Fundamental differences between amateur and professional fighting

Image Courtesy and Copyright 2014 Duncan Grisby

For many of us training martial arts is a way of life; some martial artists train just a few times per week or less while others follow a (nearly) daily routine.  While techniques and general skills can be maintained with relatively little effort and commitment the fitness and endurance required to fighting full contact imposes a strict training regime.

When I trained kickboxing in Italy between 1981 and 1994 I was training with several national, European and world class fighters; at that time it was possible to be included in those circles and win their titles while training 3 times per week for a couple of hours, perhaps adding a Saturday afternoon sparring sessions during the last few weeks before a fight.

Fast forward 3 decades and most martial arts clubs I know of are training 4-6 days per week and expect most of their athletes to be training 3-4 of these day, on average.  These minimum requirements for amateurs, perhaps keen amateurs but nothing more than that.

Moving into professional fighting is true paradigm shift, big time so.  Going pro means making a living out of your passion which is great; at the same time the stakes become bigger, much bigger and the level of preparation, in terms of physical fitness, technique, endurance and several other aspects of your practice must grow. An average week for a professional fighter sees a 5-6 days of different training sessions usually split in two daily workouts of 2-3 hours each.  Cardio workout like running are alternated to specific activities that focus on one particular aspect of your training such as speed, strength,  power, endurance, defence, ring (or cage) strategies and so on.  Training is no longer managed by a single coach or instructor but usually by a team of different specialists each of them concentrating on one of the above aspects.  Nutrition becomes also a very important aspect of the professional fighter: eating varied, lean and healthy which is a sufficient suggestion for any good amateur, is no longer enough. Very specific and personalised diets must be followed to ensure the optimum intake of carbs, proteins, amino acids, and vitamins, ensuring maximum energy and fast recovery from each workout while maintaining the best possible weight.

This is true for fighting sports as much as it is for other professional sports like Tennis; I saw an interview with John McEnroe discussing the latest victory of Andy Murray at the Wimbledon 2013.  McEnroe was stating how in the 70ies and 80ies his generation of players were obviously good players, people which played better than others, more than others and went on to win great matches.  The reality of a modern world level player is a complete marketing and sports machine working with several full time experts in strength, fitness, tennis, nutrition as well as mind coaches and sports psychologists.

So if you are considering a career as a professional fighter where you dream a life of training and going for fights think again; it’s way more than just a job.





A dignified approach to sparring beginners


Image Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

A couple of weeks ago I was having a chat with a friend who started white collar boxing in a local Cambridge club late last year. He described his first day in that club in a way that many would depict as a horrifying experience. He was asked to enter the ring to spar with 5 established, fit and trained athletes from that gym, just to see “what he’s got”. Result was, unsurprisingly, that he had a black eye and bruised nose. In my opinion the above described event could indeed be a good approach to check who really has the guts to step into a ring without necessarily being prepared for that kind of confrontation; it’s also a great way of losing, by the dozens, potentially good students and future promising fighters, by discouraging them to continue training.

As a martial artist and a coach I find this kind of attitude very much old school and outdated; I like to teach, instil and apply what we could define as a dignified approach to sparring beginners, a methodology that encourages a novice student to starts her first steps into sparring without unnecessary risks of getting hurt.

Sparring is about putting in practice what technical lessons are teaching: techniques, combinations, foot work, attacking, defending and blocking; it all gets mixed together at fast pace and without precise order. At first this is all very confusing and often overwhelming; for some people sparring triggers nearly irrational violent instincts while others simply freeze and get frustrated, feeling incapable of delivering decent performance.

We must assume that any decent martial arts club will have a bunch of senior students and members who are skilled in sparring and fit for fighting. Some of them are perhaps competing at local, regional or national level. These people have both the skill and the fitness to potentially hurt, seriously hurt, a beginner if just they wanted to. However it makes very little sense to do that; I educate all of my students to avoid exploiting the advantage they have on beginners.

A dignified approach to sparring beginners is simply about setting your skills at a level that is slightly better than the beginner you are training with and showing her how you can score on them starting from a fairly soft level of contact. Pressure of contact can and should be increased as and when applicable. This methodology ensures that the advanced student is winning the round and maintains its technical superiority while it offers a list of advantages to both people sparring:

  • Better control of the fight
  • Reduced risk of injuries from both sides
  • Fostering an increasing self confidence for the beginners that ultimately helps to improve her technique and sparring skills

In some cases the dignified approach to sparring beginners becomes difficult to maintain because:

  • The beginner is learning and progressing a lot faster than expected and her techniques from one session to the other improves to a much better point
  • The beginner builds up a false illusion that her sparring skills are now sufficient to put in difficulty the advance student
  • The beginner gets enraged and starts hitting without any control

In the above cases we usually approach the problem with a few words of advice; if the beginners still misbehaves out of logical control we suggest increasing the pressure until it is enough to win the round and educate her.

So if you are a beginner you can be assured that your first sparring sessions will not be traumatic and testing what “you have got” but be aware that there are usually many people in the club that can potentially harm you so respect for your opponent is always a must.