Boxing Entertainment General Fitness Martial Arts Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Tae Kwon Do Technique

MMA Defined

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about martial arts and it occurred to me that the term MMA is confusing to many people. Parents continue to put their kids into Tae Kwon Do and Karate schools in large numbers while many MMA schools have fewer students and have to diversify to stay in business. And, there is still the occasional debate pitting MMA versus Traditional Martial Arts.

I personally started with Tae Kwon Do over 30 years ago. I love martial arts and therefore I love Tae Kwon Do, but I learned (the hard way, which is sometimes the best way) that if you study just one discipline you are cheating yourself and not learning everything you will need going forward.

So, what is MMA? MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. To some this means the UFC, because the UFC has spent millions of dollars spreading their business to every corner of the world. This also means MMA is tightly associated with (sometimes brutal) cage fights. But MMA is much more than this.

MMA has been around for a long time–long before the epic 1993 contest that put the Gracie name on the map . Anytime a martial arts practitioner used techniques from more than one style, they were doing MMA. MMA includes striking (Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Boxing, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Wing Chun, etc.), grappling (Wrestling, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, etc.) and ground fighting (Wrestling, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, ground and pound, etc.), but the most important part of MMA is transitioning smoothly between and amongst these three areas and many styles.

So, that means that time you got in a fight and boxed with your opponent who then took you down and you choked him until he quit, you were doing MMA. The first person to have international fame using MMA was Bruce Lee. Although his striking was amazing, Lee was aware that he had to know more than just striking to win on the street. This is why Lee trained with people like Gene LaBell, and Lee was able to show some of what he knew about ground fighting in his movies.

One of my goals with this blog and my book is to help people to be more open minded about martial arts and fitness. For people to argue about MMA vs Traditional, or MMA vs Boxing, etc. is really a waste of time; MMA is traditional martial arts and MMA is boxing. MMA is learning Tae Kwon Do and Karate, but also learning grappling and ground fighting.

I cover this and much more in my book, Martial Arts For Everyone. Thanks and best of luck with your training.

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Timing and Accuracy

My gym has a pro boxing coach, and I was watching the other day as he held focus mitts and trained a fighter. I was also recently at a martial arts school and watched a Tae Kwon Do instructor hold focus paddles for a student as she did various kicks. I was compelled to ask myself, do focus pads help you or hinder you?

Clearly you train with pads, mitts and bags to improve accuracy and timing. When your opponent presents a target to you by moving and/or striking, accuracy and timing help you to react with the correct technique at the right time to the right place. If a boxing trainer presents the focus mitt by only staying stationary and holding it up, that is not likely to help you. If the trainer moves and simulates a punch that will actually hit you if you don’t move (for example a Hook that you have to duck and counter), this is better.

But, either way, the timing is different from a real opponent because the trainer must retract and/or place the mitt for you to hit it. This is slower than what happens in the course of a real fight and may adversely affect your reaction time. One fix I have seen is to start with the first pad in place and quickly move the second pad into place, but this is still too slow.

This brings me to accuracy; Is it helpful to have a person stand in front of you and hold striking pads away from his body for you to hit? Muscle memory is important and is learned from hours of drills and practice. It stands to reason that if you practice hitting a pad held away from a person instead of hitting the person, this may adversely affect your muscle memory and therefore your accuracy in the ring in the long run. It is better to get high quality protective gear and heavier, padded gloves and spend more time with sparring partners so the timing you develop is based on a more realistic opponent.

With Tae Kwon Do the same issues are there, but the kicking drills accentuate another bad aspect of using focus pads; the recovery phase. It may look good to have someone hold pads for you as you expertly do two or more kicks (which helps you to be more comfortable with combinations) but what you do after the combo is important. If you land awkwardly or you have to move or step to get into your fighting stance to face your opponent, you are setting up bad habits. If you pause or drop your guard after your combo, you are setting up bad habits. A similar thing happens when a boxing trainer steps away to reset and the fighter drops his guard.

