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Evaluate Your Motives
There are many different reasons for taking up MMA. What do you want to accomplish with your training? Are you looking for a new hobby or would you like to have a career in MMA? Is it just a fun way to get fit or are you looking to get a Black Belt in Jiu Jitsu, for example? Is it about becoming a skilled martial artist and fighter and perhaps trying out your skills in competition some day? Do you plan to be the next UFC Champion or is it more about learning to defend yourself and getting fit at the same time? Would you like to become an instructor or coach? The answers to these questions will help you to set short and long term goals and choose the gym that’s right for you.
To be successful in MMA, or any endeavor for that matter, it’s important to set clear goals. Hopefully your instructor or coach will assist you with this process. Having a long term goal will help you set short term goals. This will help you to stay focused and keep you motivated. Remember, it’s not a goal unless it’s written down. Write down your short term and long term goals and, more than likely, they will become a reality. When you accomplish one short term goal, like winning a competition for example, immediately set another.
Before joining a gym, shop around. Find the gym that’s the right fit for you. Every gym will let you try out a class before enrolling. Do it. Try classes at several places before making a decision. Find an instructor who really cares about you and your progress. Find the best program and the best value, not necessarily the lowest price. Make sure the times conveniently fit your schedule. If you can do a grappling class and a striking class back to back in one night, this is ideal. That way you can get two classes in each time you go. If the gym and the mat are kept clean, that’s a good sign that the place is well-run.
Choose a Good School/ Gym
Finding the right gym for you is key to your success. If you’re an elite athlete in exceptional physical shape who wants to be a pro fighter, look for the gym with the most high profile MMA Champions in your area. Look for a coach who’s produced a lot of champions and focuses on training fighters to compete. If you make the cut, they can put you on the fast track to going pro.
However, if you’re like most of us, you’ll want to find a gym that’s beginner-friendly. You don’t want to be thrown in like fresh meat with a bunch of pro fighters who need a sparring partner. You need to learn both striking and grappling from a beginning level. It is very important to become skilled and continually train in both. Do not neglect either aspect of the game.
Look for a program with BEGINNING classes in both Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. It is also important in MMA to learn boxing and wrestling. Boxing is incorporated into a lot of Muay Thai programs and wrestling is incorporated into a lot of No Gi Jiu Jitsu programs. If they have separate wrestling, boxing and Gi Jiu Jitsu classes, that’s even better (provided you have the time to do all of them.) If they have beginning MMA classes too, that’s great.
All these different class choices can become really confusing. As stated earlier, it’s best for the beginner to learn Muay Thai and No Gi Jiu Jitsu. Do each two or three times every single week over the long term. A common mistake is to start training five or six days per week right out of the gates. This is difficult to keep up over the long term. For most people, this will lead to burnout and other responsibilities may fall by the wayside.
Make It a Lifestyle
Make training part of your life two to three times per week every single week at the same times. For example, you could choose Monday and Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. Make it a routine every Monday and Wednesday night and never miss it. Make it a priority. Never schedule anything else on those nights. Make Saturday more of an optional day. If something else comes up on Saturday, no big deal. Maybe you can make up that session on another day, maybe not, but at least you got your two days in.
After doing this for a period of about three months, it will become habitual. That’s what you want. Remember, the hard part is getting to the gym. Once your in the door, it’s easy. If it’s your night to train and you feel tired from working all day, don’t succumb to that urge to go home and sit on the couch. Drag yourself there and you’ll be glad you did.
Keep it Healthy
Martial arts is a healthy lifestyle. If you make it your lifestyle, you’ll benefit for the rest of your days. It’s a mindset you’ll carry with you in and out of the gym. Martial arts can help build confidence and give you a direction in life. Eat healthy. No drugs. No smoking. No steroids. No drinking in excess. No fighting outside of the ring or the gym.
Practice on Your Own
Someone once said “repetition is the mother of all skill.” This is a fact. Practice as much as you can. Shadow box. Do bag work. Do solo drills on the mat. Make friends at the gym. The best way to get good is to have a good training partner. Find a new buddy you can train with. Get together with your training partner and practice as much as you can outside of class (before class, after class, weekends, whenever.)
