Sunday, 1 October 2017

Tough on your Team.

Popularity Versus Performance

One of the great lessons we learned from sports coaching expert Wayne Goldsmith earlier this year was that 'popularity is the enemy of performance'. 

Popularity is easy; performance requires honesty. If you want your teammates to perform at their best you need to be honest with them even if this will make you less popular. You need to be tougher on your team than their opponents will be.

This does'nt mean trying to knock them out or cranking on arm locks in every sparring session. That would actually be counterproductive, it will not allow them to improve and may lead to injuries, which could derail their progress. 

Being Honest with your Team-Mates

If you care about your teammate’s progress and success then you need to be honest with them about their training. If your training partner is on a losing streak and you don’t want to see them get knocked out in their next fight you need to be honest with them and tell them that training two hours a week then going for a run on Saturday isn’t going to get the job done.

Wayne’s point was that most people would not be honest. They don't want to offend their training partner so instead they just say ‘good job bro’, give them a high five and tell them we'll get them next time. 

The Reality 

The reality is that your next opponent doesn't care whether you are a nice person and doesn't worry about offending you. He is going to be brutally honest with you over the course of three five-minute rounds and will highlight the areas of your training where you took shortcuts

Popularity is easy; Performance requires honesty. The more you care about each other the harder you will be on each other.

Tough Coaching

The same is also true when it comes to coaching. Most fighters early in their career are open to advice and constructive criticism. They want to be told where they are going wrong and what they need to improve on. They realise that there will be a huge price to pay if they don't fix up the holes in their game. The job of the coach is to identify these holes and fix them before they can be exploited by a future opponent.

Coaches Versus 'Yes-Men'

If the fighter follows the advice of the coach he will usually experience initial success early on in his career. But this is when something interesting starts to happen. Often the fighters early success will cause him to develop an overblown ego, he decides he no longer needs to be told what he's doing wrong and instead surrounds himself with people who will constantly feed his ego by telling him what he's doing right and how great he is.

This is always a recipe for disaster. The new 'coach' will either not be knowledgeable and experienced enough to highlight the mistakes of the fighter or will just refuse to criticise him for fear of losing his meal ticket. Either way, it will lead to fighter going on a downward spiral of worse and worse results.

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don't want to hear, who has you see what you don't want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.”

Strength in Depth

The best part of coaching is witnessing the improvement and development of the students who can't train full time due to family, work, school and life commitments but who still make the effort to turn up and train hard two or three sessions a week every week.
I never wanted a team where there are just a few star athletes and everyone else is there to pay the bills and make up the numbers. I pride myself on the fact that everyone who commits to training regularly at my classes will learn to fight and grapple well. This in turn will be a huge benefit to the full time competitors as they have more quality partners to train with.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

About Me

Denis Kelly is a former Mixed Martial Arts fighter and now head MMA Coach at Nemesis Martial Arts based in Melbourne, Australia.

Denis has competed at a high level in various Combat Sports including Professional Mixed Martial Arts and Muay Thai.  He has fought in the UK, Europe, Australia & New Zealand. Denis has also competed extensively in Brazilian JiuJitsu, Freestyle Wrestling, Sambo Wrestling, Judo & Karate.

Denis did the majority of his training at the famous Carlson Gracie Academy in London. In addition to this he has trained extensively all over the world including BJJ & MMA training in Brazil, Japan & the USA as well as Kickboxing and Muay Thai in Thailand, Holland and Myanmar.

He holds a Black Belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, Kickboxing & Krav Maga, Brown Belt in Judo , Certified Boxing Trainer under Boxing Australia & a Qualified Sambo Wrestling Coach.

In addition to his Martial Arts qualifications Denis also received a Business degree from Middlesex University London, Certificate 3 & 4 in Fitness, Certificate 3 in Sports Coaching & is a qualified trainer with the Australian Strength & Conditioning Association.