I also noticed that some of the drills lure your focus to certain techniques and neglect the Muay Thai and Wrestling techniques (specifically leg kicks and takedowns) that can be done to you during your attack. This may be okay if you are only going to compete in boxing but is not helpful in Mixed Martial Arts. It is better to spend as much time as you can in the most realistic scenario as possible.

Do in training what you intend to do in War.

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A Great Defense

It has been said that the best offense is a great defense. Last year in December, there were two UFC fights (one of which a MAJOR title defense) that illustrate this point very well.

In my first example, lets look at UFC Fight Night 33, Dylan Andrews and Clint Hester (former TUF 17 teammates) going to battle, with Andrews favored to win due to his superior striking. Hester was more than able to hold his own and the fight was generally a back and forth draw up until Andrews attempted a wide, looping right hand which Hester deflected using a stop-hit block. The stop-hit was so well timed that Andrews shoulder was dislocated and he was not able to return after the 2nd round.

The second, and much more well known fight was between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva at UFC 168. This was Weidman’s first title defense after he defeated Silva earlier in the year. Silva was much more humble and professional in the rematch, but right from the start did not seem to have the same confidence and speed that he has shown for years. Weidman was dominating the fight when Silva attempted a leg kick to try to break the rhythm. Weidman used an excellent stop-hit block to check the kick and Silva’s tibia broke into two pieces, ending the fight in favor of the new Champ.

These examples show how devastating an aggressive defense can be. It is way better to go after your opponent than it is to just cover up and hope for the best. While the Weidman/Silva example may come across to many fighters and fight fans as a fluke, it was a well placed move with forward momentum that went after and defeated Silva’s attack.

After an effective stop-hit, you are more likely to be able to take the initiative and go on the offense. In self-defense situations, using stop-hits allows you to disable your attacker(s) while reserving deadly force until it is truly the last resort. Imagine if every time your attacker tries to hit you he finds that limb less useful (or completely useless). Imagine if you add to that strikes to vulnerable areas so you disable two areas/functions at the same time. It doesn’t take long for your opponent to figure out that he doesn’t want to fight you anymore.

For me, that is the goal in a fight. If you can accomplish this before it gets physical that is preferred, but if you have to fight make every move count and make your opponent regretful.

This topic and more are discussed in my new book, Martial Arts For Everyone. Thanks.

General Fitness Health and Conditioning Martial Arts Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Stretching

Stretching for MMA, Part IV—Straight-leg Hamstring Stretch

Stretching for MMA, Part IV—Straight-leg Hamstring Stretch

Do the Bent-knee Hamstring Stretch first because it is easier to do than the Straight-leg. The Bent-knee variation relaxes tissue to prepare you for a deeper and more involved stretch. Remain in the supine position and straighten both of your legs. Rotate your non-stretching foot inward to stabilize your hips. Place the heel of your stretching leg on top of your other foot. This is the start position.

Keep both legs straight and your stretching foot dorsi-flexed (the opposite of pointing your toes), hold this position, exhale and activate your quadriceps to raise your stretching leg. Hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds and return to the start position. Use a rope or towel to assist if needed.

Do 3 to 10 repetitions per set and stretch both sides equally. Repeat sets as needed. This stretch gives a true measure of your hamstring flexibility. You may find at first that you cannot move your leg very high during this stretch. This is okay; you will increase your range the more you work on stretching.

This stretch and a lot more will be covered in the second edition of my book, Focusing Martial Arts Power which will be published in the next few months. Thanks and look for part V, Quadriceps Stretch.

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Tae Kwon Do VS Muay Thai

I started martial arts training in 1984 at a Tae Kwon Do school in Virginia. Between 1987 and 2001, I trained at 9 other TKD schools from NC to LA to TX.

The other day while practicing fight scenes for the Lao Warrior movie, I was reminded of my first day training Muay Thai in 2002. I kept getting kicked in my knees and quads because I wasn’t used to checking leg kicks.

Then, just as I started to get into the habit of raising my leg to check, we started working on clinching and throwing knees. If you are not used to someone grabbing your neck, pulling you down and slinging you around while they land knees, it can be frustrating.

