MMA is a tricky, unforgiving mistress; there is such a magnitude of moving parts it can be hard to navigate the waters of what is a useful training method and what is not. Listed below are five quick “key” points that I have found to be useful in striking adaptation for MMA fighters, but also useful for the training of fighters as a whole. Have a read and hopefully take something positive away to use towards your own training methodologies.
Footwork is your best friend or worst enemy
Foot work in my opinion is one of, if not the most important aspect of fighting in both an offensive and defensive context. Too often fighters find themselves in compromised positions, both on offence and defence, due to poor foot placement/positioning, leaving them unable to defend or attack effectively. The best combo in the world is null and void if you as the fighter are unable to hit your opponent with it due to not covering distance correctly, and a knockout strike is harder to come by without the correct kinetic link in order to generate sufficient power.
On the flip side ineffective defensive foot work/foot placement can lead to being hit with shots/giving up take downs when slight corrections in stance/movement may have been able to nullify the opponent’s offence.
Far too regularly fighters fall into the habit of straight line movement, both offensive and defensive, making movement patterns predictable and more easily countered by opponents.
Another common issue a fighter may come across is incorrect movement patterns in where their feet cross leaving them with a compromised base, making both offensive and defensive options more difficult/less viable.
When training footwork/placement/movement a strong focus should be placed on enforcing correct movement patters i.e. 1 step back 1 step sideways (never following an extended line on retreat), never crossing feet unless stepping through for a strike (not walking feet through compromising stance/base, not walking feet across oneself compromising stance/base).
In my opinion fighters should spend time working specifically on correct footwork patterns, this can be done as part of a larger session i.e. part of the warm up similar to shadow boxing, or as a separate drill all together.
Good footwork is a skill, and like any other skill requires constant refinement in order to ensure optimal output.
Fundamentals win fights
Too often fighters (especially those new to the sport) get fixated on the highlight reel efforts of the top athletes in the sport. When watching these 3 min cut together clips of spinning elbows and jumping knees it’s easy to forget about all the other work that goes into building a complete fighter. Sufficient time needs to be spent on learning and refining fundamental strikes, fundamental setups and fundamental combinations.
If the fighter already possesses a decent fundamental striking game from previous combat sport experience sufficient time should be spent on the adaption required to utilise those skills in MMA, as there can be minor/major differences in the effectiveness of a technique between disciplines. As a general rule of thumb most fighters are the rule not the exception, and as such should focus on the fundamental techniques that offer a higher probability of success. “You are the rule, not the exception. Focus on being exceptional at the fundamentals and you can be exceptional at the rule itself.”
When transitioning between combat sports, and especially into MMA, it is important to understand the changes required in order to effectively utilise offensive/defensive techniques on an opponent. There are some easily defined variances, MMA’s smaller gloves means double forearm guard isn’t going to work as effectively as it might in other striking arts, low and prolonged bobbing and weaving leaves a fighter susceptible to having their face kicked off, Philly shoulder roll leaves the lower portion of the body open for attack as well as the far side open to wear a shin bone on the dome & constantly knee lifting (pre-emptive checking of kicks) opens up a world of takedown opportunities for a fighter to end up on their back (or head).
When transferring techniques between sports it is important to note required changes and desired outcomes. Understanding when or how to utilise a technique is the difference between success and failure when it comes to both defence and offence.
It is beneficial to learn and adapt techniques from other arts, whether that be honing punching skills with a boxing trainer, practising knees and elbows with a Muay Thai coach or trying some kick work with a Karate Sensei, the most important aspect of any of the separate martial art/skill work should always be whether or not the technique is useful/usable/adaptable in an MMA context. Most techniques can be adapted, however it will need to weighed up whether the technique is actually worth adapting.
Fight style specifics.
MMA is still in its infancy comparative to other combat sports, and while it is becoming less regular there is still the presence of “specialists” within the sport, whether that be from a striking or grappling background, and from varying levels of success and experience.
One of the issues that can come up when working with a fighter who has previous experience is the adaptation of fight style specifics. As previously mentioned defensive and offensive techniques may need to be adapted to fit the requirements of MMA, the most common I have seen being the adaptations of footwork/foot placement/stance, distance/body positioning and hand placement, both in an offensive and defensive setting.
That is not to say that techniques need to be radically changed in order to work, in fact sometimes the more obscure a technique the better it will work (in the short term at least). Often times it will be minor adjustments that will make the difference, more importantly is the awareness of the fact that adjustment may need to occur.
Drill to win
Due to MMA’s comparative infancy standardised training methods are still being tweaked and tested on a daily basis. One of the possible fundamental flaws within the sport is the tendency to go as hard as possible as often as possible. This more often than not will be in the form of hard sparring, which is a necessary part of the sport, but can also lead to the fostering of bad habits. Striking and grappling are similar in the sense that a fighter will more often than not pick sparring over drilling technique, due to the fact that it is more fun (for the most part).
The issue with this however is that the majority of the time the fighter will rely on “old” techniques or worse yet cement bad habits, once the sparring reaches a certain level of intensity.
All fighters, especially those new to fighting, or those transiting between combat sports, will benefit from regularly drilling technique. This can be done in a slower controlled manner, or as close to a live sparring setting as possible, with utmost importance placed on correct movement patters at all times, therefor cementing optimal technique for when the time comes to use it in a sparring or fight setting.
It is especially important to drill fight/fighter specific techniques; if a fighter possesses superior grappling to his opponent time should be spent on techniques geared towards the fighter’s strength, ideally the fighter should not be gearing up for a “boxing” fight, but instead working on techniques that compliment his style.
On the flip side of this a fighter looking to utilise a striking centric approach should drill accordingly to throw strikes that accentuate the strong points of the fighters skillet, if your trying to kick someone’s face off it doesn’t pay to be getting thrown on your head due to poor strike choices or distance mismanagement.
Hard sparring should also be limited with the intention of minimising damage to a fighters brain where possible, a heavy focus on live style drilling can help keep a fighter healthy for longer whilst also refining technique for when the time comes to use it.
Hopefully something I’ve outline helps you become a stone cold MMA killer, or at the very least slightly more fundamentally sound.