So you’ve decided you want to start ‘fight’ training. You are not sure what you want to do but maybe you’ve just been thinking that you want to give it a go. You are not alone. I’ve always said that the hardest thing about taking up a martial art or getting into a fight sport is walking in the door of a gym. I know that it can be incredibly intimidating and off-putting taking that first step through the door on your way to getting onto the mats.
It’s not like trying out a gym…where you can just walk around and watch people on equipment and ‘monkey see monkey do’ your way through the place. Jumping on a treadmill or a stepper and following the instructions or pressing the ‘quick start’ button and just cruising along and watching what is going on around you is pretty easy and risk free.
It’s not like taking up road cycling or mountain biking either…where you can just buy yourself a bike and just have a crack at it and see how it feels. You certainly don’t need a coach to go for a ride that’s for sure.
The thing with martial arts is the unknown and I think it’s this unknown that both excites people and puts them off in equal measure. The reason you can just give the gym a ‘go’ or just grab a bike and take a ‘ride’ is because we’ve all seen people do it…we all have some idea of what these sports or exercise is like. The thing is….this is also the case with martial arts….whether its judo, boxing, brazilian jiu jitsu or mixed martial arts…we’ve all seen what they are about as well…and what they are about is ‘fighting’.
When we watch people in the gym on TV you don’t see every person tearing pecs or pulling hamstrings, when you are watching athletics you don’t get shown all the runners tripping over and sliding along the track, when you watch the Tour de France you don’t see every rider crashing (well…we all know if there is an accident on the day then it gets airplay…but you seldom see EVERY rider crash) but when you watch say boxing or mixed martial arts we all know what it is all about…it’s all about the knockout. It’s about the win…about knocking your opponent out, about beating them into submission or having the referee step in to end the fight and protect the fighter no longer intelligently defending himself or for the judges to render a decision based via whatever scoring system employed.
What I am getting at is that no matter what the martial art, no matter what the fight sport being shown…if you are watching it in the mainstream media or in the news…then what you are most likely watching is one competitor inflicting damage on another competitor in some way shape or form. That’s off putting…and for good reason.
Now some people might be thinking to themselves now…well if I was wary before then I am definitely not going to want to do it now. Well hopefully you will keep reading and I can try and give you some sort of objective view off the different sports by the end of this post.
1. The thing is…the majority of people who take part in martial arts never compete. I don’t have a problem with that. Some people just enjoy the social side or just want to get fit…whatever you enjoy and you want to do with regard training…that is the best thing for you to do because you are most likely to do it the most often. If that happens to be a martial arts of some kind…then welcome on board because martial arts can definitely be a great vehicle for getting fit and enjoy yourself in the process.
2. Some of the hardest fights I’ve had are in the gym and they’ve been against guys that have never fought before. I know a lot of people who I’ve trained with in martial arts in different parts of the country who are incredibly skilled. The thing is…they just don’t want to compete…this can be fighters ‘stage fright’. The fear of getting in a cage or a ring or onto the mats in front of family and friends…in front of a venue full of strangers is a battle in itself. Some people enjoy it…it gets them going…it adds to the buzz. For others though it can be absolutely crippling…the fear of it that is. I know people that have fought and completely fallen to pieces before my eyes in competition….not so that you’d know it…they looked ok, they talked ok….even warmed up ok…then they get into the ring and fight and lose. To people sitting and watching it just looks like the other fighter is better…sometimes that is the case BUT sometimes the pressure just gets to fighters and they can’t perform, they can’t do what you’ve seen them do every day in the gym. So in short some people take up a martial art and they train and spar and they become excellent at it but never look for a competitive outlet.
3. Then there is a group who just want to do it once….I would say the overwhelming majority of fighters in mixed martial arts for example have a record of 1-0 or 0-1 that is either one fight and one win or one fight and one loss. I’ve known people who’ve trained a year or more…or 3 years for that matter and had a fight and won or lost and who never come back to the gym. They do all the training…have that one fight and then move on with their lives.
4. Then you have the people that train and fight and for whom training and fighting is just what they do. It is a part of their personality. They love training and they enjoy the competition…they fight purely because they love to compete. I know a lot of professional fighters and I can not think of a single one that just fights professionally for the money…they love the competition…they just love it even more if they can get paid for it.
The thing is no matter what type of person you are, no matter what you are looking to get out of whatever martial arts you choose to pursue and no matter what type of martial artist you intend to become…you have to take the first step. Since I have returned to Australia I’ve been lucky enough to train in lots of gyms and trained lots of different styles of martial arts…I have done karate, judo, wrestling both greco and freestyle, boxed, done muay thai, brazilian jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts and I will let you in on a secret…at everyone of those gyms…all the people in them wanted me there and they want you too. I know people feel intimidated. We’ve discussed some of the reasons that people don’t even make it to the door already but it can often only get worse when people actually reach the gym because you look inside and see people punching, kicking, grappling, choking and throwing each other all over the place.
(I just realised I am a 1000 words into this post and it sounds like I am writing an article on why all fight sports should be banned….please stick with me and keep reading though…I have a point…and it is a positive one.)
