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Mixed Martial Arts Training – A Beginner’s Guide

What is Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)?

Mixed Martial Arts or MMA is full-contact hand to hand combat with competitors using techniques from a range of martial arts and hand to hand combat disciplines. Grappling your opponent, striking, kicking and attempting submission holds are all legitimate techniques in the ring. To win you need technical ability plus speed, endurance and explosive power.

MMA history

Mixed discipline fighting competitions have been around for years but the phrase mixed martial arts and MMA emerged in the early 90′s with the appearance of the ‘Ultimate Fighting Championship’ (UFC).

‘Vale Tudo’ or ‘anything goes’ was the Brazilian competition that can be seen as the forerunner to modern MMA.From the 1920′s onwards, these full-contact grappling events welcomed “all-comers”. They had few rules and one overriding philosophy – that techniques were only good if they worked in the ring under the stress of combat.

Japan developed its own version of MMA in the mid-80′s. ‘Shootfighting’ was introduced to cash in on kickboxing’s popularity and joined boxing and wrestling techniques in a full contact competition.

Modern MMA is responsible for popularizing the idea that martial artist should develop every aspect of their games to be the best fighter they can be. Apart from the UFC, other fight competitions include BellatorStrikeforce and DREAM.

Is MMA Training Right for You?

Are you considering MMA training? Are you asking yourself if mixed martial arts are right for you? There are styles of martial arts and hand to hand combat to suit everyone regardless of sex or age. Some are gentle and calming. Some have philosophical stuff and meditation. Some are physical more demanding and challenging.

In MMA, you will be rolling around on mats, punching, striking, kicking, grappling, holding other people tightly and sometimes very intimately in compromising positions.

MMA gyms usually teach a mix of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Boxing and Wrestling. MMA is physical, sweaty, tiring and incredibly satisfying.

Starting MMA practice

What is your aim in MMA? It helps to have an idea of what you want to do.

  • Increased levels of fitness and conditioning?
  • More confidence in yourself?
  • Better fighting techniques?
  • Better grappling, clinching or stand-up skills?
  • MMA competition and organized fighting?

Whatever martial art you choose it is normal to develop a better level of all physical fitness. With MMA you can feel your body getting stronger and more flexible. This gives you a nice sense of confidence which rolls over into different areas of your life. These are great benefits to getting involved martial arts and not more traditional sports.

MMA training will give more cardiovascular benefit than other martial arts if you are looking for fitness. MMA gyms are geared for training towards those 3 energy sapping five-minute rounds that you get in competitions. You need the stamina of a marathon runner and the power of Mike Tyson.

Am I too fat/skinny to learn MMA?

Without doubt it is possible for anyone to learn MMA. The human mind and body has amazing capabilities and you should never let what other people think tell you what you can and can’t do. The truth is if your are overweight or obese then getting fit to fight will be a massive challenge! Don’t kid yourself. But it ain’t impossible with the right diet and professional/medical advice. If you are skinny you can build muscle and size with the right instruction. MMA competitions have different weight classes so being lighter or heavier, there will still be a place for you.

It’s common sense also that your physique may decide which style is the best one for you to reach your highest potential. It is better to admit this and not force yourself to learn something that doesn’t fit.

Joining the MMA community?

Some styles give an opportunity for lots of solo work, katas and training drills. In Wing Chun Kung Fu for instance, you can spend a lot of time working the wooden dummy form. Of course you can always practice alone but many styles, such as – Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Aikido, Judo, – mean you just cannot progress properly without a partner to work against. Mixed martial arts are very much partner based training so by default it’s a very social sport. It forces you to get on with other people. You won’t be friends with everyone but you will get more involved with people on the mats. It is not a social club but there should be a good vibe and supportive attitudes, especially to newbies.

You’ve decided MMA training is for you

Once you’ve decided that MMA training is for you, then you should always go along to a gym and watch a training session.

Most instructors will welcome you into the gym or dojo if you are keen to find out more, simply observe the etiquette of the place and you’ll be OK. Ask questions! Whilst watching you can assess the atmosphere, levels of safety and whether people are actually enjoying themselves and the training.

Only you know yourself and what you might be capable of in the future. Of course you may be limited by the availability of classes in your area in which case you may have to travel. In any case take time and decide for yourself which direction to take. MMA training will improve your fitness, strength and fighting techniques and with this comes a sense of well being- all big positives.

Mixed Martial Arts Training Gear

MMA training gear and clothing, lets people know you are a fan of the sport or committed to the training lifestyle. But MMA training requires its own special equipment which is similar to other combat sports. This is to protect you and your sparring partner from injury. Here is a rundown of the initial training gear that should be on your list.

