Starting MMA with no previous martial art experience is 100% possible. But there are some things you should be prepared for.
First of all, you need to know that MMA is complicated. Techniques of almost all known martial art are used in MMA and even a whole life of training isn’t enough to learn and master all of them.
At first, you need to expose yourself to all kinds of techniques both in striking and grappling and see which ones work for you and then master only those techniques. And this leads to my first tip:
1. Choose a Specific Style
Fighters who can do it all (wrestling, grappling, and striking) effectively – against top opponents are very few. Most of them are specialized in one style whether is just striking, combined with striking, wrestling and BJJ, etc.
If you are like the most people and you are not a super fighting talent or you haven’t started a martial art at a young age, you will most likely become good at a specific style and be mediocre or even bad in other. For example there some people who are pretty good kickboxers but not very good at wrestling. Or there are good wrestlers who can’t submit most people or strike very well.
Such fighters should learn how to use their strenghts and make the opponent play their game. For example the kickboxers who can’t wrestle can work on their takedown defense or learn submissions of their back to conter wrestlers.
Wrestlers need to learn striking defense and closing the distance safely when it comes to stand-up fighting. And on the ground – BJJ defense and ground and pound so they can finish or at least hurt their opponents even without great BJJ skills.
So a piece of good advice to speed up your MMA progress is to actually do other combat sport before that. I know that’s not what you came for. But if you take 6 months to practice just some striking martial art – boxing, kickboxing, muay Thai and another 6 months to train a grappling martial art – BJJ or wrestling (or at least 6 months of practicing any combat sport before MMA), you would know what you like more and what you are good at.
That way instead of learning all those styles from scratch, you’ll start to perfecting them and learning how to use them in MMA. Of course, you can just start MMA because there are days in which you’ll just box, do just muay Thai, wrestle or grapple but your progress would be slower.
2. Learn from Fighters with Similar Body Type to Yours
If you are a tall and lanky guy who prefers striking, it would make much more sense to learn from fighters like Israel Adesanya or Anderson Silva than from fighters like Khabib, right?
So my second tip is simple, find a fighter with similar body type to yours and start binge-watching his fights. Notice what techniques this fighter is using and how he’s dealing with different opponents both defensively and offensively.
You can learn from all different types of fighters later on but do that for now.
3. Watch Sparring Videos
Sparring is an exercise like any other (it’s not fighting it should be at least) and you need some time to learn it. But that can take too much time if you do it on your own, so I suggest watching experienced fighters sparring.
You can find tons of videos of pro/amateur boxers, Muay Thai fighters, or MMA guys sparring. Watch them and imitate what they are doing the next time you spar. That’s a quick way to learn how to spar effectively. That’s very important especially if you spar with other newbies because you most likely won’t have an idea what you’re doing. Spar very light.
When it comes to BJJ, don’t just watch people rolling. You’ll also need explanation. While in striking you pretty much know what is happening, BJJ is quite the opposite. You’ll have to watch videos explain what techniques people are doing and why.
Find some videos on BJJ basics for white belts, and watch them. I know it can be super boring when you aren’t familiar with the sport (at least for me it was) but you need to know at least the most common positions in BJJ and their hierarchy (guard, side control, mouth, back mount, etc).
That way you’ll know much more when you start training. Watch 5-10 videos now and 20 more during your first 5-10 classes (especially the BJJ videos).
4. Watch Fights Breakdowns
Watching fight breakdowns can increase both your understanding and interest in MMA tens of times. So that’s another important content to watch.
Here’re my favourite channels for fight breakdowns:
- The Weasle – fight breakdowns, predictions podcasts and other cool videos about MMA
- Jack Slack – Mainly podcasts but there are cool breakdowns on specific MMA fighters
- ShortBoxing – boxing technique breakdown (this is actually the channel of my other website – shortboxing.com) there are some cool stuff there so check it out
Or you can just go to youtube and search for a breakdown of a specific fight that you watched.
Spend some time watching breakdowns, it’s actually super interesting.
5. Do a Lot of Shadowboxing at Home
You’ll have to spent some time training outside the gym. There’s no way you become good if work out only there especially if you go to the gym 3 or less times a week.
While you can’t practice grappling on your own (at least not super efficiently), you can practice striking. You’ll need some time to train your coordination.
At first your punches/kicks will feel slow, weird, and weak. But that’s completely normal. The best way to fix that, if not the only way, is by doing shadowboxing.
Shadowboxing is probably the most important thing you need to do at the beginning. Even before the heavy bag. After you learn the basics – how to throw jab, cross, hook, and uppercut and how to kick, knee and elbow, + basic boxing/kickboxing footwork you need to practice that stuff over and over again.
That’s the only way you’ll build stamina in your shoulders and leg, speed and power to a certain extend (you need heavy bag to build more power but that’s not our goal now).
Once you start improving your technique, you’ll start throwing faster and you’ll start feeling the “snap” of your punches and kicks which is super cool and makes you want to practice even more.
Start by doing just 5 minutes of shadowboxing at home, it actually can make a huge dfference. You can just watch boxing/kickboxing or muay thai shadowboxing tutorials and then get started. But before that, learn how to throw punches and kicks and learn 1-2 basic combinations.
Increase the time later, when 5 min is too easy for you.
6. Choose a Good Gym
This one is crutial. You want to pick a legit MMA gym. And to make sure you do that, you simply need to check the trainers/students there.
If the gym has a fighting team (active MMA competitors) or the coach is retired or still active MMA fighter, then the gym is legit. There are some self-defense gym, but most of them are bs and even if they are legit, you’ll most likely learn more in a sport-focused gym. The things that work in the cage/ring work also on the street no matter what some people are saying.
But what gym you choose, really depends on your goals. If you want to If you want just to get in shape or lose weight a fitness kickboxing class will work. But if you want to learn how to defend yourself or to learn MMA and compete some day, find a proper MMA gym.
7. Be Prepared to get Frustrated
As I already mentioned, you’ll lack coordination at first and your punches and kicks will feel slow and weak. The footwork will feel weird also.
But that’s just the first feel weeks. If you practice shadowboxing at home, you’ll quickly get the basics of striking. At that point it’ll be quite fun, you don’t need to learn many techniques to have fun with striking.
The problem is BJJ. It’s not something natural at all and your body will need more time to adapt to the movements and techniques. Here comes the real frustration. I remember how I though BJJ wasn’t for me because I sucked so much the first few weeks.
It actually took me about 3-4 months to become good at certain techniques and start tapping pepople out (mostly people on 1-2 classes). It’s super frustrating when you finally get the mount but you remember that you don’t know any submissions and have no idea what to do from there exept laying on your sparring partner.
So don’t worry if you suckat BJJ, we all do at first. Just keep rolling, trust the process and don’t think too much about. Follow the previous tips and in few months you’ll start to become good and maybe for you even BJJ will be more fun then striking.