This is How Your First UFC Class Could Go
The first time I’ve been exposed to MMA was through my asian friends back in France. They used to watch K1 and Pride, two leagues that were big in Japan.
At the time, I thought it was insane! Two guys in a cage going through a bloody war until one passes out?! It looked like there was no rule, no weight class. The referees didn’t seem to care about the safety of the fighters, and never stopped the fights when needed.
When moving to the U.S., I learned about the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) by hanging out in the living room with my college roommates.
What I like about the UFC
I liked the UFC much better than the older Japanese leagues for two main reasons, the safety and the techniques of the fighters.
Safety: One of the first thing UFC referees say before the fight is “protect yourself at all times”. Safety is such a prominent part of what UFC is, they turned it into a HIV Awareness Campaign.
Technicality: With no state or government laws regarding weight class restrictions, organizations in other countries were free to schedule bouts with little regard for weight differential. In the early days of MMA, a fight between Royce Gracie (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, BJJ) and Sumo Akebono sounded exciting.
For BJJ practitioners, the victory of Gracie wasn’t a surprise. The overall fighting strategy of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is designed to equip a physically smaller or weaker individual with an effective method of defending against a larger and stronger attacker.
According to Wikipedia, due to the increasingly competitive and international nature of the sport, weight limits have been set by the promotions themselves in alignment with the Unified Rules. Maintaining standard weight classes is seen as fair and standard for all competitors.
The strict weight categories established by the UFC is a reflection of that evolution.
The high level of competition in MMA is no secret. Fighter’s skills have increased over the years. Most of them now master multiple martial arts. For example, it’s common for high-ranked mixed martial artists to have a wrestling background, and pick up boxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu later on.
Because only well-rounded fighters make it to the top, the difference between them is getting smaller. Raw talent isn’t sufficient anymore, and strategy has a big impact on the outcome of the fight.
These are no parking lot brawls anymore.
So you wanna be a UFC fighter? It takes a lot of sacrifices. The best become millionaires, while the others try to scrape a living together. And $4oo grand prize BJJ competitions won’t cut it.
Since experimenting is part of my resolutions this year, it was a great excuse to take my first MMA class.
I recently moved close to a UFC Gym, so I went to their website to get a four-day free pass.
My first class at a UFC Gym
I went to the UFC Gym with the simple intention of getting more info about my free pass.
After filling out a waiver form, the guy at the counter told me a BJJ class was about to start, so I should just jump in. After a few seconds of hesitation, I walked to the UFC-branded mat.
Right there, Steve, a skinny old man was the first warming up. He looked like he knew what he was doing. When the other students came in, I realized he was the weakest member of the class.
What am I doing here? Am I about to get destroyed?
When coach Troy Davis came in, he answered all my questions and reassured me. He will take the time to teach me the basics. No rush, no harm.
Troy is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter who’s a student of the legendary Roberto Traven. He’s the head BJJ Instructor at the Moohan Martial Arts Academy in Cumming Georgia, and is a former Division 1 College wrestler.
He’s very passionate of BJJ, and you can tell he wants to pass it on to his students.
Troy makes sure the students know about the traditions behind brazilian jiu jitsu.
Among the ten students in the class, most were advanced. I later learned that beginner’s classes were held on Monday and Wednesday nights, but were filled with kids.
As a reflection of the coach, all the students were really patient with me, taking the time to break everything down. Jiu Jitsu is complex in that way. You have to think about every possible scenario and react quickly if you don’t want to end up submitted.
Students made a conscious effort to get into jiu-jitsu, and they are committed to it. All of them were really friendly and respectful. They didn’t care if it was my first time trying. They weren’t there to rip me into pieces but to help me grow.
Once you’re a MMA artist, you’re part of a community, part of the family.
The traditions behind BJJ
Brazilian jiu-jitsu came to be its own martial art through the adaptation of judo thanks to the Gracie’s brothers, Carlos and Hélio. They eventually passed their knowledge to their extended family and former students who became instructors.
Even though BJJ isn’t a Japanese martial art per se, it’s very common to bow on and off the mat.
I was a bit surprised when Troy asked us to bow in front of him and the Brazilian flag at the beginning and the end of practice. BJJ is known as a more laid-back sport, but this shows us the asian heritage and value behind it: tradition and respect.
The class I was in was no-gi, meaning I didn’t have to wear a gi, aka kimono. The gi vs. no-gi classes makes a big difference in a martial art that relies mainly on grappling. During competitions, the gi is used to grapple the opponent with techniques that attacks the gi itself, like collar chokes or using the sleeve of the gi to tie up a partner’s arm or hand.
The techniques I learned
Before getting into the technical aspect of the class, we did a good twenty minutes of cardio. I also did several exercises to improve my body awareness, strength and mobility.
Stand to base: Learn to protect yourself from the ground as you stand up to regular stance.
Hip Out & Hip In: Hip escaping is one of the most used movement when defending from the bottom. It can help you get out of a bad situation, and even turn it around.
Roll across shoulders: This was the hardest since I had to use my neck and both shoulders to complete the roll. Staying aligned was the biggest challenge.
Forward rolls: Since I’m very agile, this was my favorite! No, I’m kidding… I was trying to roll on my head when really I should roll on one my shoulder by pulling my hand in between my legs. I did better in about five minutes thanks to Troy.
Then, I got paired with a blue belt student to practice some of the primary ground positions: guard and full mount. Blue belt is most often the second adult rank in BJJ. At this level, students have already learned a large amount of techniques and have undertaken hundreds of hours of mat-time to learn how to implement these moves efficiently.
I did ok. I can tell having a visual memory helps and I understand why hundreds of hours of practice and repetition makes a difference. BJJ is such a technical and meticulous sport. You don’t need a lot of power but doing a technique to perfection is essential. For example, when they showed me how to do a choke by leaning on the side, I learned that flexing your biceps is the key to success.
Finally, I did a little bit of sparring. During the sparring, I “fought” against 3 guys. Full disclaimer, these weren’t really fights since I had to start from both the guard and the mount. The fight stopped when one fighter loses position.
So this is what happened:
The guy at the counter: Yes, the guy I mentioned earlier turned out to be an advanced practitioner. He went easy on me, but I still lost both from the guard and the mount.
Miguel: Miguel is Mexican so we bonded a little before the fight since I learned some Spanish while working in Monterrey, Nuevo León. As a beginner, Miguel wasn’t really in shape yet, but really strong. Again, I lost both from the guard and the mount.
Steve: Steve is the skinny old guy. He seems like he’s been around and he has been practicing for a bit. He got frustrated really quickly though, and I was determine to win. So, I did!
The popularity of the UFC has been helping with the development of MMA, and UFC Gyms open everywhere. If you’re interested, total investment for a new UFC GYM franchise ranges from $390,257 to $891,007. To open a new gym franchise, an investor needs $175,000 in liquid capital and $350,000 in net worth.
Even though some UFC gym members choose to join because they want a healthier lifestyle, practicing MMA seriously requires a very high commitment that can be hard to fit in our busy lives.
Getting into a martial art like BJJ is a passion, and a lifestyle. To get into it for real would require a lot of changes for someone like me.
Jiu jitsu is considered a do for a reason. It is a way of life.