In 2009 Denis opened Team Nemesis Martial Arts together with Muay Thai Trainer Phillip Lai. In just a few years the team has produced several of Australia's top MMA & Muay Thai fighters.

As a trainer Denis believes the key to his team’s success is to constantly search for more efficient & effective training methods to continually improve his fighters every day.

Saturday, 17 June 2017


The Role Of Sparring

Recently I've been discussing the importance of sparring in developing the technique and skill level of new students. Will students actually improve if the do lots of sparring in place of actual technique work?

Sparring Versus Training

I believe that sparring is necessary but I have seen countless example of aspiring fighters who did lots of rounds of sparring every week but didn’t do enough actual technical training. These fighters don’t go far. They usually have very bad technique, poor defence, and most importantly they had no idea that they weren’t learning/improving/benefiting from the ‘training’ they were doing. They believed that if they just turn up every week to get beaten up by better fighters that eventually they will get better too.

Developing Bad Habits

It doesn’t work like that. Improving at any activity requires conscious deliberate practice. What actually happens if you just spar all the time without working on your technique is that you develop bad habits which become hardwired into your muscle memory and are then hard to break. It is easier to build good habits from the beginning rather than break bad habits years down the track.

Common bad habits that we see include, dropping hands when throwing punches, not properly checking kicks, winding up or telegraphing punches and swinging punches with your eyes closed. There are lots of these types of habits which you can get away with because you are just sparring with your friends and teammates and are unlikely to get knocked out or seriously hurt, however what you are doing is training your body to use bad sloppy technique which will cause you to get beat up in a real fight.

Balance Sparring with Technical Training

I believe sparring has a place in training but you should do a minimum of five technical sessions for every one sparring session you do to maximise your progress. That means if you are training 5 sessions a week then only one should be focused on sparring while the others are spent on technical skill development during class time.

Sparring is a Practice Test

Sparring is like a practice test in your Maths class at school, it’s not as serious as a real fight (your final end of term Exam) but it’s a good way to gauge your improvement and how much you’ve learned since the last practice test. If you just turn up and do the practice tests every week without having attended any Maths classes in between then you probably don’t even know what a PLUS or a Minus sign looks like.

Heres another article I wrote about getting the most from your Sparring Sessions:

Friday, 7 April 2017

Fight Ready - 2

This article was written with the help of Wayne Goldsmith who I have been working with for the past few months. Wayne is a sports coaching expert who has worked extensively with sports teams and organisations all over the world including Swimming Australia, the US Olympic Committee and numerous Football and Rugby clubs.

Why you need to Train Year Round and Keep Getting Better

I believe staying fight ready year round while constantly improving and upgrading skills is the key to success for any aspiring fighter. The fighter must focus on improving and adding new skills between bouts simply because as he progresses through his career he will come up against better and better opponents.

A successful fighter with a winning record will inevitably face opponents who have a much higher level of striking. grappling and experience than his previous opponents. The level of technique and fitness which was enough to beat the local level fighters he previously faced will usually not be enough to beat an international level opponent.

Stages of Fight Readiness

The first step in staying ‘Fight Ready’ is understanding the various stages of Preparation and Fight readiness. Wayne Goldsmith breaks the various stages down as follows:

·        BASELINE - (LEARNING AND EARNING PHASE)  In the "BASELINE" phase of training, athletes are focused on general fitness, flexibility, power, balance, co-ordination and the fundamental movements and skills of the sport. This phase of training includes exposure to a broad range of tactics, skills and techniques. Training sessions during the "baseline" phase may be relatively long in duration as athletes focus on learning new skills, building strength and endurance and laying down the foundations - the platform for long term success.

·         COMPETITIVE - (MASTERY AND SPECIFICITY PHASE) In the competitive phase athletes become focused on narrowing their skills and honing their "weapons" with an aim to developing a specific set of skills that are conducive of them fighting to the best of their ability. For example, in this phase of training, athletes may spend more time on kicking and grappling if these are considered to be the "weapons" that will help them win their upcoming fight. In this phase, the mental aspects of fighting become more important and athletes should be working with their coaches and training partners to identify areas of mental skill, mental toughness, concentration and focus that they can work on during physical training sessions.

