Sunday, 23 August 2015

How important is your team for success in MMA?


Boxing Vs MMA : Teams


One of the major differences between professional Boxing and MMA is the emphasis on teams rather than on the individual fighters. In boxing everyone knows all about Mayweather and Pacquiao but not too much about their training partners. It's usually the opposite in MMA. If there is one successful fighter from a team there are usually plenty more where they came from.


This has been the case right from the start. The first major team that had a lot of success was the Lions Den which featured Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock, Guy Mezger and many others. Following on from their example many other successful teams came along over the years such as Miletich Fighting Systems (Pat Miletich, Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver), Chute Box (Pele, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua), Team Punishment (Tito Ortitz, Chuck Liddell, Ricco Rodriguez) and Brazilian Top Team (Nogueria Brothers, Mario Sperry, Ricardo Arona).

The Team System

The team system has worked so well that pretty much all the successful fighters in the history of MMA can trace their success back to being part of a successful team. This has continued up to the present day with the results of teams such as Jacksons MMA, Roufus Sport, AKA and Tristar Gym.

The career trajectory of a professional boxer is usually a lot different. Boxers typically start off at an amateur club where they are taught by volunteers a few evenings a week. If they ever become good enough to turn professional they will need to hire full time trainers and managers. They will also  need to pay sparring partners to come in and help them prepare for fights. The big difference here is that in MMA the sparring partners are usually working together to help each other improve. Boxing sparring partners are just there for the benefit of the star fighter. The sparring partners are not told to ‘look after’ each other. In some cases sparring partners would get paid a bonus if they could knock out the star fighter in training.

Iron Sharpens Iron

MMA camps usually consist of teams of people who train together all year round not just before fights. All members of the team try to improve each other and develop the others skills especially in sparring. In the long term this will lead to each fighter having better and more skilled training partners to train with. In professional boxing all of the sparring partners are just there to improve the big name boxer. The star boxer isn’t really concerned with developing the skills of the sparring partners.

Right from the beginning MMA has been a team focused sport. Pretty much all the champions in UFC and Pride have come through the tried and tested team system. Over the years there have been a few examples of MMA ‘superstars’ who tried to follow the professional boxing model instead such as Brock Lesnar and Alastair Overreem. These fighters usually have very limited success when they try to break away from the team system and are eventually faced with either retiring from the sport or returning to a successful team.

Advantages of a Team

What are the advantages of a team? Firstly, you get out what you put in. If you turn up consistently and train hard with a good, helpful attitude you will have good training partners who will in turn help you to develop into an even better fighter. If you come to the gym sporadically, train with the wrong attitude and injure your training partners nobody will be willing to train with you. This will make it very difficult to be successful as a fighter. You will be faced with the option of having to pay sparring partners. However MMA fighters don’t get paid enough to justify paying sparring partners and there aren’t really any MMA sparring partners for hire like there are in professional boxing.

Another advantage is that it is possible to produce multiple good fighters using the team system rather than just being focused on one person. This is because the trainers, sparring partners, training systems and structure remain consistent and if they have produced good results for one person then they can continue to reproduce the same results and success for others.

When a fighter steps into the ring or cage they are in there on their own but what happens and how they perform once the bell rings is determined by the team that they have been surrounded by up until that point.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Why Fighters Lose MMA Fights



Here are some of the most common ways in which fighters sabotage their potential success in the sport of MMA.

1. Training with coaches who don't understand the sport of MMA. The coach may be skilled in individual areas such as striking or BJJ but lack the ability and experience to prepare fighters properly for MMA.


2. Failing to fix the holes in your game and being too reliant on one skill set. An MMA fighter needs to be skilled in the areas of striking, takedowns and groundwork and be able to combine them. Focusing on only one area at the expense of other skills will leave holes in your game which will be easily exploited by opponents.


3. Jumping into professional level fights too soon without adequate amateur experience. Amateur fights are necessary to develop and build up your skills and experience. Its very important not to fight above your level too soon as a bad loss may be very demoralizing and affect your future training and performance in fights.


4. Failing to get experience in individual combat sports such as kickboxing and BJJ before fighting in MMA. Competing in other combat sports is a good safe way to gain valuable experience and develop your skills so that you are more well rounded and more of a threat when you fight in MMA.


5. Too much Sparring - Focusing exclusively on sparring rather than taking the time to develop your skills in each range. Making an effort to develop your BJJ, Wrestling or Muay Thai skills individually will give you more weapons to use in when you fight.


6. Avoiding MMA sparring - MMA sparring is necessary to simulate what will happen in the fight. Grappling and Kickboxing sparring will only get you so far. MMA sparring is necessary to bridge the gap between ranges and teach you how combine your skills.


