10 tips for choosing the right martial art for you

I thought since we were on the subject I would talk a little bit about the martial arts that I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in.

I am not going to describe them in detail…google will do a better job of that…I thought instead I would tell you what I’ve gotten from them and what I enjoy about them. I don’t want any hate mail about it…though it’s always nice to get email…I am just talking about my own personal experience.

By way of background…when I got involved in martial arts my focus was fighting. Fighting in mixed martial arts (MMA) so my training was based around that…the brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) I did with mixed martial arts in mind. The Muay Thai I did…you guessed it…I did that with MMA in mind and on and on it goes. As I said in a previous post…since I’ve been back in Australia I’ve been lucky enough to train in a lot of different gyms and have been exposed to classes, sparring and competition in lots of different martial arts but in every single one of them my focus has always been…how can I use this in MMA…how could I use this in a competitive fight.

So what I am going to do is just list the martial art…give you a wiki link so if you’ve not seen the martial art or had exposure to it then you can take a quick look. If you are interested in finding out more about it…then you can go looking yourself. Then I am going to tell you what I like about it and or what I don’t like and what I got out of it.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_jiu-jitsu

This along with Muay Thai and MMA was really the first martial art I was exposed to. I loved it right from the get go. I still remember starting out and I was explaining to someone yesterday at a meeting that when you begin ‘rolling’…which is the term used for sparring in BJJ and you are rolling with anyone decent and or more experienced than yourself and you are actually trying hard to fight for position or to not be submitted that it is like not being able to swim and being thrown in the deep end of a pool with one wrist tied to your ankle. You might not drown immediately but it sure does feel like it. The hardest thing to overcome when you start BJJ is your ego…if you want to develop…you have to let that go straight away. You have to learn to relax. I wasn’t intending on doing so but because it’s my blog and I can do whatever I like as no one is the boss of me…I’ll tell you my tips for beginning BJJ.

1. Train in the gi (that’s the kimono/pyjamas that traditional bjj players wear). I always hear people saying ‘I don’t want to train in the gi because I am doing bjj for mma or self defence and no one fights in a gi’. This is true…no one fights mma in a gi and outside of a mental hospital you probably aren’t going to have someone pick a fight with you in their pj’s but you will develop so much faster and get so much better if you do learn bjj and train bjj in a gi and here’s why:

The gi slows things down…firstly because there is so much more resistance in a gi…the speed difference between rolling in a gi and rolling no gi is enormous…particularly at the novice level. Secondly, because in the gi you have something to hold onto…sleeves, collars, belt, pant legs. Good bjj players can find or create ‘handles’ and gripping points all over you and they are either just there to grab or they can create them by just moving you in such a way as to create them. This ‘slowing down’ helps you both offensively and defensively. Offensively it means you can work on your techniques step by step…this helps you learn. It helps your offensive/attacking transitions…by having these gripping points and resistance between you and your opponent means they can’t just muscle out or slip away or just shake and buck out of position as easily. Defensively, you quickly develop a sense of when you are in trouble…for many of the same reasons I listed above. When you gain some experience you will recognise this all the better…you ‘know’ when submissions are coming….you know when you are 5 or 10 seconds away from being submitted. You know this because many submissions come step by step, stage by stage and at each stage you are either escaping and or getting one stage closer to being submitted. Now this happens in no gi as well…but a lot of no gi submissions are either ‘thrown on’ on faster….purely because escaping is so much easier with the lack of gripping points and the lack of resistance between you and you competitor. So by training in the gi you improve your technique…from an offensive point of view and also improve your defensive awareness. If you look at all the top no gi bjj competitors you will be hard pushed to find any who aren’t primarily gi competitors or who don’t train in the gi.

2. Relax. You have to learn to relax in bjj and I know that is hard when some big oaf is all over like a wet blanket trying to choke you but you have to be able to relax any way. I think this is the first thing you have to learn and it’s probably one of the hardest and takes the longest. It is so hard in fact I know and have trained with people that have been training for years and they still can’t do it. People for whom every training session is a fight. People who fight to never be submitted. People who throw everything they have into every submission attempt. These people are painfully annoying to train with and pretty much every gym I’ve been to has them. I could talk about strategies for dealing with these people at another time…the point I want to make is that you don’t want to be one of them. Relax and try to learn every time you are on the mats. You need to relax and enjoy your BJJ to really learn. If you are in a bad position and you are going to be submitted…tap…and restart. From personal experience what I do now is to tap…and restart either in the position a couple of stages before I knew I was going to be submitted or I actually ‘work myself back to that position’ so I can rectify my mistake…sometimes it happens again and I end up about to be submitted again…I tap and try it again. What I’ve learned to do is to relax…the only place submissions count is in competition and the best way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to learn from you mistakes in training…where you correct them….not in competition where you get no chance to go back and fix them.

