Into The Breach

In a previous article, we outlined the top things to look for when determining whether an MMA gym was right for you. Choosing a gym is a major step towards beginning your training, but a lot of hard work remains if you want to be successful.

Regardless of whether you’ve trained traditional martial arts or have never attended a class in your life, you’re going to realize within the fi rst fi ve minutes of your fi rst training session that you’re not in Kansas anymore.

There are so many people who watch The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV and think to themselves, “You know, I can do that!” While fi ghting is by no means simple, it’s comparatively easy in relation to the training that is involved. Fighters aren’t paid for just one night of fi ghting; they are also being compensated for the hours of blood, sweat, and tears that were invested in preparing for their fi ght.

While training isn’t easy, here are some simple rules to follow that can make the transition a little easier.


You’re not going to be able to survive, let alone thrive, at an MMA school if you’re an insecure person. Maybe tall tales worked in high school and it might make sense to embellish when you’re trying to pick up a chick at a bar, but you’re going to be a joke if you go into a school and start self-promoting. Nobody is going to care that you were a fi fth-degree black belt at your local strip mall Karate dojo when you were twelve. And that fi ght you won by the monkey bars when you were in second grade? It’s meaningless to someone who has fought and won a real MMA fi ght. Believe it or not, you’ll get more respect and make more friends the more humble you are. Nobody is going to want to train with you or help you if you’re considered the Marlon Sims of your gym.


It doesn’t matter that you’ve watched every UFC since UFC I in 1993, you’re still not qualifi ed to teach mixed martial arts. Some things you learn might not make sense, and if you are transitioning from another art, some of the new things you’ll learn might contradict the old stuff. There’s a reason why you’re a student; let the instructors do their job. If you come off as a know-it-all, there’s a good chance you’ll become a running joke. Nobody is going to expect you to be an instant superstar so long as you don’t carry yourself like one.


The biggest transition I had when coming over from a Kung Fu school to an MMA school was the proper etiquette when interacting with instructors. The idea of not referring to my instructors as “Master” took some getting used to. That being said, it’s probably still not a good idea to refer to your instructors by their fi rst name while on the mat, even if they say it’s okay. You’re sure not to offend if you call them “sir” or “ma’am.”

The best thing you can do is just ask the head instructor of the school what the proper etiquette is about speaking with instructors. During the fi rst day of my MMA training, I simply asked the head instructor, “What’s the proper title I should refer to you as?” It’s the type of question nobody will get mad at you for asking and one that could help you garner some respect.


I found that the biggest difference between traditional martial arts and mixed martial arts was the attention paid to conditioning. Many fi tness gyms have hired MMA instructors because the sport has made a name for itself because of the cross-training methods it utilizes. If you’ve trained in traditional styles or have never trained before, be prepared for a shock. Unless you’re between the ages of 18- 22 or are simply in great shape, your body is going to hate you after your fi rst MMA class. Don’t be surprised if you feel a need to puke or if you come home with the worst cramps of your life.

I’ve seen a lot of people that watched an episode of TUF and showed up at the gym looking to be the next UFC champion. The vast majority of those people never returned after their fi rst class because they were completely oblivious to the level of conditioning required. I’m not trying to use scare tactics here and discourage you from training; while the demands can be tough, if you work on your cardio for two weeks or more before starting at a gym, you’ll have a much easier time.


At bigger gyms, there’s a good chance you’ll be around at least a few pro or high-level amateur fi ghters. While you won’t have to sign a confi dentiality notice, it’s an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t run to the underground forum in order to break the news that your gym’s top fi ghter has been walking around in a knee brace for the last two weeks.

When rolling or sparring, it’s also a big no-no to talk about who got the best of each other. If you’re a white belt that happened to tap out a purple belt, you have a right to feel good about yourself but you’re going to need to contain that excitement. Needless to say, it’s not okay to do the Tito Ortiz grave digging routine after you get over someone in sparring or while rolling. It’s also not acceptable to go on the Sherdog forums and respond to a thread about a fi ghter by saying, “Yeah, well, I train with him and he got tapped out by a white belt last week.”

