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.

 

EKS Combat System

Uloomi Karim connects a Jab on Emalo Urrutia [FMD 3, Bangkok]

My Martial Arts journey started with practicing kicks I’d watch in action movies. I looked across the country for an academy I’d call home but none of the places I visited satisfied me (I did not go to EVERY Martial Arts academy in Pakistan, just for the record), because none of them had to offer what I was looking for; a training system where I could train and fight with minimal rules [I hate too many rules, besides, I knew about MMA but knew for a fact that there was no place, in Pakistan, that trained in it]. As a result, I decided to start studying it myself. Somewhere along the road, Sultan trained me, informally, in Taekwondo and then convinced me to train formally. I complied by starting training under Master Wan [Nowsherwan], followed by short training in Kyokushin, under Master Nasir. A couple of years later I was on my own, again. But the formal training had changed my perception a LOT, it had also added to my knowledge and broadened my horizons. I had a solid foundation of kicking, punching, kneeing and elbowing. So I made tweaks, applied my own spins, and manifested my imaginative creations in my body language during training [8-9 hours a day]. Next stop was Wrestling, I started with the Shoot, drilled it day and night and made crazy progress. What I did to achieve that was pretty simple; I’d do Shoot after Shoot, hundreds of reps [keeping strict form]. I then worked, thoroughly, on the other offensive and defensive aspects of Clinch Fighting [Striking, Take-downs, Throws, Reversals, Level Changes, Dirty Boxing, and Submissions], and made it versatile by adding elements of various arts that specialized in fighting in the Clinch. Ground was the biggest problem because I failed to spot and get a hold of an edge so I could untangle the subject, through a proper pattern. But I was consistent; never gave up, kept looking for more and more answers; appropriate answers. Gradually, it started to come to me, and boy did it get on the fast track in no time. I hacked away at the unessential [anything that looked even remotely impractical]. The arts I dabbled, seriously, with were Muay Thai [both Traditional Thai Style and Dutch Style], Savate, Capoeira, Boxing, Greco Roman, Freestyle Wrestling, Catch As Catch Can, Judo, Sambo, Brazilian Jiujitsu (No Gi), Maphilindo and Madjapahit Silat, Shotokan, Sanshou [Sanda], Krav Maga, Wing Chun, Choy Lee Fut, Daido Juku, Pekiti Tersia, and 52 Blocks. The major chunk of my time was spent understanding the basics and major principles of the arts, from there on it was leap after leap. The next major stop was the subject of Combat Fitness. I was never a fan of rep ranges or sets; an example of that is my combat conditioning routine below:

Exercise Days Per Week: 4 [Mon and Tue = Training, Wed = Off, Thu and Fri = Training, Sat and Sun = Off ]
Exercise Sessions Per Day: 1 or 2 [2 hrs/session]
Squats Per Session: 750 [in a go] in one session, and in the second; 100×6, 1×150 [I obviously worked my way up for the ‘750 in a go’]
Knuckle Push Ups Per Session: 400 [2×200 in one session, and 4×100 in the other]

NOTE: Technique Training was a separate four to five hours. I’d add Pull Ups, Chin Ups, Supported Handstand Push Ups, Isometrics & Plyometrics, Explosive Training and Core Training to the mix by replacing one, or both, exercise(s) with the other(s), depending upon the rest I had given to a particular muscle group. I followed this routine for six months [Six years later, with a light maintenance, I am still more chiseled than most of the people who train regularly (checkout my Facebook and/or Instagram).

After a while, I fell in love with Yoga, Power Lifting, Olympic Lifting, Kettle-bell Training, and Bodyweight Training at first sight. The love only bloomed after I read & tested more. Needless to mention, I added, whatever I deduced to be more relevant to my needs as a Mixed Martial Artist, to my fighting system. Since I am a self learned man, and I am bound to commit the most stupid mistakes, I only recently got serious about the study of Nutrition. Not that I wasn’t conscious about my diet, I just did not take it as a subject because my mind was preoccupied with the technical aspect of the fight game. I consider myself a preschooler in the field [and I shall continue to study].