3. Tap early and tap often. I know I am going to get a lot of abuse for this and I know most of the people that it is going to come from already but…as a continuation of the above…you have to relax and give yourself over to BJJ to learn from it. A lot of the submissions I get caught in when training I could escape from….not all of them…but a lot of them…I say this because a some of the people I train with are 40-50kg’s lighter than me and if I wanted out of a submission I could ‘Hulk’ my way out of it. I don’t because I appreciate everything I get from these training partners and if I can’t get out of the submission ‘technically’ then I owe it to them to take it like a man and tap and try again. I do this because I also train with people that out weigh me by 20kgs and I am certainly not ‘Hulking’ my way out of the same submission with them. When I do any training now I try to dial down the power and focus on my technique…if I get caught then I tap and as I said above…I try to either re start in that position and or work my way back to it and try to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again. Sure, I can get caught in a triangle and post up and put someone on their neck and make frame so I don’t get choked out and stay there to the end of the round or until I injure the person attempting to submit me through weight and force but what do I learn from that….other than the fact that I can stack someone 30kg’s lighter than me? Nothing.

4. Learn to be safe. Again I know I’ll get abuse for this…but I am giving you MY opinion…I am not a black belt…I am not a master of any martial art but I am telling you that personally I began to learn a lot faster and a lot more once I learned a very good safety game. When you begin BJJ…rather than trying to learn a flying arm bar….learn how to shrimp…rather than learning how to triangle someone…learn how to frame. As a novice your job is to stay safe and not be submitted. That’s your job. Stay safe, don’t be submitted and learn. It’s for the more experienced person rolling to make something happen. It’s not your job to throw yourself around and throw yourself into submissions for THEM. It’s their job to work you into submissions while or as a result of you defending yourself. So you should focus on maintaining good posture whether you are on top, in side control or on your back. While maintaining your posture and being safe you want to learn to improve your position and your transitions. If you can maintain your posture, transition and improve you position you will have an amazing basis for really learning and improving your BJJ.

So anyway…that’s my quick guide to beginning BJJ. Now one of the reasons that I personally really like BJJ is essentially all of the above and more.

BJJ taught me to have a game plan when I am fighting. Yes, I will acknowledge that in any fight the actions are dynamic and a fight can go anywhere but by having a game plan and a strategy can tilt the fight in your favour and if you know what you are doing you can ‘work’ people into positions which put the fight in your preferred position or where you feel most comfortable. This is the case whether you know your opponents strength and weaknesses or whether you’ve seen their previous fights or matches and know what they like to do or whether it is something you learn in the fight. BJJ definitely has helped me to remain calm because I don’t feel afraid for the fight to go anywhere…as an example if I am sparring MMA for example and I end up on my back with an excellent BJJ player I can go into safety mode and just look to remain safe…not get submitted, not get struck and try to just nullify my opponents attack…if I end up on my back with a less experienced BJJ player and I am feeling confident I can not only nullify their attacks but I can look to sweep them, stand up, submit them…I can employ my game.

BJJ has taught me to be methodical and to fight by numbers…what I mean by that for example is to work position to position no matter where it is…look to gain a position and improve it. I don’t try to race from one to another…a fight, a roll, a sparring session…from stage to stage methodically. Whether the position is good or bad I am looking to improve it.

Muay Thai

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muay_thai

I am going to have to stop myself from saying for each martial art…that I love it. From here on in lets just take it as a given that I really enjoy all fight sports and have enjoyed and learned a heap from all of them.

Now let me get this out of the way right from the get go…for all the training I’ve done and all the sparring and fights I’ve had…I still can’t throw a left hook.

The reason I bring this up is because I want to make a general point that I think is applicable to all fight sports…which is this:

There are going to be techniques in all martial arts that are going to be more suited to you than others. You need to focus on the ones suited to you BUT you have to be exposed to all the techniques.

What I will say again here for emphasis…I am not a top level BJJ player, I am not a great Muay Thai fighter, I don’t consider myself a boxer, I am by no means a judoka, I won’t be going to the Olympics for wrestling (side note wrestling has been removed from the Olympic Games) and not because there is no wrestling anymore. All that aside…I think I’ve fought enough to be justified in offering my opinion.

