freaks who are physically gifted with superhuman strength, speed & ability to learn & use martial arts techniques?
The successful people had just the same access to the training sessions, classes & instruction as everybody else. They had the same amount of hours in the day as everyone else. The difference comes down to what the unsuccessful people didn’t do. I have seen many talented people come into the gym who would have gone on to be international competitors by now if they hadn’t done the following things to sabotage their own progress.

A – Lack of motivation & consistency.

As an adult its your job to motivate yourself to turn up to training so you can improve. At first everyone is excited about a new activity when they start doing it. The problem is that when the novelty wears off you need to be able to keep turning up & putting in the hard work. This isn’t a problem if you are just training for fun or recreation. However, if you have ambitions of one day becoming a black belt or a competitor you need to be able to force yourself to turn up to train even on the days when you don’t feel like it & it won’t be as much fun. This is the number one key to achieving success. When kids don’t feel like going to school they are forced to go by their parents & teachers. When you become an adult you are given a choice over what to do with your time however there are always consequences to the choices you make. I’ve never seen anyone improve who doesn’t turn up to train consistently.

B – Waste time working hard on the wrong things.

Spending too much time at Fitness First pumping weights in front of a mirror is really good if your only ambition in life is to take lots of pictures of yourself to put on Facebook. If you are serious about becoming a fighter or a skilled martial artist then its a waste of time. I’ve been doing this a long time & I would advise anyone who is serious about improving their skills to only do weight training or other types of conditioning if you are 100% certain that it won’t interfere with your skill development/ Martial arts/ fight training. People who devote a whole two or three days of their week to only lifting weights end up looking good but they don’t win fights.

C – Taking time off

Sometimes its just impossible to train due to life & work commitments, injury, needing to rest after a long period of training & competing. But even in those situations you have to weigh up the cost of taking time off against the benefits. Ask yourself, does this slight injury really justify taking three weeks off training & losing all the progress that I’ve made over the last nine months? wouldn’t it be better to just come along to class and do whatever I can so at least I can try to keep on improving? If a high school student decided to miss out on three weeks here and there very few months would you expect him to pass his exams at the end of the year?

D – Focusing on the wrong results & being too competitive.

Martial Arts training & fighting often looks like its just two idiots rolling around trying choke or punch each other. The truth is that its usually the smarter people who make more progress. If I turn up for my first ever Jiu-Jitsu class & manage to headlock one of the other guys I might be happy with the result & feel pretty pleased with myself. However, if after six months I am still trying to squeeze out that same headlock then, even if I can tap a few people out, I’ve pretty much wasted six months. Try to avoid relying on your natural attributes. If you are already naturally strong when you start training try not to rely on using strength when you are sparring. Try to use the techniques that you have spent all this time learning. Focus on working on your weaknesses. Winning & Losing in training means nothing, the only people who think it means anything are the same ones who will only ever be able to win in their own gym against their training partners.

F – Not listening to the coaches.

There is only one reason why we as coaches teach certain techniques & give advice to correct peoples movements & skills. It’s because we think what we are showing them will give them the best chance of winning in a fight. When we give advice such as ‘ keep your hands up’, ‘Don’t change stance’, ‘stop trying to bench press your opponent off mount’ its not because we are trying to withhold some secret advanced techniques that you’re not ready for. The real reason is that we want to avoid that awkward moment after you lose a match due to making a stupid mistake where we have to put our arm around you and give you the ‘don’t worry buddy, we’ll get them next time speech’. We want our fighters & competitors to dominate their opponents & win every single time they step on the mat or in the ring. Obviously this is going to be difficult to achieve but you have much more chance of success & improving your skills if you listen, try to understand & act on the advice given to you by the coaches

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Your first MMA fight

Why do you want to fight?

You need to get the reasons straight in your head first. Make sure your reasons will be strong enough motivators to make you train hard and prepare well. You are not just representing yourself but also your team and your coach.
The best reasons to compete are to test your skills and training or maybe this is your first step on a fight career. If you just want to have a go at it so you can tell your friends that you’re a fighter, I would advise against it. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment to train for a fight, even if it’s just a low level amateur fight.

When are you ready to fight?

You are ready to fight when your coach tells you are ready. Your coach should have enough experience to know when his students are ready to compete (if he doesn’t then think about training elsewhere).  Don’t ask your coach to get you a fight; it puts him in the awkward position of having to tell you that you aren’t good enough. Ask the other fighters at your gym how they started and what sort of volume of training they did before their first fight and then try to follow in their footsteps.

What experience to have first?

