It’s five-thirty PM when I pull into the gym parking lot. I shut off my car, sigh, and get out, unloading an overstuffed gym bag and slinging it over my shoulder.
From that point on is a collection of thoughts from my stream of consciousness as I prepare myself for the night ahead of me.
Check in. Change into shorts. Fix hair. Step onto mat. Timer dings. Jump rope. Round ends. On Thai pads, jab, cross, hook, rear kick. Hands up. On your toes. Turn hip. Round ends. New combination. Line up. Bow out. Change into Gi. Warm up. Watch demonstration. Drill guard pass. Start rolling. Side mount, full mount. Shift weight. Gi choke. Tap out. Round ends. Shake hands. Back to locker room. Change. Sit down. Breathe.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the definition of the verb to train is to form by instruction, discipline, or drill.
The reasons we train are as varied as the practitioners themselves. Self defense, fitness, confidence, competition, etc. And, all of these goals can be met with the help of any discipline of the martial arts.
But there is something different about MMA gyms; a completely different informal camaraderie exists within that area, one that the karate masters of old would most likely have spit on.
As fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller writes, “Gyms have an unusual family feel to them, with everyone working to help each other as well as himself, a symbiotic relationship rarely found in any other kind of workplace.”
So what is it that drives us to train? Why do we subject ourselves to bodily abuse 2 ½ hours a night, three nights a week?
The answer lies in what we gain.
From the Accountant Jiu Jitsu ace to the UFC-fanboy high-school kid, the fitness divas to the MMA fighters, we all have something in common; as practitioners, we engage ourselves in a perpetual state of improvement, striving to learn and only get better at the sport we love.
But what makes for a good training session? What key elements can we look to as we seek to maximize our mat time?
A good training session has a million key components, but certainly the top five could be considered the following:
It’s a pretty simple concept to grasp; if you want to get better, you need to spend time on the mat. The more you’re out there, the more you’re learning, the better you get. As Tal Williams of Elite Mixed Martial Arts writes in his article “The Way to Train-Jiu Jitsu Idealism”, “Sure, you will get better going 1 or 2 days a week, but your progress will be similar to the evolution of man. You will be the homo habilis of jiu jitsu. The people who train there 7 days a week will be the ubermensch.”
Everybody’s seen the dorky “Attitude is Everything” poster tacked to the wall of their fourth grade classrooms. But there may be more to this cliché when we apply it to everything. Walking onto the mat with a positive attitude allows us to come to class with the barriers down and the floodgates open to receive knowledge. BJJ master Ricardo de la Riva says of attitude, “The idea is to arrive with an open mind and to practice with pleasure, and not to simply want to win in the training.”
Whether it’s mastering a stacking guard pass or a Thai rear kick, setting goals is imperative to improving your game as an athlete. Ze Mario Sperry, Brazilian Top Team black belt shares some of his wisdom in goal-setting: “The ideal is that the fighter define what he wants. Afterwards, find ways to get there, reckoning the time necessary to reach it.”
Not enough can be said of how critical conditioning is. In order to be successful at the gym, you have to maintain a small amount of conditioning outside of class other than laps from the couch to the fridge. Get on a treadmill. Do some sport-specific strength training. The better shape you’re in, the longer you’ll be able to train, and, as a bonus, the better you’ll be able to execute techniques.
Drilling & Application
Repetition is the mother of memorization. Especially in the fighting arts, the masters remind us that five or six repetitions in class will not be enough to engage muscle memory. Get a training partner and drill moves during open mat time. Likewise, all drilling with no real-life application, such as sparring, will never allow you to learn how the moves work in real time. Balance both out, and you’ll find yourself on the right track.
As I breathe, my stream of consciousness gradually builds up into more cognitive thought. I pack up my things and head out of the gym, saying goodbye to coaches and training partners. I walk out the door, reminded of an anonymous quote I once heard; “Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated”.
Training is my obsession. It’s why I get up everyday. And as I get back into my car, I know I’m not alone. Of everyone in the gym that night, all going back to their various lives and homes, we all feel the same strange euphoria after a good night of training.
And that’s a feeling we all can appreciate.