So back to my views on Muay Thai…my game essentially consists of my jab which I use A LOT…my straight right…which I don’t throw enough…a cut kick off my lead leg to the inner thigh/inner knee (depends on my accuracy or lack thereof) and a leg kick to the thigh/outer knee of my rear leg…with all these kicks thrown to the lead leg of an orthodox fighter or to the lead leg but reversed to a southpaw. I throw knees only from the clinch and right elbows if I have the clinch with my left hand on the back of your head. That’s pretty much it for me. I’ve done a lot of classes from as far north as Brisbane to as far south as Hobart and plenty of places in between and been coached in lots of different techniques…these are just the things that have stuck with me.

What I’ve got from Muay Thai is some toughness. That’s not the most important thing for everyone but it’s the main thing for me. It’s not what you’ve gotten from it or what you will get from it but it’s the most important thing for me. It’s taught me to stick in there and that sometimes you just need to suck it up and keep moving forward.

My tips for Muay Thai would be as follows:

1. Learn the basics first. I know this seems like a given but a lot of people I’ve trained with have appeared to want to know ALL the techniques before they could even do one of them proficiently. Like all fight sports good technique and as a start…rock solid foundation of the ‘basic’ techniques will get you a long long way.

2. Don’t race into sparring. Nothing puts off beginners like a shin clash or a decent leg kick even when thrown without malice. Focus on step 1 and then hit the bags. If you can’t do a 3 minute round on the bag while keeping your hands up…then you don’t want to be sparring.

3. You are better off and safer sparring with the best person in the class than the worst. This should be a general rule for every fight sport. The best person in the class can give you back what you give to them. They won’t be scared or worried about you. They won’t damage you under pressure. I would rather be leg kicked in training by a champion than a novice…control, accuracy and knowledge versus little to none of the aforementioned. You will learn more from getting your ass kicked in a controlled manner by someone good than from ending up in a fight with someone as hopeless as yourself.

I will also just say this as a side note…if you are interested in ‘self defence’….which by that way is a term I hate and have never been comfortable with then I think learning good Muay Thai basics is the way to go…I won’t go into detail but I think that 1. Learning how to kick and in particular how to cut kick or leg kick then sprint is an awesome method of ‘self defence’. 2. Learning how to knee and elbow strike in the event that (1.) isn’t successful is the next best thing to learn. 3. The reason that I say this is because once if gets to the stage that you are using and or NEED to know BJJ, Judo, Wrestling or whatever else you want to mention you are certainly in a world of trouble. I hope that everyone gets the drift of where I am coming at here?

Judo

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judo

All the following martial arts except for MMA at the end are ones that I’ve had exposure to and taken classes in but are not ones that I speak with any authority about…or should I say…with even less authority about than the two previously mentioned.

I will be brief with these…what I have gotten from my limited exposure to judo is this:

1. Grip fighting. This has changed so many parts of my game in BJJ and MMA game…from grappling on the ground to my engagement in stand up. What I got from judo is to not give an inch…not a hand hold, not a position, not a thing…I engage on my own terms or not at all and if that isn’t the case I fight to get it back on my own terms right from the first second. Just as an observation in relation to BJJ…this is something that is ‘bad’ element in BJJ in that there is almost a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ when people train BJJ in a lot of schools. I’ve not been to many gyms where rolling actually starts ‘on the feet’ and that in most places it starts with one individual in a ‘submissive/inferior’ position and the the roll commences from there. They bump fists, give up grips and then start to roll from there. The extension of this is that what you also see is people giving up a superior position….let’s say standing and looking to pass they lessen the superiority of their position for some unknown reason by passively agreeing to pass the person on the ground who is in the inferior position on that persons GOOD defensive/guard side rather than compounding the inferiority of the poor position by passing them on their side that their guard is not as good. Anyway…I’ve digressed enough. So yes, judo has improved my knowledge of grip fighting…fighting for hand position and in methods of ‘stripping grips’ should you lose that hand fight.

2. Footwork in the clinch. I’ve learned a lot about my footwork and entries to takedowns from judo that have made my takedowns easier and less ‘muscular’ by learning to gain more mechanical advantage through better foot placement in regard to my opponent.

Boxing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing

I never realised how bad my boxing was till I got to train and spar with ordinary boxers who proceeded to pepper my entire torso from my waist band on up.

The things I learned from boxing:

1. Footwork…mainly the fact that I had none and that I needed some. Now striking in boxing isn’t the same as striking in MMA. I am not going to go into a heap of detail other that to just say that in boxing you don’t get kicked and you don’t get taken down and if you clinch it gets broken up almost immediately. These facts mean that although there doesn’t look like there’s a lot of difference when you’re a novice that from very early on if you have exposure to say MMA and boxing you will see big differences in striking, footwork, posture and defence. Anyway good footwork in boxing helps you hit and not get hit and personally what helped me the most in my exposure in boxing has been to improve my footwork and balance in my striking…with modification.

