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.





An inspiring day with Bill Wallace

Bill Wallace - Massimo Gaetani - Paul Barnett

Bill Wallace, Massimo Gaetani and Paul Barnett at Trinity College Cambridge

I recently had the opportunity of spending an entire day, including a 2 hours workshop, with Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace and here are some of my impressions about my time with this legend of modern martial arts.  It all started when Paul Barnett, a karate teacher which acts as his agent, contacted me offering a possible date for a seminar that I accepted without hesitation.  I previously met Superfoot in 2011 at a workshop organised by Colin Payne down in Kent but the opportunity of having him in my club with my students and instructors was not to be missed.

Bill arrived at London Heathrow with an overnight flight landing at 5:55am; Paul collected him and drove straight to Cambridge where they arrived just before 8:30am.  I was waiting for them at my clinic.  Bill recognised me from our previous, albeit very short and crowded encounter, but it was immediately as if we knew each other for a long time.  As he was very tired and jet lagged I allowed him to have a nap in one of our therapy rooms.

He woke up at about midday and we went together for lunch and then a coffee in town while visiting a couple of Cambridge Colleges.  The afternoon went by pretty fast and it was soon time for our workshop that lasted about two hours where Bill run through the basic concepts of his ‘Superfoot’ system and he was explaining how he kept winning fights in his career of undefeated 6 time world champion of Full Contact kickboxing.

BillFlexibilityBill is in late 60es and when you see him on the street he looks like a man of his age in a very good shape.  When he gets changed and starts warming up he just transforms in a different person; he is more flexible than most people I know and can kill with a speed and accuracy that must be seen live.

BillMassimoDinnerAfter the workshop we went out for dinner and it was about 9:30pm when Paul called it the day and moved on to their next destination for the workshop they planned for the second day of Bill’s 9 days staying the UK.

All of my students and instructors were thrilled by the idea of training with such a legend before we started.  After the workshop, they all confirmed how Bill exceeded any expectation.  There is no doubt that training with a legend like Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace is great from a technical point of view, for any martial artist that uses kicks.  However I gained more insights about his philosophy of life and training than I actually learn new techniques or strategies to win fights.  It’s great to speak to him about how  he met and/or trained with a huge range of celebrities within the martial arts, sports fighting and show business: Bruce Lee, Elvis Presley, Dan Inosanto, Dominique Valera and Benny Urquidez just mention a few.  The fact that at 67 he still training regularly and runs between 80 and 100 workshops per year in 2 continents is a great inspiration for all martial artists that, like me, are aiming at training until old age.  I hope there will be other opportunities to have a seminar with Superfoot in the near future; in the mean time I can say he really made my day.

Sparring with your friends to win against your demons

I saw the other day this very inspirational video from Benny “the jet” Urquidez and after some initial hesitation I literally had to write something more than a little compliment note.  I always considered myself a martial artist more than a fighter; for me learning and being good at techniques was and is more important than simple beating up people.  However, martial arts are about fighting and being at ease with it is essential, in order to put in practice what we learn from a technical point of view.

Some school push the fighting concept to the extreme and just spar all the time; these school often produce aggressive fighters that might have an easy early career but then face the reality of other aggressive fighter which are also technically very good.  Other schools simply use excuses like “what we do is too dangerous and we cannot practice it” and just don’t spar at all.  I mentioned in previous posts the importance of realistic training as well my view about fighting and winning.

In this short video Benny “the jet” highlights fears and worries that many people have when they start sparring and just by keep training, perhaps by asking to some people to go easy of you until you get better, will help you learn and improve your sparring technique and, eventually, become a champion if that’s what you aspire to.  By sparring your friends you will learn to fight and win against your inner demons that ultimately are the ones who are slowing you down and hindering your fighting skills.

Be water, my friend

waterdropThis is the last post of 2012 and the title I chose for it is one the sentences that made Bruce Lee famous when, during an interview in the late sixties, he stated that:

“Water is inessential in terms that you cannot grasp it or hit it and damage it; it can drip or crash.  If you put water in a pot it becomes the pot if you out it in a glass it become the glass.  Be water my friend!”

This concept is well explained in many eastern philosophies: water and its versatility as well as its destructive power when floods or tsunamis occur are usually used as  examples.

The concept of being water or behaving like water is in fact well known and broadly used among many Taoists authors and scholars.  Bruce Lee made this concept famous because he was the first celebrity at that time speaking about ancient Chinese philosophy during TV interviews.

My thought for today is: when practicing martial arts, while punching, kicking and performing whatever other technique how often do we actually stop and think about this concept?  Do we ever do it?  Is this a concept we should actually think about when training or it should be used as one of the basic principles on which we base our lives in martial arts?

Happy New Year to everyone!  I hope 2013 will bring great new things to yourselves and those who are close to you.

Improving performance in martial arts: a progressive approach

Image copyright and courtesy of the Judo Channel

Many martial arts techniques require actions that involve groups muscles that are not usually used in any other everyday’s activity; let’s we consider for example:

  • round kick to the head from tae kwon do
  • chain punches from wing chun
  • harai goshi from judo

Each of the above mentioned techniques are part of the basic training for their respective martial arts and yet, they involve several groups of muscles, at a high speed and in perfect synchronization and it could be quite challenging for a novice.

Achieving top performance in any of these moves (or any other technique) usually requires what implicitly most martial schools teach as part of their standard curriculum:

  1. the technique is shown by the instructor
  2. the student tries it and familiarise with the various aspects of the move: starting position, foot work, shifting weight in the right direction and at the right time, maintain a proper guard during the technique and the ending position
  3. once repeated a few times the instructor feeds back some suggestions about adjusting what is not working and the technique is repeated more times until a decent level of performance is achieved

I have been using successfully the approach described above with thousands of students; for some decently co-ordinated people techniques just come natural and everything simply works.  However there are people that struggle to learn a complex move at ones so they get overwhelmed by the whole process or frustrated by the lack of achievement.

If one of my students encounters this kind of difficulties I implement what I am here defining a progressive approach for improving performance.  When we are learning a new technique the aim should be to achieve unconscious competence, when your technique just flows without conscious effort.  Before achieving that state we need to work, consciously on the technique and repeat it until it becomes automatic.

My approach follows these steps:

  1. quickly establish what is already working in the technique
  2. isolate one or more aspects that need improvement
  3. instruct the student to focus his/her attention just on one aspect of the technique at the time until that works
  4. repeat <3> until all non working aspects have been worked on and improved
  5. finally perform the whole improved technique a few times to focus on the positive outcome and ensure it pushed at subconscious level

A typical example of the above process applies well to people that, when kicking front kick, drop or open their guard.  So here is the application:

  1. quickly establish what is already working in the technique: the kick is ok but the guard is not
  2. isolate one or more aspects that need improvement: the guard the unconsciously is opening up while kicking
  3. instruct the student to focus his/her attention just on one aspect of the technique at the time until that works: simply forget about the kick, it’s already work, just think about the guard be conscious to see where it while kicking
  4. repeat <3> until all non working aspects have been worked on and improved: keep kicking until the guard stays in position
  5. finally perform the whole improved technique a few times to focus on the positive outcome and ensure it pushed at subconscious level

The above methodology has been working for me for a long time and, while nobody actually explained to me in the first place I noticed its power and simple effectiveness over many years of practice.