MMA cupCup

These are essential for men to protect the family jewels. Comfort has improved in the last ten years and modern cups come in a traditional and a banana type design depending on your where you like to stash it.

MMA fighting headgearHeadgear

Vital for keeping the head and skull protected from tough impacts, bony feet and elbows.

MMA mouthguardMouthpiece

Do you want to keep that beautiful smile? A mouth-piece/mouth-guard will keep your teeth in place. They take some getting used to but try wearing them at different times while training too. Just not out with friends.

MMA competition handwraps

Hand wraps

Great for protecting the hand and knuckles when hitting the bag, sparring and training competitively. Get wraps with plenty of length.

Mixed martial arts boxing glovesBoxing gloves

You want heavy boxing gloves for bag work. These are bigger than normal boxing gloves and condition your arms and shoulder at the same time. You can have wrapped or unwrapped hands underneath. They don’t care about protecting the bag unlike normal boxing gloves which are designed to protect your opponent and you.

MMA glovesMMA gloves

Lighter than ordinary boxing gloves with notably less padding. These are necessary for competitions and are designed with open fingers allowing you to grapple. Wear them during your sparring sessions as much as possible – you have to wear them anyway when you fight.

MMA shinguardsMMA shin guards to protect your shins when you spar.

UFC jump ropeJump/skipping rope

Apart from a pull up bar, this is one of the most useful all round training tools ever invented. Use it for warming up before a training session and as part of you general MMA conditioning program.MMA sparring focus mittsFocus mits and Thai pads

For partner practice without killing your partner. Focus mits are essential for practicing your aim with all strikes, punches, knees and kicks.

MMA conditioning Kettlebell


These iron weights are an amazing core building tool and very popular in the MMA training world. Kettlebell exercises engage many muscle groups at the same time making them ideal for whole-body workouts that build strength and stability.

At professional MMA gyms safety comes first, and many of these items will be available for students and members. When looking for a school to learn hand to hand combat, ask about what they expect you to have in the way of personal gear.

If you are serious about training you will want to buy most of this equipment anyway but it’s helpful if you don’t have to buy all of it yourself to start with due to cost.


What to look for in an MMA gym or MMA training school

You may have already worked out what you want MMA training so the next step is to find an MMA gym or training school. But what do you look for?  What are you goals long-term and where do you want to be as an athlete in a years time? The more you know yourself and your ambitions the better. You will have a clear idea of what you need to find.

But don’t worry if you haven’t figured everything out yet – don’t sweat it. As you train in hand to hand combat in mixed martial arts styles, what you want out of it will become clearer.

That’s where a good training instructor and community come in – they will help you develop and succeed. That’s why making the right choice of training facility is important. Consider these factors:

MMA gym locations and costs

Where is the gym? How much travel time? Is it practical working it around my life, my studies, my family, my job – you get it. Travel time sucks but if needs must you have to go where the training is. You will want to look at hoe the place is run – is it clean or real dirty and nasty like a mechanics? Clean facilities, mats, toilets, changing rooms – whilst it’s not essential they are spotless there should be a level of attention to detail with hygiene.

Costs come into this too. Three, four or five days in the gym and the money spent getting there adds up quick. Plus MMA training gear you want to own.

MMA Instructors

Who’s going to be doing the training and overseeing your development? There are no organizations that are currently standardizing MMA instructors or curriculum’s but you can research someone’s background.

For instance an instructor might be part of official groups belonging to their particular martial art. That would evidence of a level of professionalism and can engender trust. Martial Art Teachers Association (MATA) is one such group as is the National Association of Professional Martial Artists (NAPMA).

Also, like other professions, the best teachers aren’t necessarily the most successful in their field just as not all champions make great teachers. If a gym or instructor doesn’t have a huge trophy cabinet – it’s not the end of the world – they may be the perfect for you and help you achieve.

Researching MMA schools

A lot of MMA schools will run a beginners class or free first session to give you a taste. Besides being free, this gives you the opportunity to check the place out so take advantage. Google everything. Check magazines. Check MMA websites and martial art forums for valuable feedback. Previous and on-going students often post about fight gyms they’ve been to or attend.


MMA Training

How do you win in the fast growing world of mixed martial arts? Success in MMA depends upon blending workable techniques from different martial arts into a coherent whole.