While I am glad that I studied TKD in the 80’s, the martial arts of today are on a different level. When you train with someone who does Jiu Jitsu every morning and Muay Thai every evening, plus has judo and wrestling skills (i.e. an MMA fighter), you are humbly reminded that you spend most of your time every week filling prescriptions.

My base will always be TKD, so I can still throw kicks with the best of them, but I certainly have found the motivation to get back to work on my Muay Thai and staying well-rounded. I look forward to showing what I learned in the upcoming movie Lao Warrior (2014) as well as in the second edition of Focusing Martial Arts Power. Thanks and see you in the gym.

Defense Martial Arts Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Offense Technique

MMA vs Football

I was at the gym today lifting weights and training footwork and defense when I noticed there were football highlights on TV. I love football, so I watched an analysis of some of the Quarterbacks in the NFL.

I found myself comparing MMA and football, specifically the position of QB. I noticed how the different players were using footwork to escape blitzes. Each QB seems to have his own way of eluding those sudden, unexpected corner, safety or overload blitzes that would have most people panicking. The best players appear to almost have a sixth sense as they move away from the pressure (in the correct direction) to avoid the sack and deliver the 30 yard TD pass.

Aside from the obvious differences of MMA and football (single fighter vs team sport; rules; object in football is NOT to draw blood; etc) I thought about how once you are tackled in football, the whistle blows and the play is over. You get up and reset for the next play. In MMA when you hit the ground, you are only getting started.

Until you have spent some time training MMA, you don’t fully appreciate how much fitness, knowledge and work is involved. It will definitely get you into the best shape you have ever been in your life, while also preparing you for what happens if someone takes you to the ground. The kind of stamina you build with MMA can’t be achieved through running, circuit training, or aerobic/kickboxing/zumba classes, etc.

This is because until you learn to control your mind and breathing (anxiety) when someone is trying to slam you to the ground and choke you out, your stamina is basically worthless. Even a marathon runner can have his/her energy sapped in seconds when the anxiety of being in an MMA fight hits. I tip my hat to anyone who has ever stepped into a cage and fought using MMA rules. You have to be ready for everything and it is definitely a challenging thing to undertake.

See you in the gym.


Martial Arts Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Technique

My first cage event, XFP4

I was recently invited by Jose Torres of Dominion MMA to check out their local MMA event. It was held at the Longbranch in Raleigh, NC and there were 8 fights. As I walked into the bar I was impressed by the very professional set up. Walking toward my ring side seat I could feel the energy and excitement in the room. This side of the Longbranch has been used as a country bar for many years and I have been there are several occasions. Never before has it looked as good as it did with the octagon sitting in the room.

As the fights began, I was impressed by the ground techniques used by several of the fighters. I had a good view of a text book rear naked choke early in the evening and there was some good wrestling as the fighters used take down defense and worked to get up after a take down. The two main event fights were for titles, and both fights lived up to my expectations. Trey Singleton pulled off a dominant performance on the way to a decision victory against a game opponent (Garrido). The Kenna vs. Roberts fight was quick, but I had a good view of the Americana  (which is also one of my favorites to use) and it was a solid technique.

I am definitely looking forward to XFP5 and I am very excited to be able to say that I have been to an event with an actual octagon (instead of a boxing ring). Hope to see you there.


Defense Martial Arts Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Technique

Follow the Leader

Anyone who has fought in the ring, cage or on the street knows how fast things can happen. In a fight, your anxiety level increases and your ability to think is affected. Often, you will see a fighter revert to the style that was his first (his base) or to the techniques he has trained the most over the years. An example of this is a wrestler who has started training MMA (kick-boxing, Jiu-jitsu, etc), but during his fight takes his opponent down and holds him there instead of using his new skills.

I mention this to make several points. It is important to control your anxiety so you stay in control and make good decisions. It is important to train with good form so that when you revert to techniques you do them well. But, I want to focus on the mindset you are in when you are “under fire.”