I’d recommend that most people train for about 6 months to 1 year before they have their first fight. This is the minimum time required to get comfortable with the fundamental skills (basic kicks, punches, takedowns & grappling) needed for MMA.  Don’t try to fight without being good at the fundamentals of striking & Grappling.  You wouldn’t take part in a triathlon if you could ride a bike and run but don’t know how to swim. It’s pointless, you need to be comfortable with all the skills first before you try to utilise them in a competitive environment.
It’s a good idea to have competed in some grappling or BJJ competitions too. However, don’t spend too much time competing in other sports such as BJJ because the rules, point system and skill set is too different and you might struggle to adapt your style to MMA when you fight.

Where to start?

I recommend starting off in either amateur MMA tournaments or in interclub sparring events. Amateur MMA is a good way to learn and test your skills without too much pressure or danger. The amateur rules that I fought under allowed grappling, striking and takedowns but with no strikes allowed too the head. Some have criticised these rules for being unrealistic however during my amateur competition days I saw many future UFC stars such as Dan Hardy & Michael Bisping also competing and they all went on to have successful fight careers.
These events won’t have as many spectators so there is less added pressure. Your first few fights should be just an experimental and learning process where you are trying to figure out your own style and your strengths and weaknesses without the added pressure of 2000 people watching.
It’s also not fair on the audience to have to pay $60 to watch someone fight for the first time. Of course we can admire the bravery of first time fighters for getting in the ring but I wouldn’t expect anyone to pay to watch me play tennis for the first time so why am I paying to watch a kung Fu guy have his first MMA fight and get bashed for three rounds. It makes the sport look very amateurish.

How to prepare and what to expect from your first fight

The most important consideration is to make sure your fitness is up to scratch. There is absolutely no excuse for having poor cardio as it’s 100% within your control. This means lots of running, hill sprints, endless rounds of pad-work and grappling in the lead up to your first fight
Another important reason for working on your fitness is because the pre-fight nerves will really zap your energy and affect your fitness. You have to be ready for that. Don’t worry if you feel nervous or jittery before the fight. Everyone experiences this. It doesn’t mean you are afraid to fight. If you were afraid you wouldn’t be in the changing room getting your hands wrapped, you’d be back at home watching UFC on TV shouting advice from your sofa like an armchair warrior. The reason you feel nervousness is that your body is preparing for action. You just have to focus on the task at hand and be confident that all the work you’ve done so far will be enough to get you through.
Alternatively, you may be nervous because you genuinely know that you are unprepared for the beating that you are about to receive. In which case please read my’ finding a good MMA gym’ article.
Have a clear game-plan of what you are going to do during the fight. What is your first move going to be?  What if you get stuck under side-control? Don’t just go in and try to see what happens because it will leave too much to chance and gives you too much to think about. Choose five or six things that you will definitely try to do during the match and options from each position.
Don’t expect it to be easy. Your opponent is likely to be just as well prepared as you and so you should expect not everything to go your way during the match.

After your first fight, what next?

The point of competing, especially in your first few fights is to treat it as a learning experience. After the fight you need to think about what you did right and wrong and what your strengths and weaknesses were. Whether you win or lose you need to analyse your performance and figure out what lessons you can learn to help your future training and performance. Also be realistic about the fight, maybe you won but the opponent was just very unprepared or made a silly mistake, that isn’t going to help to make you a better fighter. Maybe you fought really well and did everything right but your opponent was also really good and he just managed to get the win by decision. In this case you should be happy with your performance and just keep working hard and trying to improve so you can fight even better next time.

What other questions do have about how to prepare for your MMA debut? Please ask in the comments section below.

Here is another article on how to make the most of your Martial Arts Training:


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

MMA Self Defence

Unlike many others in the MMA world it wasn’t the Tap out t-shirts and scary tattoos that first attracted me to the sport. It was the realistic way of testing martial arts and fighting skills against a resisting opponent. I wasn’t convinced that the techniques used in my Karate point sparring would work in real life when confronted with a big angry, aggressive opponent. Especially if he isn’t familiar with the rules and formalities of traditional martial arts and just wants to smash your head in.
If only there was some way of testing your techniques realistically without going to jail or hospital. Luckily after I’d been doing Karate for about 3 months I saw a report on late night TV about the new sport of UFC which was just starting in the USA (this was the build-up to UFC 3). It looked excessively violent and gruesome at the start but it seemed like a good way of finding out what would work in a real fight.
Up until this point it was commonly believed that some styles were just combat sports and others were real martial arts and therefore better for self-defence. From observing MMA events it became apparent that almost all the successful fighters came from a combat sports background (wrestling, kickboxing, Judo etc.).
The styles of martial arts that focused exclusively on self-defence and deadly killing skills had many explanations for their lack of success in the MMA arena and these reasons may also explain the effectiveness of combat sports.
  • ‘In the street you may be attacked by more than one person’ - If you have done any boxing or wrestling you will know how difficult it can be against someone of similar size & experience. Some martial arts train specifically to fight multiple opponent‘s but having sparred with some of these guys I think that might be a bit ambitious.  The important thing is to make sure you can effectively fight one person first before you try to take on ten or twenty opponents.
  • ‘Ground fighting is suicidal in a real fight’ – It is important to have some grappling and ground fighting experience as it is pretty much unavoidable in a real fight. Some styles avoid grappling because the idea is to avoid going to the ground. That is a good strategy for a street fight but in many cases you won’t be able to avoid it. For example, maybe someone hits you in a surprise attack and the next thing you know they are on top in mount position. It’s better to know what to do and be familiar with that position. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
  • ‘Our system uses a lot of Hair pulling, biting & groin shots’ – Everyone already knows how to do all this without any martial arts training. These are some of the first things everyone learns as a child & they can easily be recalled in a violent confrontation. The other problem with these techniques is that you can’t practice them realistically. Whereas it’s safe & easy to do some rounds of boxing or grappling a few times a week, it’s difficult to find training partners for some biting practice. Also, it’s easier to add eye pokes & groin shots to your arsenal if you are already a good boxer or grappler than it is to add high level striking & grappling if all you know is eye pokes and groin shots.
  • ‘Our techniques are too deadly for competition or Sparring’ the techniques and styles could be very effective and deadly in theory.  The problem is that the students have never really practiced them against a resisting opponent so it’s unlikely that they will be able to use them under pressure in a life threatening scenario. Although the basic techniques of boxing and wrestling may not be as lethal, at least it is possible to practice them against resistance in sparring.

So what are the benefits that might make training in MMA or combat sports more suitable for self-defence?
  • Conditioning - Good physical fitness is vitally important to survive a self-defence scenario. Even without great fighting skills if you have good strength and fitness you can greatly increase your chances in a real fight. MMA & competitive combat sports demand a higher level of fitness and conditioning than many other styles which place more emphasis on learning overly complicated techniques.
  • Focus on high percentage techniques – MMA athletes, Boxers & wrestlers spend hours working on basic techniques – jabs, crosses, takedowns, chokes and arm bars – all of which are simple but effective & easy to use in sparring or competition. When the time it comes to actually use the technique in a life threatening scenario the athlete has done hundreds or thousands repetitions against resisting opponents.
  • Fun - Training in MMA or other sports such as boxing, muay Thai, BJJ or Judo is fun because it’s not solely focused on self-defence and there are opportunities to compete if you wish. Training specifically for self-defence can lead to a life of paranoia, always expecting someone to jump out of the shadows and attack.
The key to making your MMA or combat sports training suitable for self-defence and avoiding unrealistic techniques is to ask – would I want to use this move or this strategy if my life depended on it?  

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Choosing an MMA gym

MMA is more popular than ever. There are lots of new gyms popping up everywhere. How do you choose the right one for you?
Firstly it depends on your goals. If you are doing it for fun or to lose weight, the most important thing is to find a gym in a convenient location where you enjoy the training and where you get along well with the coaches and training partners.
If however you planning to fight then choose your gym very carefully and take the following factors into account.
·         Quality Fight Team –Fighting is actually a team sport. The team consists of coaches and training partners. Without them it would be impossible for the fighter to compete at the highest level.  Make sure the gym has a proper fight team, a group of fighters who are actively competing in MMA. You need  to be sparring regularly with other active competitors this is not the same as sparring with a few out of shape BJJ guys even if one of them had a few boxing matches back in the 1970’s

·         Fight Team Training – Make sure there are sessions where the fighters can train together. Avoid sparring with the non-fighters where possible (although grappling is usually ok). Weekend warriors will often treat sparring matches as if it was an actual fight, they want to prove to themselves that they could actually compete at a high level as well and they don’t care that you are 2 weeks out from a real fight.

·         Coach won the state karate title when he was fifteen and has seen every UFC – Look for coaches who have actually fought or are currently fighting. This can be easily verified via Google, YouTube or Sherdog.com. There are some great coaches who haven’t actually fought in MMA themselves but for every Greg Jackson there are hundreds of unscrupulous Sensei’s who are trying to cash in on the MMA boom with their limited knowledge and experience. Check their credentials first.

·         Three Cages, six boxing rings and no fighters! - Flashy Gym doesn’t mean quality gym – Some of the best gyms I’ve trained around the world – (Vos & Meijiro Gym in Amsterdam, Paraestra & Keshukai Gyms in Tokyo) have been very basic but they have some of the best fighters in the world. Don’t be fooled by flashy facilities and expensive equipment, it is no substitute for quality coaching and good training partners. As long as the gym has a good standard of hygiene and safety that is all you need.