7. Too much conditioning training at the expense of skill development training. It won't matter how good your strength or cardio is if you are making basic mistakes which could lead to losing a fight and which could be corrected with proper technical training.


8. Neglecting your conditioning and hoping that you'll be able to get by on skills alone. The fighter needs to prepare for the worst case scenario. This means being prepared to push the pace throughout the duration of the fight without being afraid of getting tired.


9. Not getting enough information about their opponent. Fighters need to find out as much information as possible about their upcoming opponent such as their strengths and weaknesses or how they have won or lost their previous fights. This information can give the fighter a huge advantage over the opponent.


10. Inadequate mental preparation - ignoring the nerves and pressure of the upcoming fight until its too late rather than mentally preparing for the fight so that you are ready to deal with the stress before the fight and calm and focused when the fight starts.



'One thing I have learned as a competitor is that there are clear distinctions between what it takes to be decent, what it takes to be good, what it takes to be great, and what it takes to be among the best. If your goal is to be mediocre, then you have a considerable margin for error... If you hurt your toe , you can take six weeks watching TV and eating potato chips, most people think of injuries as setbacks, something they have to recover from or deal with... every time I tweak my body well intentioned people suggest that I take a few weeks off training. What they don't realize is that If I were to stop training whenever something hurt, I would spend my whole year on the couch. Almost without exception I am back on the mats the next day figuring out how to use my new situation to heighten elements of my game. If I want to be the best I have to take risks that others would avoid, always optimizing the learning potential of the moment and turning adversity to my advantage.'

Josh Waitzkin - The Art of Learning.



Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Mental Tougness in Combat Sports


Here is a short interview which I recently did with one of my clients who is completing a sports science degree regarding mental toughness and mental preparation in combat sports. 


How do you define "mental toughness"? 

I would define mental toughness in sports as ability to reproduce an athletes best performance under adverse & unfavorable conditions such as stress, pain or fear of injury. 

What do you believe contributes to mental toughness (e.g. nature vs. nurture, experiences, environments, upbringing)? 

The main contributing factor in developing mental toughness is gaining experience in overcoming obstacles. When an athlete repeatedly comes up against tough experiences and is able to overcome them he will develop mental toughness & confidence which will help him overcome further challenges & tough experiences in the future. It is important that an athlete is gradually tested against tougher opposition. In terms of combat sports this would mean starting off sparring against opponents who are on a similar or lower level and then gradually increasing the level of sparring partners as the athletes confidence & ability increases. It is important that the athlete is not just continually sparring people who he can beat & don’t present a challenge. This may boost his confidence but will give him a false sense of security & his lack of mental toughness will be exposed when he comes up against tougher opposition. The other side of this is that if the athlete is sparring against opponents who are too experienced for him it may be detrimental and lead to him losing confidence in his abilities and ruin his potential for developing mental toughness. 

How do you try to instil mental toughness in your athletes? 

To help build mental toughness in my athletes I like to use several types of sparring drills & exercises, these may include. 
  • Line ups - these involve sparring against a group of fresh opponents one after another. This is tough for the athlete as he is already fatigued from the previous rounds & needs to still perform well against fresh opponents. 
  • Fight Simulation Drills / Circuits - This involves placing the athlete in a series of disadvantageous positions for a set period of time which he must escape from or complete a set task before progressing to the next station. 
  • Winner Stays On Sparring - This involves a group of sparring partners & an objective such as scoring a take-down or submission, this will result in the winner then having to spar against a new opponent & trying to stay in against new opponents for as long as possible. 
  • Conditioning exercises such as sprints or 'burpees' done at the end of the training session when the athlete is already fatigued and trying to get the athlete to keep going & outworking his training partners. 

Do you think there are any downfalls to being mentally tough? 

Athletes who are very mentally tough may be likely to push themselves to extreme lengths and may take excessive risks such as continuing to train or compete in-spite of injury. There is also a risk in combat sports that an athlete may allow himself to take excessive punishment rather than quitting. This is obviously very dangerous and can be fatal in some cases.



Thursday, 30 July 2015

How to improve your BJJ Training

Every JiuJitsu Student wants to improve their skill level and reach their full potential. Everyone has different goals and ambitions, they might aspire to be world champions, achieve a black belt or maybe just to land a submission on one particularly tough training partner.

BJJ is a very efficient form of martial art so it follows that if you keep training then you will improve and develop your skills but what if you want to maximise your potential?