·         WINNING - (PEAK PERFORMANCE PHASE) in the winning phase the emphasis becomes speed, power and explosiveness and on being able to execute excellence in technique and skill at fight intensity. Training may be a little shorter than in the Baseline and Competitive Phases but the speed and intensity of activity will be much higher as the athletes prepares specifically to win. There is a clear focus on mental skills in this phase of training. MMA athletes and their coaches should create training situations which "expose" mental weaknesses and provide opportunities to build and strengthen mental skills under simulated fight conditions.

Post Fight Period

An important consideration here is the post-fight recovery period. Experience suggests that the longer the time the athlete takes away from "baseline" training following a fight the more challenging and difficult it is to get back to Competitive and Winning shape.
Where possible, MMA athletes are encouraged to do something the day immediately following their fight, e.g. walking, easy bike riding, swimming, slow-easy yoga type stretching so that the recovery process can be accelerated and the transition back into "baseline" fitness can be smooth and relatively short.  

Recovery Block

Wayne Goldsmith recommends what he calls a ‘Recovery block’ of slightly easier training working on a new skill or weak area immediately following a fight.  I think this is a great idea because it gets the athlete back in the habit of consistent training rather than getting lazy or falling into bad habits.
This post fight period is perfect for working on a new skill (perhaps improving your boxing offense if you are mainly a grappler). This is the time to do it because there is no pressure from an upcoming fight. Also, you may have learned valuable lessons from your last fight regardless of whether you won or lost. This is the time to learn from the mistakes while it is still fresh in your memory.

Stay in Competitive Shape so you can easily get back to Winning Shape

The aim of this system of fight readiness is to keep yourself in the ‘Competitive’ stage so that when a fight comes along you're only a few weeks off ‘Winning’ shape. As previously stated, up and coming fighters need to be ready to take fights and make the most of opportunities when they come along.  There is only a small window of opportunity in the sport of MMA and there are a lot of talented athletes all fighting for the top spots.

Continual Improvement Instead of 'Fight Camps'

Obviously this continual training protocol is the opposite to doing ‘Fight Camps’. I always discourage fighters from doing fight training camps. Training hard for six weeks before a fight may help you to perform better on fight night but will not lead to consistent improvement. To be a great fighter you need to train consistently week after week for many years.
Six weeks can be enough to develop general fitness and some strength and power but real fighting techniques are complicated motor skills requiring hours and hours of practice and repetition over many years, you need to be practicing them all the time to develop flawless technique and acquire the perfect timing so that you can use them under pressure against a resisting opponent.

Stages in Skill Development

As skills develop, your capacity to perform the skill progressively changes. At first, you learn how to do the skill slowly as your brain and body try to master the fundamental movements of the new skill. Then, you repeat the skill with precision and through the repetition your brain and body learn how to perform the skill to a high level of accuracy.
These first two stages of skills learning can take as little as a few sessions or a few weeks. However, it is important that you learn to execute the skill at high speed, under fatigue and under physical and emotional pressure, i.e. the conditions you will experience in a fight.
Simply practicing a skill and learning how to perform the movements of the skill is not enough for a MMA athlete! The critical issue is "can you perform the skill accurately at high speed, when you're fatigued and when you're under pressure?"
Obviously this is something which cannot be achieved in just a few weeks leading up to a fight and requires long term commitment.

It is worth remembering that usually you won’t see immediate results from your training. You will only feel the benefit from it in months to come. When a fighter performs impressively in a match it usually has less to do with their training in the last two months and more likely a result of their training over the previous five to ten years

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Fight Training Mistakes

Here are some of the things that I see aspiring fighters do which I think are very detrimental to their long term fight career success.

What is your Goal and What will it take to get there?

