A Ninja’s View with James Doolan: Sussing Out Second Rate Gyms
Published by James Doolan on January 4th, 2012
Top European bantamweight James Doolan of the Dinky Ninjas joins the YourMMA.tv blogging team, following on from his popular, long-running blog at MMA Hit Pit. He starts us off with a great insight into how you should be training, and how to spot those gyms not up to the task.
I’m not really in to New Year’s resolutions as I try not to count time in years, I prefer days, like a recovering alcoholic I take life one day at a time. With that being said, it is that time of year again when the New Year’s resolutions brigade get on the fitness bandwagon and, with MMA being all the rage these days, expect class numbers at gyms across the country to swell before inevitably settling back to normal right in time for Easter.
I was thinking about writing a list of things new starts should look for in a good MMA club before signing their life away on direct debits, but to be honest that’s been done to death. It’s really pretty much common sense and the chances are if you’re reading this you’re already training in MMA.
So for this blog I’m going to aim it at people already training and write a list of things to look out for which might indicate you’re training at a second rate club/team/gym, wasting your time and money whilst being hoodwinked into thinking you’re learning what you see on TV.
The purpose of what I’m writing here isn’t to offend people — if it does, ahh well I’ve got enough friends anyway — the purpose is more to get students questioning what’s going on at the gym they’re training at. Hopefully you’re training at one of the many excellent gyms across the UK instead of one of the dodgy, no idea, only in it for the cash and gash gyms that are popping up more frequently all over the place. Like I said earlier, with MMA being all the rage these days a lot of opportunistic people with no idea are jumping on the bandwagon without any idea what they’re claiming to coach.
So, without further ado, here’s 5 indicators the MMA club you’re training at might, in reality, be a bit shit (I limited it to 5 for now):
1. No Fundamentals.
I like to refer to this as ”all flash and no bash”. At these clubs all the students are training flying triangles, cartwheel guard passes, flying knees, spinning kicks and all other manners of cool stuff, but they can’t pass guard, they can’t escape side control or posture on the mat, they can’t stand in a balanced stance with their hands up while striking. Good coaches start and finish with fundamentals. World class fighters tend to be world class because their fundamentals are world class.
Why are coaches not teaching fundamentals? From the dodgy gyms I have encountered, it’s usually because either the coach himself doesn’t know the fundamentals, in which case he shouldnt be coaching, or the coach wants to show off and impress people with his amazing knowledge and flash moves. In either case you as a student are being sold short. If you’re paying for MMA coaching you really want functional MMA techniques, tried and tested stuff, not random low percentage techniques that rarely work.
One of my favorite UK fighters Terry Etim was recently talking about his guillotine win over Edward Faaloto at UFC 138. In most BJJ gyms the guillotine is up there with the first chokes you will learn. Terry mentioned in this interview that after training sessions he would stay back and do a hundred reps of the guillotine. Now he has one of the best guillotines in MMA.
2. No Structure.
I recently read a guy’s Facebook status saying, ”What a session tonight, pad work, double legs, knee bars, mount escapes and mounted armbars.” All in a one hour session. I refer to this as the ”pick and mix approach”. Now compare this to a session I was fortunate to take part in at Renzo Gracie’s New York gym. The class for purple belts and above also lasted an hour, but we repped 3 half guard passes which, although fairly similar, used different pressures to complete the pass before going on to 5 minute rounds of passing half guard against a resisting partner. Polar opposites of one hour sessions at a poor UK gym and a world class, world famous gym.
Good coaches know that people retain information better when they can ”chunk it” together. At good gyms, sessions will be structured per session, per week or month or whatever. Periodisation, block structures and cycling programmes is essential in the progression of the student. If you’re training with the pick and mix approach you will get better, it’s just going to take a whole lot longer which, in a sport evolving as fast as MMA, is suicide.
3. No consideration for individuals.
No two students are the same and groups of students can’t be coached the same. Generic classes for social training are fine, but as soon your intentions in MMA become more than social training (i.e you want to compete or or you want to train more serious) then generic classes won’t cut it.
Time management makes separating groups difficult so most coaching will be done with mixed groups, especially in smaller gyms where lack of coaches and space can cause problems. It’s common to find new starts in a session with with fighters, amateur fighters in with pros, teenage guys wanting to learn some self defence training alongside middle aged women wanting to lose weight and all other manner of group dynamics. The bottom line is for the best results students should be coached as individuals and not as a group. For a coach this can be very problematic but if the coach is worth his salt he will find a way to ensure each student is progressing individually even in a group environment.
4. Sparring. Too early/Too much/Too intense.
Sparring is without doubt the best single way to prepare a fighter for competition. It’s an essential training tool to develop timing, conditioning, confidence and application of technique in fighters. Sparring is often used wrongly by poor coaches, however. Good gyms won’t have you sparring until you have a fair grasp of the fundamentals (point 1) and until the coach feels the individual is ready (point 3). You hear of some proper horror stories of people going to martial arts and boxing clubs for a little while, sparring and coming out on the bad end of a good beating.
Another thing that goes on is too much sparring. Usually this is again down to the coach not having enough technical knowledge to coach (what class is easier than glove up, gumshield in, find a partner, 5 minute rounds for an hour) which again brings us back to point 1, no fundamentals. The better gyms will have allocated sparring sessions during the week for nothing but sparring on top of classes set aside for technical development.
Obviously fighters working in camp for a fight will have specific sparring as part of there programme, usually building up in frequency and intensity before tapering off again before the fight.
If you’re training for the sake of training and your sparring sessions are outnumbering the number of technical development sessions you’re doing, then again your progression is going to be slow and you should question that.
Sparring to a certain level should be enjoyable. Again if you’re training for the sake of training and you’re getting bashed up in sparring, have a look at where you’re training. Sparring is for developing your game. The biggest hindrance to developing your game is being afraid to try new stuff, which is normally exactly what happens when you go into a “game mode” for sparring. If your gym has a history of injuries and accidents in sparring sessions, I’d question what’s going on.
In our gym we have sparring classes twice a week. These sparring classes look slightly different to the sparring sessions the fighters do in the fighters’ sessions.
5. Excessive amounts of conditioning.
First of all conditioning is essential for MMA. I break down MMA into stand up, wrestling, ground and conditioning and devote time to each area specifically as well as merging them. However, a sneaky little thing bad coaches will do is waste a lot of your time making you do over extended warm ups and circuits during class time. If you go to a Muay Thai or BJJ class, you’re there to learn Muay Thai or BJJ, not to spend 30 minutes of a 60 minute class doing press ups, sit ups and front planks.
There is a couple of reasons for coaches coming out with these conditioning heavy sessions. Usually the coach hasn’t got a session planned, he might not have enough knowledge to fill a one hour session or, more commonly, it’s because the coach wants people to go away from the session knackered thinking they have just put themselves through some kind of super MMA session, when in reality they have spent more time getting a little bit fitter than they have getting technically more proficient in martial arts.
Conditioning is essential for MMA like I said, but set it aside from development of technical ability. Most pro fighters do their conditioning sessions completely separate from there technical sessions.
So now you’ve read this, question how you’re training and hopefully you’re training at a club that promotes structured sessions for you as an individual, focusing on the correct balance of fundamental techniques, technical development, sparring and conditioning.