Over the period of years, I have come to believe there are two types of techniques that stay with a person [something he/she calls his/her knowledge]; one that he/she likes when he/she sees it, and one that he/she might not like but would still remember [may be you drilled it more, may be you felt well doing it; any random reason]. So out of all the stuff I went through, I kept some and threw some away, compiled, what I had kept, in an order, and based upon that I created some more. My students were my ‘lab rats’ [P.S: i love them so much], and their fights a test of authenticity of my methods. We racked in way more wins than losses, but I [and my boys] learnt the most from our losses [individual and collective]. That also boosted and sped up the pace of progress. I have no learning lineage and/or formal grades in most of the arts I have practiced over the period of years, and neither am I interested in getting any. But my methods have worked in the cage and in the streets, and I am surrounded with living proofs and walking-talking success stories [which basically is ‘job well done’ for me]. Furthermore, just like a complete Martial Art, my system delivered the mental/psychological and spiritual results of the training as well. People with bullying issues, suffering from being bullied, anger management issues, issues related to confidence, self esteem, ego, and people with stress related issues etc started to benefit, and make progress listening to, following and implementing what I taught them.

How can you not name something after so much?

I named it after the pumpkin-headed genius that created it; Moi! And called it the ‘EKS Combat System‘. Carve that name into your head because you will be hearing it more often, and who knows, you might train in it as well.

Video

Progress through Simplicity

As a best friend, Sultan Ali covers up for me in the areas, of life in and outside the gym, I lack in and/or tend to overlook despite their vital importance. One of those areas has been the Strength & Conditioning aspect of Team Fight Fortress. We have been working alongside for years now and his understanding of the fight game is far deeper than mine. Due to his ‘active participation’ in and outside the ring, he has built what I call ‘the common sense of fighting’. During competitions, it is usually him that tells the boys, in between rounds, what needs to be done to win. His ways are simple and highly effective; just what combat sports are about.

He created a strength and conditioning program for the team which has helped our fighters expand their skills exponentially. Reason being; they’re not as tired as they used to be, a few months ago. The program is a forty five minute routine that basically pushes your mind, body and spirit to the limits by making you use each and every major muscle group in your body. It consists of explosive, aerobic, and strength exercises; basically simulating a fight situation where the pace of the fight keeps changing, and one has to use his strength more often. The other day, Kami and Haider beat each other to a pulp for forty eight straight minutes, in Muay Thai class. Now these were the guys with a stamina problem. And it is not just the stamina but the fighting spirit of the team that has evolved after training under the tutelage of Sultan. He pushes them harder than ever, makes sure nobody misses a single rep or a second of the workout, and keeps the energy level of the class high at all times. It is thanks to his contribution that during sparring sessions I now see more and more guys battling to defend a choke that is deeply sunk or a joint lock that is about to be executed, guys that used to tap out of fear. This is all because they’re being pushed to their limits more times during the conditioning routine, usually more than the fight itself. They blackout, they throw up, and then they get back to the class to start where they had left it. Also, Sultan now gets to use my Kali stick, that was lying around in my room, on the boys who try to cheat or skip a rep during the workout.

At the end of the day, we’re making hard working, honest and dedicated men outta our boys (cause there ain’t many of those left, and the Oldie upstairs continues to shock us with His ‘genetic engineering’).

Just so you have an idea (and to hone my cinematography skills), I shot a glimpse of one of the training sessions.

 

EVOLUTION

Its been five years and like every other person my journey feels the oldest and hardest of them all. And it was hard, in its on ways. In the beginning, it was but a mere idea, poorly materialized. Today, it is a successful combination of research, knowledge (successfully and systematically put to practice; hard, rigorous practice) and dedication. Today, it has branched out, of the cage-fighting zone, into being an innovative and a unique system of empowering the weak (socially) with the tools and tactics of a kind this society and culture have never seen or experienced before. Today, the training system of Team Fight Fortress helps people develop their confidence to a level where they are not afraid, to stand up for themselves and others like them, anymore. The team has become a platform, to get their lives back in order and make the right choices, for those who were lagging behind the rest of the society around them, and those who made wrong choices just because they lacked the self-confidence, needed to make a choice and believe in it, and let others be the experts on their lives. Fighting is not even our first priority, but education, hard work, dedication, tolerance, patience and perseverance are. I usually tell my boys; “even if you want to do this full time, even if you want to go pro, fighting is still your option B. Your formal education is the top priority, but that does not make training and/or fighting any less important.” Day by day we have a new success story training at the gym, pumped and motivated than the previous day, getting better, stronger and faster for the next day. From homeless to managing an IT company, from three times ninth grade failure to grad student of economics, from drug abuser to a skilled, strong, and successful MMA fighter on national level, we are evolving on a daily basis. The secret to our success; no matter how knowledgeable, skilled and experienced, we never cease to live and believe in ‘student mentality.’ It is with this mentality and work ethic we are standing at the gates of the global MMA scene, waiting for our chance to enter and dominate. (EKS)