You’ll be surprised how much gossip passes through a gym. Nevertheless, you need to treat everything you hear as if you’ve heard it off the record. You don’t want to leak information to a reporter about a fi ghter signed to make his UFC debut or a fi ghter just chosen for the next installment of The Ultimate Fighter, unless, of course, you’re e-mailing the information to me. In which case, I can promise you full anonymity.


At any respectable MMA gym, amateur fi ghters are not allowed to fi ght without the gym’s consent. It’s okay to tell your instructors that your long-term goal is to fi ght in competition. However, it’s at the gym’s discretion to decide when you’re ready for a fi ght. Some wannabe gyms will allow anyone who trains to enter competition simply because they are desperate to get their name out there. No legitimate gym is going to allow an amateur fi ghter to book his or her own fi ghts. You’re going to have to prove in training that you have what it takes.

If a gym is legitimate, it means that many sacrifi ces have been made to build it up and that a lot of pride goes into how the gym is represented. A head instructor has every right to be concerned about the reputation of his or her gym because it’s their livelihood. That means they don’t want a student taking fi ghts on their own and getting tooled while representing the school. Furthermore, any trainer worth their salt has the well-being of their fi ghters in mind at all times. You don’t want to train at a gym that will allow anyone to fi ght, because you don’t want someone to take risks with your health.


There’s nothing worse than going to Jiu-Jitsu class and being assigned to roll with someone who smells like a stale hoagie. However, it’s something that will inevitably happen if you train Jiu-Jitsu for an extended period. The thing is, you don’t want to be that guy (or gal)! If you work behind a desk all day, chances are you don’t need to shower before you train. However, if you’re a landscaper or involved with any other job that involves sweating all day, you need to make sure to grab a shower before hitting the gym. Nobody is going to want to spar or roll with you if you’re showing up to class looking like Pigpen from Charlie Brown.

If you’re new to Jiu-Jitsu, you need to be especially concerned about your skin. If you have a sudden outbreak
, do not take it lightly. The last thing you want to do is roll with someone training for a competition and then pass staph infection on to them. If there’s something on your skin that you’re not sure about, your best bet is to have it looked at by a doctor. Tell them that you’re taking Jiu-Jitsu. If they don’t understand what Jiu-Jitsu is, tell them it’s similar to wrestling. Most doctors have examined an amateur wrestler at one point in their life and they understand how close contact can pass certain things on.

If you can’t get to a doctor, call it to the attention of your trainer before the start of class. He or she may take a look, decide it’s nothing, and simply ask you to cover it up. Or, they might tell you it’s okay to do drills but not okay to roll with anyone. I’m telling you, if you pass something on to someone that has invested months of time training for an event and you’re the reason they can’t compete, they are going to act as if you’ve just given them HIV.

You also need to make sure you keep your toenails and fi ngernails trimmed. If you have long hair, people will appreciate it if it is pulled back. Nobody wants to go home with long hairs on them and be accused by their signifi cant other of cheating.


The number one way for someone’s relationship with their gym to go sour is by approaching them about business deals. At certain traditional martial arts gyms I’ve trained at, there were written rules preventing students from soliciting instructors. The theory in traditional martial arts is that a student should do everything in their power to help their school and not try to profi t from it. However, I have seen a few students cross the line and attempt deals with their Senseis or Masters, and without fail the deal ended with the student having to leave the school.

Most real MMA gyms do not subscribe to the traditional ideals of older martial arts styles, but pitching business ideas is still a bad idea. If your job is fi xing air conditioners and the air conditioner is out at your school, don’t volunteer to fi x it unless you’re willing to do it for free. Even if you offer a discount, an instructor might take offense.

The problem is that many people are so enthusiastic about MMA that they just want to have a bigger role than “student.” If you’re looking to become a bigger part of your gym, my advice is to make sure you’re a good student by showing up to class consistently, applying strong technique, and being a positive infl uence within the student body.

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