Monday 9 October 2017

Becoming a Fighter

Long Term Athlete Development in Combat Sports

Since the beginning of our fight team we have consistently followed a long-term development program for our fighters. The Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Program is commonly found in elite level sports but is often ignored in the world of Fight Sports.

Stages in Fighter Development

The first stage in our system is to make sure the students have a solid foundation in the fundamental skills before progressing onto sparring in the gym. If they train consistently they can then progress to local inter-club/novice sparring events. After that they can move on to amateur fights and then finally onto Professional fights. 

Why do we follow this structure? 

We want to produce world-class competitors not just fighters who can win at local level events. Some coaches don't believe its necessary to follow a long term system like this. They believe their fighters are already good enough to go straight to Professional fights. In my opinion taking short-cuts in this area may seem like a good idea in the short term but can seriously damage the long term prospects and growth of a fighter.

Learning about your fighters

One of the reasons we follow this Fighter Development Program is because we learn just as much from the novice level events as the fighters do. Coaches can learn the strengths and weaknesses of their fighter, how they perform under pressure, how they respond to coaching and instructions during the fight and what areas they need to work on and improve upon as a team before the next event.

Improving your coaching

Becoming an effective coach takes constant learning, practice and evolution. Novice fights are a great opportunity for the coach learn how to best warm up the fighters, what instructions to give before and during the fight, how to adjust strategy during the fight and learning about how the fighter copes with and responds to the stress and pressure of competition.

Development of the Fighter

Becoming a great fighter is a long process. Novice fighters need to make mistakes and learn from them. They need to try new things in an arena where there is less risk if it goes wrong. Mistakes in Novice fights are no big deal. They are actually beneficial because they highlight areas of you game that will need improvement before you step up to professional fighting.

The Cost of Making Mistakes

If you make those same mistakes in professional fights there is usually an additional risk of serious injury as you will be up against much better opponents. There's also a risk to your career as a professional fighter of losing your fight contract, losing your motivation and confidence and ultimately derailing your career before its even started.

Taking time to develop as a fighter

Novices are not ready to jump into Professional fights straightaway. Not everyone is cut out to be a fighter. Novices need the opportunity to figure out if the sport is actually for them. They need to gradually experience the fear, stress and adrenaline dump in a safer environment. The fighter can then begin to figure out how to deal with the pressure of competing, managing the stress, fatigue and fear and learn to not let these factors affect his performance in the fight.

Better for the sport

I believe it's detrimental to combat sports to have first timers fighting on professional events. The public shouldn't have to pay to watch fighters who haven't yet mastered the basics skills of the sport. Seeing first timers with no amateur experience fighting on professional fight shows makes fighting sports look amateurish. Fighters should have a minimum of 10 matches away from the public eye before stepping into the ring in front of paying spectators. 

No shortcuts

I believe taking short-cuts may seem like a good idea to some young up and coming fighters who want to make a name for themselves but will ultimately cost them a lot in terms of their long term development and future prospects in the sport.

Here's another Article I wrote on how to Prepare for your first MMA Fight:

'I've found that taking shortcuts will get you to the place you don't want to be much quicker than they get you to the place you want to be.'
Lennox Lewis

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

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