2. Defence. Now I feel like I need to stress this again…these are my personal views not a summary of the sport in general. As with the footwork what I also learned from boxing was better defence. How to not only cover up but to change my angles of exposure and to be able to move my head and roll my body more effectively.

3. Body shots. I learned this the hard way. I learned about the effectiveness of body shots by being dropped to my knees repeatedly. I had an experience recently in Sydney where I was dropped to my knees more times in one round than I’ve been dropped in all my other training sessions put together. I am working on doing this to others more and more and I think it is under utilised in MMA…as I said…just my opinion.

Wrestling

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrestling

The best thing I’ve gotten from my limited exposure to wrestling is physical. It’s the conditioning that comes with it. Whether it be the speed and power that comes from explosive takedowns or the strength and strength endurance than comes from tie ups and positional battles in the clinch. I won’t mention anything else not because I didn’t get anything else from it but because the ‘physical’ element of wrestling was by far and away the biggest and most important thing I took from it.

Mixed Martial Arts

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_martial_arts

Now MMA is actually my favourite martial art and I’ve learned so much over the years from it and I consider myself so lucky to be involved in it.

Personally if I was going to take up any martial art it would be this one. I know it is not a traditional martial art but if you have good coaches and good training partners you will be able to get exposure to many of the other traditional martial arts and I think in practice you end up getting exposed to the best techniques in all of them almost by necessity.

Everything I’ve mentioned previously as benefits are things that I’ve also gotten and consolidated in MMA from stand up offence and defence as in getting my attacks off on my feet and taking as little damage as possible while doing so. To being able to clinch and engage standing up and either being able to do damage or improve my position and be able to use my footwork and technique along with my strength to get a takedown. To look to improve my position on the ground methodically and to either get a finish with strikes or a submission without giving up position or putting myself in danger of being put in a bad position while doing so. On the flip side it’s given me strategies and abilities to minimise the damage inflicted upon me when standing by utilising my footwork and movement along with covering up better. To fight back to a superior position in the clinch if I get caught out. That if and when I get taken down to be able to protect myself and either submit the opponent on top of me or to sweep/move them into an inferior position.

For me MMA is about putting together all the best and most suitable techniques for you and your body type from all the different fight sports available.

As per usual I sat down to write 1000 words and ended up holding myself back and not saying everything I wanted to or could of said and still ending up with 4000 words.

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3 thoughts on “10 tips for choosing the right martial art for you

  1. Another great article. I really can’t comment much on any of the styles other than bjj except to say that all the things that you said not to do i probably do….

    However as for bjj i have quite a lot of experience and have a few thoughts.

    1. I like bjj because of the mental aspect, by which i mean a persons brain can allow them to succeed. I am pretty big and reasonably strong, but not compared to athletes of my weight. I am not very fit and have pretty poor genetics from an athlete point of view. Yet the mental side of bjj allows me to achieve a level of skill that i would not be able to in virtually any other sport (except maybe pie eating contests).

    2. Bjj is, in my opinion, unlike any other sport/art in that it is truly only limited by the practitioner or the rule set they submit themselves to. It offers true room for human growth and development as it presents practitioners with real problems (with very consequences) on a daily basis and forces then to adapt and cope. That is character building.

    3. One other point, on this gi vs no gi nonsense… There area two points i like to mention. A. Both styles have their benefits, hut i would loosely say, no gi teaches us to attack and control as the opponent had less friction to deal with and can therefore escape more easily. Where as gi is better for learning defence for the opposite reason. B. For self defence i think the gi is more realistic, everyone wears clothes (at least where i live) and in all my time as a crowd controller i only ever used gi chokes, they were a lot more reliable than the no gi variations.

    That is my 2 cents…

  2. Garret,
    I’ve trained in 4 places in Aus…in Brisbane, Mudgee, Hobart and Melbourne where judo is taught along with BJJ/MMA. I did a fair bit in Bris and Mudgee and was lucky enough to be instructed by some very high level judokas there.

    Gerry,
    As for the ‘self defence’…I am with you on that. The point I was trying to make in the article is that yes, I agree with you….from a work point of view I use much more BJJ than striking as well BUT that if you are a 60kg girl confronted with a 120kg a-hole that ‘kick and run’ is more effective than trying to test out you wrist locks or judo take downs.

    Thanks for the feed back guys…this was just a mid week post. I have a proper post on the go that I will finish up over the weekend with a view to posting regularly on Monday’s.

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