Understand The Game

If I had a Rupee for every time I saw an MMA practitioner trying to force a sloppy version of a Heel Hook or an Ankle Lock on someone, and then lose position followed by a beating, I’d be a millionaire. Or the confused look on the face of someone because their Triangle isn’t working and they don’t know how to fix the error or what else to switch to. Or swinging wide Hooks when they should be Clinching or throwing Upper Cuts or Elbows.

My take on the whole ‘training’ thing is a bit different as compared to the stuff I have seen around me. If it does not contain a pattern and a hierarchy it does not satisfy me. Especially nowadays where we’re flooded by the influx of knowledge through the internet, books, DVDs etc, it is more likely to get lost looking for the techniques and tactics that work for you. It is this very factor that separates the best from the rest. Based upon my limited knowledge and experience, a vast majority of Mixed Martial Artists just train for the sake of training, without a blueprint in mind. As an athlete, especially a fighter, you cannot leave everything to your coach(es). And as a coach, you cannot just show your students a random move from a random position, or a combo that includes techniques that haven’t been worked on. You ought to know what you are doing, how will it help you? will  it really be helpful? Despite the hours and reps you put into your technique, will you be able to pull it off in a fight? Because if you’re training it and not doing it in a fight you might as well spend that time and energy on either something you know you can pull off, or something that already works for you every time you step into the cage. And to answer the concern “how would I know what works (would work) for me?”; start with the basics!

Explore the fundamentals of all the styles you use in your fights. Don’t leave any stone unturned. If it comes under the label of ‘Basics’, you practice it! The best part about Basic techniques is that they work under all and any circumstances, and against opponents of all levels; IF/WHEN executed correctly. Obviously certain basic techniques will work better for you; depending upon the type of fighter you are. If you’re an Out-fighter, meaning you like to stay at a distance, your weapons of choice should be Straight Punches, Mid, and High Roundhouse Kicks, and Front Kick / Teep. If you like to stay in the Mid Range; Hooks, Body Shots, Low Kicks, Shoot [insert Take-down of your choice] and Knees to Body and Head would suit you. And if you’re an In-Fighter; Upper Cuts, Elbows, High Knees, Thai Clinch will be more appropriate. Yeah yeah, I am looking at things from a Striker’s perspective, but the purpose of the ‘recommended’ techniques above is to just get the point across. As a fighter, you need to know ALL of the above because you will find yourself in all three ranges [Long, Mid, and Close] when you fight. However, you will be pushing to get in the range that is more comfortable for you. After all, that’s what a fight is at the very base of it; imposing your will upon the opponent.

Just remember that your game revolves around the Range you’re comfortable in. You work towards mastering all the basics and then work on Progressions and Variations of the techniques and tactics applicable in your range of choice. Martial Artists have summed up the above in one word; Distancing / Distance. 

What is a Progression? 

Progression is what you follow with after you’ve made the first move. For example;

You start with a Jab Cross (12); If the opponent moves in, you fire the Mid Rear Knee or the Left Upper Cut, if they move out; you step and fire the Left Mid Kick (if Guard’s up) or fire the Left High Kick (if Guard’s down). 
[The definition of the term ‘Progression’ is my own version. It might be different for someone else or something written in a book] 

What is a Variation? 

A Variation is a different way of doing the same technique. For example;

There are three variations of a Hook punch;

1) Coffee Mug Style: Palm facing in, thumb up; suitable for Close and Medium Range

2) Karate Style: (Because I learned it in Kyokushin): Palm facing downwards, thumb towards you; Suitable for all three ranges

3) Russian Style: Palm facing out, thumb down; suitable for Long Range [Fedor’s weapon of choice]

Similarly, Palm-to-Palm Choke from Rear Mount is a VARIATION of the textbook Rear Naked Choke.

There are always more than one ways to do the same technique. Study at least one variation of the techniques you use most, but after you’ve done justice with the original one during training.

The next topic, and probably the most important in a fight, is Timing. Distancing answers the ‘How to do’ and ‘What to do’ of the fight game while Timing is the ‘When to do’. Don’t confine it to Offense, Timing is of equal importance when it comes to Defense, Counter and Mobility (Footwork for Stand Up game, Hip Movement for Ground).

Fedor’s Overhand Right KO of Brett Rogers, Edson Barbosa’s Spin Kick KO of Terry Etim, Jon Jones smashing folks with Spinning Elbow, Saenchai’s Cartwheel Kick KOs, Aldo’s unstoppable Low Kick, GSP’s unavoidable Double Leg, all of it is simply perfect Timing. So everytime you learn a technique it is a given that you have to work on timing its execution, in both Offense and Counter.