Not having a clear goal of what you want to achieve leads to unrealistic expectations of what it will take to get you there. If your goal is to win a local level amateur fight you will probably get away with training a few evenings a week however if you want to be an international level fighter you need to be in the gym for several hours every day, week after week, year after year even when you don’t feel like it or are running low on motivation.

What Stage are you at in your Fight Career?

Not having an accurate idea about what stage in your career or fighter development you are are at. This leads to not doing what you need to get to the next level. If you are already a UFC champion, you can probably get away with just honing you existing skills and doing training camps to make sure you ‘peak’ for your title defenses. Top level champions have already spent twenty plus years learning and perfecting the skills of Jiu-jitsu, wrestling and striking. If you are not yet at that level, you need to be working every day to build those skills.

How much Training are you really doing?

Not being honest with yourself about how much training you are actually doing. For example, some fighters are in the gym for three hours but they are actually training for 45 minutes’ total. They waste a lot of time chatting and training halfheartedly while chatting to their mates. Its OK to have fun and be sociable but its worth remembering that while you’re chatting and having fun your opponent might be already into his third hour of serious training and that will make a huge difference to the outcome of the fight.

Are you doing the Right kind of training or Just doing what you Enjoy?

Doing a lot of the wrong kind of training. Wasting too much time on the type of training you enjoy rather than on what you actually need to do to win fights. A big example I see of this is fighters doing fancy tricks in pad work routines which look good but which ultimately won’t help them to win fights. You need to identify the weaknesses in you game and spend your time working on fixing those holes. This is obviously not as much fun as doing the stuff you enjoy but its what you need to do to avoid losing fights.

Are your Training Partners helping you to become a better fighter?

Training with the wrong people. Training with seriously motivated people who want to train hard and work consistently to keep getting better is tough but its what you need to do to improve. If you waste time training with lazy, unfocused and unmotivated training partners it will rub off on you and you will eventually end up like them.

Are you Actually getting any better?

Staying in ‘maintenance level’ rather than focusing on continual daily improvement. Some fighters get to a certain level and the are not prepared to keeping putting in the same amount of work that will get them to the next level. You should try to improve your skills by 1% every day rather than being happy to stay where you are.

Are you actually sticking with the program or chopping and changing every few weeks?

Fighters can sometimes be easily influenced and will often adopt any new fad or training method to get short term results rather than thinking long term. Probably the biggest mistake I see with fighters is that they change their training routine and preparation in spite of overwhelming evidence that what they had been doing is working and getting them good results. Once you have a small amount of success in any field there will always be ‘experts’ who will appear to suddenly tell you what you should be doing better. If its not broke don’t fix it. Stick to what has been getting you the results.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Burmese Kickboxing

I recently traveled to Yangon, Myanmar to corner my student Jordan Lucas in his ONE FC MMA fight. I love training at local gyms whenever I travel to corner fighters so this was a great opportunity to train in the homeland of Lethwei, the Burmese style of kickboxing.

I was lucky enough to have some private Lethwei training sessions set up for me by Joey Kyaw from Transcend Fitness and Martial Arts Center where I also coached a few BJJ classes. Joey also helped with a lot of the research and information for this article.

The coaches I worked with in my training sessions were Saw Te Aung a former professional Lethwei fighter who has fought over 300 matches winning the sports most prestigious title, the Golden Belt, in 1996. I also trained with Professional Lethwei Coach Kyaw Soe who has worked as the head trainer for some of the top gyms and fighters in the sport.

I was very interested to see the contrast between Lethwei and other forms of Kickboxing. I have previously trained in Muay Thai in Thailand and had several Muay Thai bouts in Australia and the UK, I have also done some training in other styles of kickboxing including training trips in Holland to learn some of the Dutch style and some Savate (French Kickboxing).

My first impressions of Lethwei is that it is understandably, very similar to Muay Thai but with two big differences. Fighters don’t wear gloves and headbutts are allowed.

The history of Lethwei

Myanmar has experienced many wars throughout history including conflicts with Siam (Thailand), China, Britain as well as civil wars between the states within the country.  Lethwei like many other martial arts, was developed during these wartime periods before gradually evolving into a sport.

