The quest for a shortcut in training has been a defining characteristic of my coaching philosophy. I want my fighters to get as good as possible, as quickly as possible. However, I know there are no real shortcuts.
According to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story for Success, it takes 10 years or about 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient in your chosen craft. Sure, there are guys who look like natural-born phenoms (e.g. Jon Jones), but dig deeper and you will see many years of hard training. Knowledge, experience, and technical skill are gained by practice and competition. Athletes must put in time and hard work to become great.
A coaches’ job is to make sure that practice time is efficient and goal oriented (deliberate or purposeful practice). The two questions that I ask myself are:
How can I focus my athletes training in a way to make practice as effective as possible?
What can I do to guarantee that my fighters leave the gym each and every day knowing that they have improved?
SEVEN SKILLS FOR MMA: LAYING THE FOUNDATION
In response to these questions, I created “Seven Skills for MMA” as part of my MMA Blueprint. These skills are part of the blueprint I use to train my fighters on a daily basis. Each of the skills equate to the foundational aspects of each game—stand-up, clinch, and ground. Many of the skills can even be expanded to consider multiple games. For example, defense can be broken down into terms of submission defense, boxing defense, wrestling defense, etc. The majority of our training time and focus are on these foundational skills.
Watch the way a good stand-up fighter is constantly in motion. Look at how he frustrates the opponent with angles, rhythm, timing, and distance. Movement allows the fighter to effectively setup his offense and is one of the cornerstones of good defense. Smart feet, smart fighter. Anderson Silva and Dominic Cruz are great examples of movement.
Four-ounce gloves can turn almost any fighter into a puncher. All it takes is one well-placed shot and it’s lights out. This is why I stress defense even more than offense. Hitting your opponent without being hit is the ultimate expression of great stand-up.When I think of stand-up defense, Lyoto Machida and Kenny Florian immediately come to mind.
3. Level Change/Penetration
Raising and lowering the hips while maintaining good posture is the key to setting up, executing, and finishing takedowns. A strong double leg is a function of proper level change and penetration. On the defensive side, a fast level change—also known as a sprawl—is the key to stopping an opponent’s takedown. No one in MMA changes levels faster than GSP.
4. Hand Fighting/Pummeling
The clinch is about dominating your opponent’s body. Hand fighting and pummeling are the skills needed to do this. Additionally, these skills will open the door for takedowns and stymie your opponent’s takedowns. These skills must be perfected against the cage or ropes, as well as in the center of the fighting area. Randy Couture is the master of clinch fighting.
I believe that success in the ground game is built upon two pillars.The first of these is posture. My fighters focus on creating posture while breaking down their opponent’s posture. Great posture makes a fighter difficult to submit, sweep, or hold down. From the top position, great posture is the key to a devastating ground-and-pound attack. Matt Hughes is an expert of top position posture.
6. Hip Movement
The second pillar of a great ground game is hip movement. Akinto a boxer’s footwork, hip movement controls a fighter’s opponent,gets them out of bad situations, and sets up offense. Watch how smoothly a good grappler moves from position to position—it’s all about hip movement. BJ Penn makes it look elementary.
A fighter needs to be able to make seamless changes from one game to another. If an athlete begins training MMA with prior experience in one of the major games (wrestling, boxing, BJJ, etc), this is where we work to integrate that experience. To become complete mixed martial artists, great fighters learn to adapt. Two of my favorites examples are Shogun Rua and Jose Aldo.
There are no real shortcuts to athletic excellence in any sport. MMA is no exception. I know I cannot really speed up the 10-year/10,000-hour rule, but I want to make sure that at each step along the way,my fighters are at the front of the curve. If my athlete is ready to compete in two years, I want him to be better prepared than anyone with comparable experience. In the end, not everyone evolves into a contender or world champion.Hard work and desire are what separate the good from the great. Creating purposeful practices through the Seven Skills of MMA ensure that my athletes will grow on a daily basis.