The idea has been beating around in your head for a while. Sometimes passively. Sometimes in vivid detail. The question seems to be palpable some days, written in ten-foot-tall steel letters.
It’s there every time you compulsively look up a YouTube video or bite back at comment to a friend when they use “UFC” and mean “MMA”. Could you do it? Could you fight? Are you tough enough? Do you have the skills? These are the questions everyone has when that ember of an idea takes up residence behind your rib cage.
Can I fight?
The short answer is no. You’ll get killed. The more nuanced response is, maybe, but how to get started?
Here are some things to think about:
Be honest with yourself
Fighting, more importantly, training for a fight leaves very little room for self-aggrandizing. Your street brawling experience is more likely to get you hurt than help you learn. Your high school wrestling experience will mean nothing against even an sliver of submission grappling skill, and your bench press will become a laughable, meaningless stat in an actual fight.
To prepare to fight, you must take a long look at what you are capable of. What are you willing to sacrifice? Because you will sacrifice. Your friends will disappear, family will scoff and your available free time will dwindle to nothing.
If you’re able to break it down objectively and are willing to go all in, you’ve got a shot. If you’re not? That’s ok. You can still train and you can still reap the benefits of martial arts. I recommend training to everyone. Not everyone has to fight. If you’re convinced you can do it, loose your ego and prepare to learn some very humbling lessons.
- Find a decent gym
Not all gyms are created equal. If the goal is getting into an MMA fight, find some places that train fighters and find a fight card from your area. Do a quick search on the fighters and find out where they train. Small local promotion companies pull fighters from local gyms. Check out the different gyms, physically go to the gym and check them out.Gym owners, as a species, suck at returning calls and emails. The websites simply don’t do justice to what actually goes down. Get your ass to the gym, and watch. Don’t jump in right away, observe. No two gyms are alike. Some go to the death every round and some never spar.A lot of success is determined by who runs it and how you fit in. If you’re going to put your life in the hands of a coach/trainer/teammate, and you are, its likely better if you find a place that is safe and fits your personality and goals.
Stop worrying about being in shape
I hear this one all the time, “Man I’d do that; I’m just not in good enough shape yet”. Here’s a bit of truth for you, you’re right and you never will be.Being able to run a marathon, does not equal fight shape. Having a shredded bod, does not equal fight shape. You cannot get “into shape” to fight unless you’re training to do it. Strength and conditioning are nice; however, they are supplemental to the act of fighting.The seemingly un-athletic mashed potato bodied regularly run circles around the male physique models. Being “in shape” is a myth. Just start. It will suck, but a good gym will start you slowly with people in your same situation, and you’ll grow accustomed to the suck. It should be obvious, but it escapes a lot of folks, you cannot get in shape to fight, unless you’re fighting.
“That’s just two dudes rolling around humping each other” or “that wouldn’t work in a real fight”. That’s typically said by someone who’s never been taken down, mounted, robbed of breath by body weight and then tapped out by top pressure alone. Grappling, specifically for those with limited to no actual fight experience, is an excellent base to build. You can train essentially every day (don’t give me this rest day non-sense, the people who need one know when to take one, most of us don’t train hard enough to warrant it, so just relax on that one), with minimal head trauma.
Head trauma, or the infliction therein, is one of the main goals of an actual fight. Learning how to control another’s body to avoid it, well that’s just wonderful now isn’t it. Learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or sambo, or catch wrestling will give the uninitiated a taste for fighting. You’ll learn fast if you enjoy the copper penny taste of total exhaustion, and the sandpaper ragged breathing that accompanies a hard roll. There is a clearly delineated skill set as well. You’ll be able to tell if you have an aptitude for physical conflict in a real big hurry as you progress in the training. Can’t figure out how to keep someone in closed guard? Getting your opponent off their feet and onto the ground is equivocal to astrophysics for you? Maybe fighting isn’t your thing. As for the “I’ll just punch’em in the face and not let it get to the ground” mindset? Great idea, chief. Spot on. Tell me what happens when you miss? Or in the likely event you’re not Dan Henderson and your incredible right hand fails to put your opponent into a coma? Against someone with even a little grappling skill, you’re in real deep water.
Learning to grapple is the first step toward stepping into the cage. It gives you a defined skill set, simulates a fight atmosphere and limits the amount of irreversible damage evident in striking sports. It’s the place to start.
Heavy bags are great. Shadow boxing is equally great. For a rank beginner though, get in the gym, get to the class, and hit pads. Bags don’t move, shadows offer no resistance and neither will you when you drop your left hand bringing your jab back. Learning to hit pads will teach distance, foot work, and timing. It helps with head movement and conditioning. Hitting pads with the right person can help you point out weaknesses and tighten up technique. Every knuckle dragging dim wit in an affliction shirt can throw a sloppy combo into a heavy bag. Hitting pads adds the element of another body in front of you with constantly changing range and seemingly random, unknown to you combinations. You’re not going to look like Floyd Jr. hitting while Floyd Sr. holds. You’re going to look more like a mildly drugged poorly coordinated koala, and that’s ok. It’s about learning the basics, improving your hand eye coordination and realizing that hitting pads all out for 15 minutes will make you re-taste your lunch. Especially starting out, hitting pads is the best way to grow accustomed to throwing limbs.
Forget about YouTube
One of the most cringe worthy statements good coaches and training partners hear is, “Hey, let me try something I saw on YouTube”. Just don’t. If any good coach sees you balancing a water bottle on a teammates head, prepping for that highlight reel high kick a la a viral video. One of two things will happen.
1. He will let you go through with it while he shuffles through paper work making sure your waivers are signed before the inevitable happens and he boots you for being an idiot or
2. He will halt whatever idiocy is about to occur, tie you in an intricate likely permanent knot and then boot you for being a moron.
YouTube and other online repositories of martial arts technique are great…. eventually. Initially, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you’re more likely to end up doing harm to yourself or your partner trying something you saw online. Forget about the flashy stuff, forget about the superman punches and flying bierembolos and belly to back suplexes and focus instead on what’s being taught to you on a personal level. Instead of trying to go for a 30 punch kick punch combo, try to remember the punch numbers in rapid succession while exhausted and throwing a switch kick that doesn’t look like you’re trying to kick yourself in the back of the head.
There’s a lot that goes into your first fight, there’s a lot that goes into getting started in MMA. Everyone sucks to start (some suck for less time and pick it up quicker but day one? Everybody looks stupid). It’s not rocket science, but it’s not tic tac toe either. Learning to fight in a good fight gym is one of the most fun, most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have. Finding where your limits are and pushing past them is an experience that’s so hard to find in these times of softness and ease. If you’re hell bent on finding out if you can take a punch, don’t let anything get in the way, if it’s your thing? You’ll figure it out real fast. If it’s not? No big deal, the training, the process is an end in itself.
To all the aspiring fighters out there, the worst that can happen is you get punched in the face.
Joe Rogan says something and I’ll paraphrase here, because I’m not going back through 1000+ pod casts for the exact quote but, “Fighting is three-dimensional kinetic chess with dire physical consequences. Regardless of the training montages.”
Written By Jens Nestingen
Writer and Co-Founder MMAWriteUp