The earliest evidence of Lethwei can be traced back to drawings found in Rakhine State dated 600 AD. It is widely accepted that modern Lethwei originated from Bagan, the former capital of Myanmar, where drawings of the sport dating back to 1100 AD have been found in local temples.

Kyar Ba Nyein, who competed in Western Boxing at the 1952 Olympics, pioneered modern Lethwei by developing the current rules and promoting the sport throughout the country and internationally. He travelled around remote regions of the country where many villagers still actively practiced Lethwei and brought talented fighters back to Mandalay and Rangoon where he developed their skills using more modern training methods.

Traditionally, Lethwei bouts were contested in sandpits before boxing rings were introduced in the 1960's. This was probably influenced by British boxing as the country had been colonised by Britain in the previous century. Although the Burmese adopted the use of the ring, they did not take on the use of Boxing gloves .

Lethwei Rules

Up until ten years ago Lethwei bouts could last for fifteen rounds. Often there would be no time limits on the last round so the match would go on until one fighter could not continue.

In the modern rules, Lethwei fights range from three to five rounds. There is usually no scoring system and the match is declared a draw unless one fighter is knocked out.  If a knockout occurs, the boxer is revived and has the option of continuing the bout. Scoring systems are only used for tournament fights where it is necessary to have a clear winner.

With Myanmar being isolated from the rest of the world for so long, the Burmese say they were not pressured to evolve their sport as their neighbors in Thailand did. I asked the coaches if they thought there may be a need to change Lethwei to make it more acceptable to an international audience. They told me there been no pressure or lobbying for the use of gloves or banning head butts and if those rules were imposed then Lethwei will lose its charm and uniqueness and become too similar to Muay Thai.

There seems to be a wider variety of techniques used by the Myanmar fighters than those typically seen in Muay Thai. As there is no scoring system, there are no techniques which are judged to be better or score more highly than others. Scoring systems will inevitably lead fighters to focus more on the high scoring techniques, for example using more body kicks instead of low kicks or punches. Lethwei is exclusively focused on knocking your opponent out regardless of what technique you use.

I was interested to find out if Lethwei had been influenced by other martial arts and fighting styles. The trainers informed me that all the techniques we worked on (which are shown on the video clips) were taught to them by their trainers and they consider them all be Lethwei techniques. However they could not be sure if these techniques were derived from other martial arts. My trainers told me that Japanese Martial Arts are very popular in Myanmar so they would not be surprised if some techniques such as spinning kicks have been inspired by Karate.

The warm ups used in Lethwei training sessions were actually focused more on functional mobility exercises rather than the traditional medium paced run followed by half an hour of skipping commonly seen in gyms in Thailand. I found this to be much more effective and time efficient and appeared to be another example of Lethwei adopting modern training methods rather than sticking to traditional practices.

Another discovery I made was that the inclusion of headbutts can change the dynamics of the clinch position a lot. The standard techniques and strategies which work well in the traditional Thai Plumm position need to be adapted to take into account the extra danger of headbutts. The fact that the fighters are not wearing gloves also allows their hands more freedom to move and manipulate their opponent.

Influence of Mixed Martial Arts

The Myanmar coaches were not concerned that the increasing popularity of MMA will damage the native fighting sport. There has recently been a surge in the popularity of Lethwei with more people eager to learn this style and Lethwei shows becoming bigger than ever.

Based on the performances I've seen from the Myanmar fighters so far in their MMA fights I am sure they will become fan favourites in the sport due to their style and fighting spirit.

If you are interested in learning more about Lethwei and have the opportunity to visit Yangon I can highly recommend Transcend Martial Arts located at Level 5, Junction Mawtin. Corner of Anawratha Road and Lan Thit Road.,Yangon, Myanmar

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Staying 'Fight Ready' - Part 1

Why MMA fighters need to train year round in order to reach the highest levels in their fight career.