You often see a fighter’s corner yelling at him to use certain combos or techniques that will work in the situation. An example is someone yelling, “Elbow!” If both fighters hear and listen they will both be reminded to use elbows. If only one fighter hears, the first time he hits his opponent with an elbow (and doesn’t knock him out) he is reminding him about using elbow strikes and in fact encourages him to use them (I call this the “hit you back” effect).

This also applies to someone in a self-defense scenario. Know that if you try a technique you learned in a self-defense class and it doesn’t work or you miss, you have just made the attacker mad and given him ideas about what to do back to you. Be prepared for this. If you don’t know the defense against a technique, don’t use it.

Train hard and keep learning.

Martial Arts Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Offense Technique

“Check” it out

David training
David Nelson training

I love it when I watch a fight and see someone using techniques I learned in Tae Kwon Do (TKD). TKD was my first martial art and I studied it for about 16 years before branching out, so I will always have a great appreciation. One of my favorite techniques (from TKD) is “checking.” The definition of checking is using a feint or movement that makes your opponent react. If your check is successful, your opponent will think you are attacking and you can see what he does. This allows you to assess his skill level, speed and his preferences for evading and/or countering.

At the level of MMA seen in the UFC, checking has a very valuable role. A fight between two experienced professionals who have trained hard and are relaxed (they have gotten past first time ring anxiety) becomes a very serious chess game. These pros usually have a strategy that was put together based on watching fight footage and compiling data on their opponent. They look for weaknesses; the way the fighter evades, how aggressive he is, etc.

But, in order to know what you should do, you need to assess the person you are fighting that day. They may have changed during their training camp; added new footwork, techniques, and sometimes styles. You also need to discover what your opponent’s strategy is for the fight. Did he notice something in your game that he intends to take advantage of? Will he keep it standing or go straight for a take down? Does he want to put you against the fence and work from the clinch?

The way to answer these questions is to “check” your opponent. If you do a kick feint and he shoots in, you know he hopes to take the fight to the ground (possibly because of your great striking/kicking game). If you do a punch combo feint and he evades you know he likely wants to keep it standing up (possibly he thinks his striking is better or his ground game is worse than yours). In order for your check to work, it has to be convincing. If it is not, your opponent will not react and you learn nothing.

Spend some time looking in a mirror and work on your feints. Also use stepping, switching or footwork to simulate an attack until you are happy with the way it looks, and start using it on your training partners. See if you can get a reaction from your opponent. The most fun thing is when you get so good with your “checking” that you make people do the counter you want them to do so you can do the counter to that. When you reach that point, you are doing it right. Good luck.

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Aim High

It’s great to see a knock out in MMA, but even better when it comes by way of a head kick. There are many reasons why we don’t see these highlight reel kicks more often. Skill, timing, ability, flexibility, situation, experience and knowledge are all factors that come into play. So, what can you do as a fighter to increase your success with head kicks?

The first step is to start improving your flexibility. The more flexible you are, the faster you will be and obviously the higher you can kick. I prefer using Active Isolated Stretching as a great way to get the best results. At the same time you also have to work on your wrestling ability so you will have better take down defense and better ability to get up after you are taken down. This also means you must train a lot of Jiu Jitsu so you can defend or get the submission if you run into an equal or better wrestler. Together, wrestling and Jiu Jitsu make you feel more comfortable doing head kicks because you aren’t worried about the take down.

The next step is timing drills. This involves working with several opponents with varying sizes and experience so you can learn when an opponent is open. Square off and have each opponent do any combos they choose. Watch and use your footwork to circle to the side and always be ready to throw the head kick counter. Repeat this until it becomes natural for you to kick when they are open, which is usually during or right after a technique.

For offense, you have to create openings. Work on your speed and ability to cover ground, and learn how to extend your hips so you can kick your opponent from deceptive distances. Use feints or throw a few low kicks before sneaking in the head kick. For more on this, look for the second edition of my book, FOCUSING MARTIAL ARTS POWER. Thanks.