The best case scenario:


The optimal conditions for BJJ training where an athlete has unlimited time, money and resources would be as follows :
· 6 hours of BJJ training per day 5 days per week (plus additional strength and conditioning training.)
· Structured one on one session with an experienced coach every day who analyses videos of your sparring matches and videos of upcoming opponents then shows you exactly what you did right and wrong and what you need to work on and improve.
· 2 hours each day practicing the techniques suggested by the coach with a drilling partner under the supervision of the coach to ensure you are performing every repetition perfectly.
· 2 hours of sparring against training partners of a similar or higher level than yourself. Using timed rounds to simulate competition conditions.
· Ideally you would be competing regularly (almost every weekend ) and periodising your competition schedule so that you peak for the most important competitions and use the smaller events as tests and practice matches. The reality:
However, the reality is that BJJ is an amateur sport with very few full time athletes. The vast majority of BJJ students and most competitors train recreationally so the conditions described above are usually impossible. The more realistic scenario is that...
· Most BJJ students are able to train a maximum of 3 times per week due to commitments like work and family.
· BJJ classes are not usually structured in a way that maximises competitive improvement for each student. Most recreational students want to learn new and interesting techniques each time they come to class. If each session was just focused on drilling the few high percentage techniques that win matches it would make the classes boring and after a few weeks students would stop showing up for class.
· There are so many positions and techniques to cover that there is insufficient time to practice all of them effectively. Your instructor may show an important guard pass at four sessions during the month, but if you miss one of those classes then you may only get to practice that important technique for a total of 15 – 20 minutes in one month which obviously isn’t enough.
· Most BJJ students don’t get the opportunity to compete very often. This makes it difficult to determine if they are improving and progressing. Sparring with your training partners is usually not a good indicator of progress.
· Most BJJ students don’t have enough time to attend classes as often as they would like let alone have enough time to do additional strength and conditioning training. How can the average student get the best results from their training?
In spite of these limitations some recreational BJJ players can still get impressive results. It helps if you are naturally athletic or if advanced students give you extra assistance and advice to help you improve. However, what about for the average beginner who wants to increase their rate of improvement? Here are some tips which you may find useful. Take Notes
Make notes on every new technique you learn, this will make it much easier to remember important details. Don’t assume being shown a technique and then practicing it a few times will be enough. Build Muscle Memory
When you learn new techniques you need to build the new complicated movement patterns into your muscle memory. This will allow you to access the techniques when needed in sparring. Here is a useful routine to help build a new technique into your muscle memory.

Coach shows a new technique:


Drill it with your partner in the usual way


At the start of the sparring rounds ask your sparring partner if you can practice the new technique on him for 2 repetitions to refresh your memory,


At the end of class try to get someone who isn’t in a hurry to leave and practice the technique 10 more times,


Go home and write notes on the technique


In the next class grab a partner and practice the move 10 times (this may be useful for the training partner too because maybe he missed the previous class and hasn’t seen the technique)

This method will help you remember new techniques much better than if you just drill it a few times then forget about it and don’t see it again for 6 months. Game-plan
Organise your techniques into a game plan. This will comprise of your ‘go-to’ techniques which you will always try to use in competitions or sparring. Get used to working off your game plan when you are sparring. This really helps because it cuts down on the time it takes to make decisions and speeds up your reaction time. You no longer have to sort through twenty different options of what move to go for as each position will dictate what technique you are going to use. Purpose
Set a purpose for each round of sparring. For example, one submission or guard pass which you want to use or a position that you want to practice escaping. This is more useful and productive than trying to win or to survive the round. Try to choose around three different things to work on in case your opponent makes it too difficult to practice certain techniques. It’s a good idea to not explain what you are trying to do to your partner as he may react in an unrealistic way or be overly compliant to allow you to successfully pull off the move. Just let them think it’s a normal sparring round. Video
Whenever possible video yourself rolling. This is very helpful as what you imagined you were doing during sparring and what you were actually doing can sometimes be very different. Analysing video of yourself sparring will help you pinpoint what you did right and wrong and how you can improve. Extra Training
For most beginners the activity that will give the greatest crossover benefit is to focus fitness and endurance. The simplest way to do this is by getting up 45 minutes earlier in the morning and go for a run. This increase in endurance will help you last longer and think more clearly during rounds of sparring which will help your BJJ improve. This is preferable to just lifting weights to get stronger which may make sparring feel easier but can lead to becoming overly reliant on strength rather than using technique. Goals
Set Goals for your training. Have specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based goals for your training. For example, this month the goal is to learn two new open guard passes, practice them 200 times and pull each one off in sparring at least once per class by the end of the month. Don’t be too competitive
When practising new techniques in sparring you may risk ending up in bad positions or you may get submitted. Don’t let this deter you from attempting new techniques and don’t allow your ego to hinder long term improvement. Use the information to determine where you went wrong to improve for next time. Choose your training partners
Practice your new techniques against less experienced partners until you are proficient at them and then try them against more challenging sparring partners. If you try to use techniques that you have not yet mastered against experienced opponents you could easily get shut down and miss the chance to practice anything. Keep track of your progress
Finally, keep track of your progress and monitor what is working, what is not working, how many submissions, guard passes and escapes you are successfully pulling off. This will provide an idea of whether your training is moving in the right direction and what you need to change or do differently.



Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Getting Better Faster

Speed up your Learning Curve with Isolation Sparring





Finding Better Ways to Train


Throughout my martial arts training and especially since I’ve been coaching I’ve been interested in investigating more efficient ways of training. I’ve never been convinced by people who say ‘this is the way they’ve trained in Japan/Thailand/Brazil etc. for 100’s of years’. Interestingly this doesn’t happen in other sports. Golf coaches don’t stick to the same coaching methods that were used in 15th Century Scotland, Soccer and Rugby coaches don’t use the same training methods that they used 100 years ago so why should training for Martial Arts and Combat Sports be different.



In my opinion a lot of traditional training methods such as (in the case of striking sports) doing 30 minutes of skipping, endless rounds of bag-work and then live sparring are inefficient. The majority of people who train in this way will not enjoy the training, they will not make any progress and will eventually drop off and quit. If only a tiny percentage of the people are getting any measurable results it indicates that there is a fault in the process.



Using techniques against Resistance


Another problem is that students spend a long time learning techniques and are often able to perform these moves perfectly on the punch bag or against an un-resisting partner but then as soon as they try to spar it all goes out the window.

One alternative which can be fun for the new student is to not spend too much time practicing technical skills and just do lots of sparring to get used to the speed and pressure right from the start. This often leads to the student not spending enough time actually practicing and perfecting techniques and instead relying on instinct and athleticism. They may also fall into the trap of becoming over reliant on their favourite techniques and avoiding their weak areas. This can leave huge holes in their game which may be easily exploited in the future by more experienced and well rounded opponents.

Speeding up Reaction Time


Another major problem that students experience in sparring is remembering which technique to do at which time. At the end the round the student realises that they could have used a specific technique which they had been practicing for all of last week. Too many techniques and positions at the early stage means there is too much to think about which slows down the students reaction speed and decision making.

The best way I've found to overcome these issues and to bridge the gap between practicing techniques and then using those techniques in sparring is to use a concept which I borrowed from the Straight Blast Gym. It is called Isolation training and involves zeroing in on just one aspect or skill and focusing on improving it under sparring conditions.

Isolation Boxing Sparring


An example of how this works can be seen in boxing sparring. A group of students have just spent the class working on their jabs and then moved onto slipping jabs, head movement and counters. Now if they go straight into boxing sparring it is likely that everything they have been working on will go out the window, they will be throwing lazy jabs and forgetting how to slip. The alternative is that we go into 'Jab Only Isolation Sparring'. I have found that this leads to much better results as there is less to think about and allows the student to just focus on and perfect one aspect of their game.

Isolation BJJ Sparring


There are many variations of these types of drills, some of the most successful that I have used in the past are BJJ positional sparring drills. A good example of this is the side control sparring progression drill. One person starts off on top in side control and just has to maintain the position while the other tries to escape, as you progress you can add other variables to the drills such as the person on top cannot use hands, person on top has to switch position every 5 seconds, person on top has a specific objective such as getting to mount or knee ride position.

Other good ideas for BJJ drills are sparring from just one specific type of guard e.g. De la Riva guard then going back to the start as soon as either partner achieves their objective which could be getting a sweep or passing the guard.

This idea can also be useful for getting students working on finishing submissions and escaping from submissions at the same time. One student starts with the submission such as a Triangle Choke semi locked in. He then tries to finish the submission while partner works on escaping. If either of them are successful they just reset and try again or reverse roles.

Benefits for Both Training Partners


The great thing about training like this is that it's beneficial for both partners rather than just one person doing the techniques while the other is the dummy. Also, training like this can be better than sparring if there is a big difference in the skill level between students. In a sparring situation the less skilled person would never get a chance to do any attacks of his own and would just spend the entire time unsuccessfully defending attacks.

There are infinite options for these types of drills and are only limited by the imagination of the coaches and students. It is important though that that you don’t just do drills for the sake of it. Ask yourself is this drill developing a skill which is transferable and effective in live sparring and competition . The objective is always to improve real fighting ability rather than to just get better at drills which look impressive but ultimately have no crossover benefits for real fighting ( which is where many traditional martial arts styles have gone wrong in the past)

Don't Try to Win The Drill


Also, within every group of students the majority will see the benefit of the drill and have 'lightbulb' moments (‘oh yeah I do struggle to regain half guard/check kicks/move my head… this drill will really help’) but there will always be one who tries to ‘WIN the DRILL’ by finding loopholes in the rules rather than using the drill the way it was intended. So make sure everyone is clear that the objective is to learn & develop skills rather than just trying to win. Like the person in this clip.