The thing is…in every single fight sport you are only as good as the team around you. Although all martial arts seem like the most individual of sports in that it is just you out there or in there or on there…facing another competitor who is also on their own. It is very much about the team behind you that makes you the fighter you are. Every fighter is the sum of all the coaches they’ve had, all the training partners and sparring partners they’ve worked with but what was also important were all the people just like them that they trained with and learned with when they first started out. The camaraderie and the jokes that were shared both at training and outside off training. The social side that kept them involved and interested and gave them the support they needed on their journey from beginner to where they are today. That reinforced all the highs in the good times and that helped keep their chin up and get back on the right track in the bad times.
You really need all the people I’ve described no matter what end of the spectrum you are at…if you are at the top and fighting professionally for instance…you need coaches…most people have one or more people guiding them…a primary coach but others that have input and help improve your game. When you get to the top, the very top you are likely to have a team of coaches…in mixed martial arts for instance you could have a striking coach, a wrestling coach, a brazilian jiu jitsu coach and strength and conditioning coach and probably a nutritionist as well. You also need training partners…you need a mix of these…ideally you want someone better…their job is to give you a beating, making you rise to their level. You need someone worse…that you can give a beating to and try out all your ‘new’ stuff and try different strategies and techniques on without getting killed. Most of all you need people around your level…people to ‘compete’ with in training…people to push you and for you to push back. You also need ALL the other people in the gym as well for a lot of reasons…in no particular order:
a) Because they pay their membership fees and hopefully there’s enough of them to make the gym successful and that gives you a facility to train in, keeps a roof over your head while working on your skills, ensures that you have pad and bags and gear that you need to train with and importantly gives your coach an income.
b) You also need a volume of training partners…mastering techniques are about drilling and practicing…it’s a lot more interesting, informative and enjoyable arm barring 100 people 10 times each then arm barring the same person 1000 times. The other reason is that every training session can’t be a ‘fight’. Every competitor needs to slow it down, take it easy and just cruise through some sessions and get their reps in…if you are a novice and you are training with an experienced fighter and you think you are ‘winning’ or ‘owning’ them…then you can pretty much be assured they are letting you…that aside…everyone needs to have some easy training. Everyone benefits…the novice gets to improve and work on his game and skills and the professional gets some easy volume work.
I’ve been involved in lots of different sports in lots of different countries. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about martial arts in general is how generous people are with their time and their knowledge. I mean this from top to bottom. It just seems that martial arts is one of those endeavors where people really want to share their love for their sport and their knowledge of it.
10 things you need to know before you start
- Just go in. No matter what martial art you pick…whatever place you walk into you are going to be welcomed with open arms…
- Every gym and gym owner wants more members. Never known of a place putting out the no vacancy sign.
- Every member there wants you there too. Whether you are a raw beginner or an experienced athlete…they want whatever you have to bring.
- Once you start training…people there are going to give you as much help as they can and as much help as you want. They want you to get better and they have a vested interest in it because they want you there to train either with them or with people they train with. A rising tide floats all boats.
- Give it some time. You need time to get to know people and for them to get to know you.
- Martial arts has a huge turnover of people and the people that are regulars in whatever gym you go to have seen plenty of people come and go. You can’t ‘invest’ everything you’ve got in every person that comes in to train but if you show people that you are committed and that you are likely to hang around then people will start to open up more with you.
- You need to give the style you’ve chosen and the gym you’ve joined some time. It’s not like joining a normal gym where you can do an inventory of all the equipment and facilities and make a decision based on what the gym has and what you need. The worth of any martial arts training facility is intangible. It can’t be measured by sight…it has to be measured by experiencing it and you are not going to see everything it has to offer in a week or a month.
- Don’t get frustrated. It takes time…sometimes a long time to master even the most basic of skills. What you will find when you study martial arts is that you tend to have technique breakthrough’s…in that you learn a technique and you practice it over and over again…and it doesn’t work for you…you get more coaching…more practice and it still doesn’t work then something happens…it can be a small technique modification or just a matter of it ‘coming together’ or maybe just a matter of timing and it finally just works for you. So you have to be patient.
- This is just a personal request…rather than a guideline but please…I am begging you…don’t walk into the gym and say you want to fight in the UFC…please don’t even say you want to fight. Even if you do want to fight and be the UFC champion just keep it to yourself. Because I would say every gym owner and coach hears this once a week if not every day from someone that joins and train for a week or a month and then disappears for whatever reason. The best way to reach your goals…if these truly are your goals is to join up, turn up, train, listen, learn, enjoy and be patient. What’s for you won’t pass you by.
When I set out to write this post I was envisaging knocking out a 1000 words or so and reading over it now I realize that I could bang out 10000 words on the subject.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that I love martial arts…I love the nature of it…the combination of the physical and mental. I love the process…the fact that you begin with nothing and that every session you build on what you’ve learned before. I love that you never stop learning…you never get to a stage where you have mastered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Judo or Boxing or Wrestling…you never get to a stage where you learn everything. You have to start somewhere though. Walking in the gym and plonking down your money is just the first step and I don’t know anyone that regrets taking that step.