If you take techniques from the different disciplines of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, wrestling, Judo, Jeet Kune do and others you can mix them into your own unique style. There is no set path to follow. Just the basic – striking, wrestling. This is the appeal of modern mixed martial arts fighters with unique skills that promise explosive entertainment in the ring.

Stick to your primary style – where you feel most comfortable and master it! Then include aspects from other styles to complement. If you are a natural striker make this your foundation but also build your ground game on top. If you are a natural wrestler at home on the ground then excel in that but study a striking art as well. You may be good on the floor or on your feet but what about in between?

“In order to win a fight, you need to know everything – striking, wrestling and Jiu-jitsu” BJ Penn.

MMA training for beginners

A coach will help you train in the right way, avoid bad habits, give you correct advice and give motivation. Begin by building up your skill base and find a local gym/training hall where you can practice one aspect of your mixed martial arts such as wrestling, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu under an experienced teacher.

There are three areas to focus on when it comes to mixed martial arts training. They are:

  1. Ground work
  2. Clinch Work
  3. Stand-up

MMA Ground work

Wrestling has to be a part of your game if you want to do well in mixed martial arts. Grappling and practicing ground fighting is core to victory. These disciplines useful for this are Judo, Brazilian Jujutsu, Sambo, Chinese Sanshou and Greco-Roman wrestling.

MMA Clinch work

Clinch holds allow fighters to start take-downs, throws and sweeps moving the fight to the ground where grappling comes into play. Clinching also neutralises many short-range attacks such as punches and kicks which are very difficult to do in a hold.

MMA Stand-up

Standup fighting includes any technique that done whilst on your feet – striking, punching, using your elbows and kicking with your feet or knees. Avoiding take-downs and working with your back against the cage is also part of your stand-up game.

MMA Strength and conditioning

If you want to compete at the highest level you must train every day to reach and stay in peak condition. This is what professional athletes do and MMA fighters are no different

Individual fighters train different ways. There is no right or wrong way but there are minimum levels you have to reach if you want to compete and win. Learn to pace yourself over the length of a fight is crucial so fighters learn to conserve their energy. Long rounds in the octagon demand high levels of stamina as well as power.

Varying your approach in your mma training will help. Combine weight training, cardio-vascular work,wrestling, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing and boxing to give yourself a fighting chance. Strength training and conditioning are necessary to build explosive power so combine compound lifting, progressive overload exercises and periodization. Strength and conditioning fitness training really is the key.

Training MMA for Competition

Each year, it seems the Ultimate Fighting Championship gets bigger and bigger reflecting the growing popularity of mixed martial arts and hand to hand combat among the public. Not only in America but around the world the UFC and other competitions such as Strikeforce, inspire and motivate people to take up MMA training.

You can train in mixed martial arts for fitness, self-defense or to enter competitions and pit your fighting skills in the amateur or professional worlds.

Learning how to train like a UFC fighter involves high-intensity workouts across different martial arts in the right environment and with great trainers. UFC fighters have skills across a variety of martial arts. While there is no set way to become dominant in the UFC there does seem to be a common set of styles that are evident again and again.

MMA training gyms

Finding an mma gym to train in is essential. Working alone without sparring will not get you far. But even though mixed martial arts are growing there may not be a dedicated gym in your location. You will have to tackle the disciplines of MMA separately to get the instruction you need.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu training

For your ground fighting game, Brazilian jiu-jitsu developed by the Gracie family and used by them to dominate the early days of the UFC, BJJ will give you submission techniques – chokes, holds, arm locks and teach you how to dominate with the side or full-mount (astride your opponent’s chest) techniques as well as fighting from the guard position (on your back).

Judo and wrestling training

These styles teach you throwing, take downs plus how to defend and evade against the same tactics from your opponent. These skills get you opponent to the floor, commonly called transitioning.

Traditional boxing training

It is hard to beat old-fashioned pugilism for stand-up fighting, punching and blocking in the ring. Most boxing gyms are excellent for teaching and developing speed with your hands and feet.

Muay Thai training

This hard kicking and striking art comes from Thailand and is popular for its use of hand, elbows, feet and knees to attack. Thai boxing has many strikes similar to western boxing such as jabs, hooks and upper cuts. Add to this the large of kicks including the low roundhouse against an opponents thigh and you will have added to your arsenal of fighting techniques. For alternatives to Muay Thai, try Kickboxing or Taekwondo.

Covering some or all of these disciplines will improve you overall mixed martial arts fighting ability and give you different strategies to use whilst sparring. Cross-training like this will benefit your MMA prospects but you should build a solid base one type of martial art and specialize in that.