·         One more Rep! - Beware of over emphasis on conditioning training at the expense of skills training. This can sometimes be done by inexperienced coaches to cover up the gaps in their knowledge and might make you a little bit fitter but won’t really make you a better fighter. Don’t mistake hard training for good quality training; remember you are training to get better at fighting you’re not trying to be the best at exercising.

·         Where did these guys pop up from? - Check the history of the gym & trainers. If the gym is any good they will have been around for a while. Make sure that they haven’t just recently turned their Kung Fu dojo into an MMA gym to cash in on the UFC boom. Once again this can easily be checked with Google.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Running a great MMA show

I’ve been at more fight shows than anyone I know. From MMA shows to Boxing fight nights and everything in between. I’ve attended fight shows in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong & Thailand.

I’ve also been lucky enough to attend these events in a variety of roles. First off as a spectator, then as a corner-man, then a fighter, then back to being a corner-man and now as a coach. I've been lucky enough to have seen all types of events. Some very good & others very bad.

If you are planning on promoting a fight show here is a list of things I think could help…

  • Pay Fighters – Fight fans come along to watch the fighters; they don't come to watch ring announcers, card girls, interviewers or anything else. I’ve seen lots of shows where the promoters didn’t have a budget to pay fighters yet they could afford to pay for a ring announcer. After the show people will remember the really good evenly matched and action packed fights. They won’t remember if the ring announcer did a good job.

BUT, only pay the fighters if they deserve to be paid which leads on to point number 2…..

  • Research Potential fighters - I’ve heard of promoters putting fighters on their show based solely on a fictional fight record & Facebook fan page. On the other hand I know of one promoter who personally travels to Mongolia and other far flung destinations to watch potential fighters train & prepare for fights before he puts them on his show. If you want your fight show to stand out from the rest you might have to go the extra mile. This doesn’t mean you have to start jet-setting around but maybe ask fighters to at least send you either a DVD or links to watch their fights online.

  • Good Matchmaking – This follows on from proper research of fighters. If you go to a fight show and every fight ends in the first round by KO or submission, it means that one of two things has happened. Either you’ve been lucky enough to watch all the future world champions OR the promoter/gym owner has matched up all his own boys against the residents of the old people’s home down the road.

  • Don’t rely on fighters selling tickets – if a fighter is any good he will be in the gym every night training for 2 – 3 hours, when he’s not doing this he’ll be at home. If  the fighter you are putting on your show has 200 friends that he can sell tickets to it probably means he’s out talking about being a fighter more often than he’s actually in the gym training.

  • Look after the fighters – treat them like professionals so they will be keen to come back and fight on your show, they will also tell their team mates and training partners so you will have a source of future good quality fighters.

  • Proper Refereeing and Judging – Make sure judges & referees have a full understanding of the rules and scoring system of the sport. This will help to avoid confusing & embarrassing incidents later on. One promoter I know actually makes all the referees and officials study previous fights and tests them on rules & scoring. On the other hand I’ve been judging on an MMA show where one of the other judges actually told me that he doesn’t really know anything about MMA (he was a former kick boxer)

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Ever since I first started training in martial arts I’ve been interested to find out why some people succeed in their training and become very skilful and others start off with the best of intentions but just never achieve the same results and then eventually give up.
When I sit down and think back on the all the people I’ve trained with over the years I notice an obvious recurring theme coming up again and again. It is a combination of consistency and perseverance. The successful may not have made huge improvements straight away or had much early success but they trained consistently, they made a habit of turning up regularly for classes a certain number of times a week and worked hard to reach their goals,
On the other hand I’ve seen many people who have been very sporadic in their training, they would train every day one week and then not turn up to the gym for the next month, when they return after a long layoff they notice that their training partners have gotten much better than them due to training consistently which can be very demoralising.
So why is it so hard to be consistent with your training? Well, everyone has their own reasons ranging from tiredness, minor injury, loss of motivation etc. however the key is to expect these obstacles and then plan how you are going to overcome them. Trick yourself into turning up to class because you know that once you are there you will enjoy it, you will be glad that you did it because you’re on your way to getting fitter, learning new skills and taking another step closer to achieving your goals.
How to stay consistent in your training
Plan for your coming week on Sunday night make a firm decision about which classes you are definitely going to attend for the next week.

Commit to training a certain number of times per week e.g. two or three sessions and stick to it.

If you know you won’t be able to make it to a certain class, then plan to make up for it by coming to another class or book a PT session to make up for it

Keep track of your training and monitor it to make sure you aren’t slipping back into bad habits

Don’t make excuses or give yourself any reasons to fail and not achieve your goals

Don’t overdo it at the start, build up slowly. Start off by training two evenings a week and then build up gradually. If you go straight in to training every day you will burn out or pick up injuries.

Long Term BJJ Training

Eleven years ago since I got my black belt and I thought this would be useful advice for anyone who is in the earlier stages of their JiuJi...

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