Gym Talk: FACT or FICTION
It never fails: at every gym in the country there is an on-going conversation that any athlete in that facility may be the next "big thing", that everyone on the team has great (fill in the blank with a skill, be it ground, stand up, etc.), and that every fighter can compete in any combat sport. This is obviously NOT the case, and not everyone who signs up for a gym membership is going to be the next evolution in fighting so let's look at some of the facts and fictions that permeate the gyms, academies, and fight schools across the country (and the world, for that matter).
FACT: Combat sports aren't for everyone, and simply being a member of a fight team doesn't pre-destine you for greatness.
While some will take to the fight game like a duck to water, others will struggle and will quit. This is normal, and should be expected. Keep in mind that even within the group of those who will remain active on any team in any gym the percentage of those who will achieve the highest level of success is VERY small. This isn't intended to be a discouragement, it's intended to level-set to all those who believe everyone who trains will win titles, makes piles of money, and who will live life free of expenses thanks to an endless list of sponsors. Being motivated to train, being present in the gym, and living the fight lifestyle doesn't guarantee success.
FICTION: I can train a variety of styles before a fight, and have expertise in them.
I see this a lot, both in the gyms at which I train fighters and others that I've visited in my own development. Invariably we will have spikes in our practice participation because of upcoming matches. Guys we haven't seen in months come out of the woodwork to pick up enough stand-up to be effective in their fight if it stays on the feet. From a trainer's perspective, this is REALLY frustrating because the expectation is that he'll be an expert in striking in a few short weeks. Truth is, it takes years of constant practice and refinement to become an expert at anything, whether it's related to fighting or not. A few weeks here and there doesn't get anyone to the top of their game. That would be like me thinking I'm qualified to enter NAGA or the Pan Ams because I had a half-dozen lessons over 5 years with JD Shelley (black belt under Jacare Cavalcanti) and Rodrigo Vaghi (4-stripe Rickson Gracie black belt). These are two outstanding instructors, but if I don't dedicate the appropriate time and frequency to my training I'll never reach a level of competence, despite the skill of my instructor. To that end, if you only train Muay Thai, or boxing, or wrestling for a short period before a fight you can't possibly absorb all the technique and develop the expertise that someone who trains it daily does and that being the case, you are not an expert.
Conversely, there are athletes who make it a point to train Muay Thai, jiu jitsu, wrestling, boxing, and other martial arts separately, and consistently, who demonstrate true expertise in each. These athletes often fight those arts independently. Josh Sampo, for example, spends several days each week working on his Muay Thai and has fought three professional Muay Thai fights against three very good opponents, two of which for a well-respected promotion in New York City. Sampo has chosen to train the elements of his MMA game individually and has high-level skill in each. By spending requisite time to develop each skill individually one can become an expert, and subsequently develop a well-rounded skill arsenal.
FACT: Practice makes perfect
While it's true that I've already said the percentage of those who will reach the highest level of success within their chosen pursuit is very low that does not mean that all others who don't won't perfect their technique and skill(s). That said, if the commitment to train isn't there then the expertise won't be either. If you choose to train a day or two every now and then your development will be slow. If, however, you choose to train four or five days each week, every week, your odds at becoming proficient increase exponentially. Same goes for your strength and conditioning routine, too – don't be surprised that your cardio sucks if you run a mile once a week. You get out what you put in, and if you want to be successful you need to put in a lot.
FICTION: I have to spar hard in order for it to be effective.
This is not a statement that hard-sparring doesn't have a place in practice, it's statement that you can get A LOT of slowing down, backing the power off, and focusing on technique. It's valuable to go all-out during a training camp – you need to know where your power is, where your cardio stands, and how you react to being hit – but you don't need to test that every time you put on your gloves. Watch videos of Thais sparring – it's 25% power and focuses on strike placement, body movement and positioning, and understanding what follows what was just thrown. Avoid the injuries, bruised ego, and hard feelings and spar like two people trying to learn and develop instead of two meatheads trying to crush the other – he's your teammate, not your opponent – treat him as such.
Let's end on a FACT:
Whether you're good or bad at the sport(s) you do, you're blessed to be able to do it.
You don't have to hold titles, be undefeated, or make the big bucks to enjoy combat sports. To this day the best experiences I've had in Muay Thai did not involve competition. Determine why you're training, set goals to achieve whatever it is that you want out of the sport, and be realistic about how (and how long it will take) to get there. Expect to get out what you put in, and know that you can't half-ass anything when it comes to developing your fighting skills. You want to be a champion? Expect to live at the gym and don't make excuses if you're not where you want to be. You want to compete? Give your coach a reason to find you a fight – because you attend practice, you do everything asked, and didn't bitch about any of it.
Agree? Disagree? Send your comments to the email address below. Better yet, send your own facts or fictions – the good ones may just make a future column!
Patrick Christie is the Muay Thai trainer for The Art of Eight Muay Thai, the Muay Thai program of Vaghi Martial Arts and St. Charles Mixed Martial Arts. You can contact Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit teamvaghi.com and stcharlesmma.com