  • A very basic yet effective timing technique for Offense is to fire your head-shot the moment your opponent drops/lowers his guard.
  • A very basic but effective timing method for Counter is to step back off the opponent’s punch/kick just a few inches and step in with your counter while he is retracting his punch/kick to his Guard.

Enough about Striking right? (To be honest the initial purpose of this post was to talk about Grappling, but then the usual happened; I flew off in a tangent)

Alright! Here is how what I have learned about how to train your Grappling game:

It all starts with Wrestling. The Guard Pull method of Sports BJJ is strictly a no-no, this is MMA we’re talking about, you never know a lucky punch or an elbow might seal the deal for you. How do you choose to take your opponent down and how you react to his defense for that determines where you’ll end up. Whether you end up in your opponent’s Guard, Half Guard, Side Control or Mount will determine your next move, and you ought to have at least three options for each position. And if you’re the one on the receiving end of the Take-down, you need to have, again, three escape options from whatever situation you’re in. The hierarchy of the ground game, for me, goes as follows:

1) Wrestling / Clinch Fighting:

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a solid Wrestling repertoire if you are serious about your training. Good Wrestling skills assure the ability to keep the fight where you want it; the Striker needs to have a strong Takedown Defense in order keep the fight standing, and the Grappler needs to have some decent Takedowns to take the fight to the ground.

Now there are two ways of taking someone down;

  • you shoot from a distance,
  • or you close the distance and Tie Up, add in some Dirty Boxing and execute the Takedown.

For the former method, the primary weapons are Double Leg and Single Leg Takedowns. For the latter, you need to study some Low Risk, High Percentage techniques of Judo, Greco-Roman, Sambo and Muay Thai (referring to the takedowns from Thai Clinch) etc. Remember, don’t limit your options, and do what works best for you.

2) Positional Maintenance:

First things first; learn what the positions are, how to get into them and, most of all, how to maintain them so that you keep your opponent in control and then execute the attack. The list of the major positions is as follows:

  • Rear Mount / Back Control
  • Mount
  • Side Control
  • Scarf Hold / Kasure Kesa Gatame
  • North South
  • Half Guard
  • Guard

3) Positional Escapes:

Next, you should know how to escape the above mentioned positions, for obvious reasons. Start with one, and then work your way up to at least three escapes per position. Remember, the timing of escape is the moment you get into that position or when you’re about to get into it. If you delay it, you’re done for. No amount of knowledge will save you from taking a beating when you’re being crushed under someone’s weight while they rain punches and elbows on you. Even if you manage to pull off an escape it will come at a hefty price.

4) Submission Attacks:

POSITION BEFORE SUBMISSION! Always remember this phrase. Control your opponent to whatever extent you can and then apply the Submission. Anyway, learning three submissions per position is a great idea. Now remember that most of the time it will be the same submission being applied from different positions, and it is recommended you keep it that way. There aren’t enough hours in a day to learn so many new things. Some of the most used submissions in MMA are Rear Naked Choke, Guillotine Choke, Arm Bar, Triangle, Kimura, Heel Hook, Arm Triangle,Ankle Lock, Brabo/D’arce Choke etc. Keep it simple, flashy techniques will cost you a nose, or some teeth.

5) Submission Escapes:

Learning how to get out of a Submission is as important as learning how to apply one. If you’re one of those who think Jiujitsu does not work in a fight, you need to ask Dave Herman (UFC fighter) if it does or doesn’t. On a serious note, don’t be an idiot!

Start with the submissions you’ve practiced just so you don’t tap to the same submission you’re known for. Follow up with a little Google search on the most common submissions used in MMA, it will make your work easier and convenient.

6) Transitions:

Transitioning means going from one position and/or submission to another; a better one. For example; Side Control to Mount, Bottom Guard to Back Control, Triangle to Arm Bar, Guillotine to Kimura etc.

P.S: Since this is MMA we’re talking about, keep in mind you need to flow between striking and grappling. Striking your way to secure a Takedown, a Transition, an Escape or a Submission is the way to go. Doing so puts your opponent into defensive mode which gives you the opening you need for your primary move in that particular situation.

End Note:

The purpose of this rant is to tell you that instead of learning a technique, understand the game. That way you will know where you are going and where you have to go, and most of all; you will find a connection between everything you do. Be it standing up or on the ground, you will start seeing the bigger picture and will be able to plan two or three moves ahead of your opponent, and no matter what position you are in you will see options.