Invest in Good Equipment
The tools of the trade are: mouthpiece, boxing gloves, bag gloves, MMA gloves, shin guards, fight shorts, rash guard, head gear, cup, Jiu Jitsu Gi, focus mitts, and Thai pads. By no means do you need all of this to get started. You might want to start with just boxing gloves and a mouthpiece and acquire more equipment as you need it and as you can afford it.
Wear Safety Equipment
Martial arts is a contact sport. For sparring, even when sparring lightly, wear safety equipment. Wear a mouthpiece, a protective cup, shin guards, 16 oz. boxing gloves and headgear for Muay Thai sparring, especially a mouthpiece. A mouthpiece is about two dollars but a new tooth is about two thousand dollars. If your ears are sensitive, wear wrestling headgear when grappling. Wrestling knee pads are good for grappling too.
When you train, stay relaxed. You want loose, relaxed muscles. Being tense hurts your performance. All the best athletes are relaxed when they move. Breathing is very important too. This may sound obvious. The truth is beginners forget to breathe. Exhale with every punch, kick, elbow, knee, kick and defense. The same goes for when you’re rolling.
Warming up is the best way to prevent injury. Warming up at the beginning of a workout is more important in preventing injuries than stretching. You need to elevate your body temperature before you get into the meat of your workout. If you don’t have time to warmup, start with slow repetitions of whatever drill or technique you’re working on. This makes sure your body is ready to perform the technique at medium or full speed.
Stretching is one of the best ways to stay healthy and stay young. A pliable, flexible body is a defining trait of a youthful body. It also helps your performance in both striking and grappling. Always stretch after your workouts. In fact try to stretch before and during your workouts too. For example, if your instructor is demonstrating a technique, it’s a great time to stretch while you watch the demonstration.
If you neglect stretching, your body will have all kinds of problems in the immediate future and especially as you age. If, on the other hand, you learn to stretch your body you’ll avoid spinal and all other sorts of physical problems. When you feel a certain back pain, for example, you’ll know what stretches help to alleviate the pain. Get a foam roller too and learn to roll out knots in your muscles on your own. Getting body work done like massages is a great investment too. If you learn to listen to the messages your body sends you and take care of the problem yourself, you’ll be able to train until they “put the nails in the coffin.”
A common mistake beginners make is to go full speed and full power when learning a technique. Going slow is a great way to learn the technique and burn it into your muscle memory. As a beginner you want to get slow correct reps focusing on the details of the move first. As you get it down, pick up the speed and power. Getting incorrect reps is counterproductive. It’s harder to correct your technique after doing something incorrectly than it is to do it properly in the first place.
Train Safely, Train Smart
Martial Arts is about building the body up, not tearing it down. If you train safely and train smart, you’ll avoid injury to yourself and your training partners. When you get injured, you can’t train the next day. It’s counterproductive. If you hurt your training partner, you don’t have anyone to train with the next day. There’s no need to spar 100% all the time. You get almost the same benefits from sparring lightly.
When you spar lightly, you can try out new techniques as opposed to just trying to survive. Remember, the other members at your gym/school are your friends, your comrades and your teammates. A little bit of competition can be healthy but don’t get too competitive with your teammates. Help each other out. Don’t be worried about tapping out. If you get caught in a submission, tap out right away unless you really know how to defend the move. It’s not worth getting hurt over. Learn from the experience.
Manage Your Expectations
With MMA training, just like any other sport, you’ll have good days and bad days. On some days you’ll perform well and some days you won’t. That’s just part of it. Every time you train you’ll probably learn something new or improve at least one skill. Even if all you did was get a lot of repetitions in on techniques you already know, you’ve grown as a fighter/ martial artist. Focus on that. Focus on the positive aspects of your training session. If you learned one thing, improved one aspect of your game or logged in a lot of reps of familiar moves, it was a good day of training. If you tapped out ten times, it’s no big deal. That’s how you learn.
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