This article was written with the help of Wayne Goldsmith who I have been working with for the past few months. Wayne is a sports coaching expert who has worked extensively with sports teams and organisations all over the world including Swimming Australia, the US Olympic Committee and numerous Football and Rugby clubs.

Stay Fight Ready

I have always encouraged my fighters to train consistently all year round rather than doing ‘Fight Camps’. I believe in constantly improving your skills so that you are a much better fighter the next time you step into the cage than you were in your last fight. Fight camps usually involve training hard for six weeks before a match which inevitably leads to slacking off afterwards until another fight comes along. This is pretty common in the world of professional MMA which leads to low level fighters trying to do the same hoping to get the same results.
The alternative to this is to be in the gym every week constantly improving and adding new skills to your repertoire and also ensuring that you are staying fit and ready to fight at short notice if necessary.

Baseline Fitness Level

It is easier and more logical to maintain a ‘baseline level’ of fitness and skills throughout the year rather than to take long periods of time off, then having to rush the development of fitness and skills when a suitable fight opportunity arises.
Ideally, MMA athletes will aim to never be more than 3-4 weeks from their peak performance fighting shape. To achieve this, it is essential that the MMA athlete remain committed to maintaining a "baseline" of skills, technique and fitness training at all times of the year.
Over time, this "baseline" level can be progressively improved to higher and higher levels so that the athlete's peak performance systematically improves over the long term.

Obviously it is more difficult to maintain year round training rather than going hard for a few weeks then taking months off. It requires much more professionalism, determination and work ethic on the part of the fighter, however, I feel that the ability to do this will separate the top fighters from the rest.

Using 'Periodization' for MMA

Mixed Martial Arts is a relatively young sport which leads to uncertainty about the best ways to train and prepare for it. Often this leads to athletes and coaches imitating what they see athletes doing in other sports. One example of this is the practice of 'Periodization'.
Periodization is the systematic planning of Physical Training with the aim of reaching the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year. It usually involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period, usually divided into the off season, preseason, in season, and the postseason.

Although there are elements of Periodization which I feel can be beneficial, there are several reasons why I feel this does not work as perfectly for Mixed Martial Arts as it does for other sports such as Football or Athletics:

Lack of a 'Fight Season'

Mixed Martial Arts is less predictable schedule than other sports. There is no clear calendar of events such as national championships, world championships and Olympics. MMA doesn’t have a ‘Season’ such as in Football or Rugby. Fighters, especially those early in their careers, need to be ready to take fights all the time at short notice. This is due to need for exposure which will help build their profile and career, the need to gain experience against increasing levels of opponents and also to make the most of opportunities when they come along.

Missing out on Big Opportunities

I would advise any fighter who wishes to make it to the top level, to be ready to fight every two months for around the first 2-3 years of their career, while also making sure to constantly build on and improve their skills between these fights.

Need to Keep Learning and adding to your skills

Another big reason to not take time off between fights is because there is so much material to cover. Even if you are already a high level competitor in one fighting style it is essential  to keep improving and adding weapons to your game. Opponents will study your previous fights to capitalise on weaknesses. It is essential that you are spending time fixing up the holes in your game while adding new skills and weapons from one fight to the next.
Compared to other sports there are lots more skills to learn and practice. There aren’t enough hours in the day to master all the various skills and techniques of Take-downs, Boxing, Jiu jitsu, Kicking, Clinch Fighting, Leg-Locks and more but you can make an effort to gradually add some elements of a different skill-set to your arsenal which gradually turn you into a much more dangerous opponent.
The fighter needs to commit to being in the gym every day, year round to keep getting better all the time not just when they have a fight coming up.

In part two I’ll discuss the various levels and stages of fight readiness and preparation.

Team Nemesis

Check out this short documentary on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt and Team Nemesis Head BJJ/MMA and Co owner Denis Kelly. A brief insight into who he is, what he is about, and what it’s like to be BJJ/MMA coach in Melbourne.

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