There are some additional specific concepts that need to be considered when doing MMA pad work. First of all there's the reality that MMA includes takedowns and striking on the ground so pad holding needs to reflect this unique part of the sport. While kickboxing and Thai boxing pad work will develop great striking skills they need to be modified in order to work for MMA.
The stance in kickboxing for example is too high to be effective in MMA. Standing tall with straight legs which helps with kicking reduces an athlete's ability to sprawl and wrestle effectively. The same applies to a boxing stance which while it tends to be lower than the kickboxing stance is too side on and makes grappling and kicking harder. MMA is a new sport and therefore has its own unique stance. So it is important when holding pads to make sure that the MMA fighter always returns to a stance that is appropriate for the sport. Their legs should never be straight with the knees locked and it is important that their hips face forward at all times to allow them to shoot for a takedown or sprawl to defend a takedown.
Also when holding pads for MMA fighters is very important to make sure that all the disciplines and ranges are trained on the pads. In the early days of (circa 1990) MMA fighters trained Muay Thai on the pads, wrestling at a wrestling club and submission in a gi at Brazilian Jui Jitsu academy. This separate approach to training developed disjointed fighters who had a hard time applying their skills in a fluid dynamic situation. Modern MMA fighters still train the separate disciplines of MMA individually but also regularly practice them in an integrated fashion. Modern MMA pad work includes standing striking from the MMA stance, clinching to takedowns and grappling on the ground with striking.
Focus mitts are the ideal tool to practice this integrated approach as Thai pads tend to be a bit bulky and cumbersome to use effectively especially when grappling. Over the past 10 years many new drills have been developed to closely replicate the technical and fitness demands of an MMA fight. Coaches nowadays use pad work to check on a fighter’s transitions and integration. Transitions refer to how smooth a fighter moves between the standing striking, takedowns and the groundwork. A fighter with good transitions is hard to beat as they have less openings and gaps in their defence. Poor transitions in MMA leave a fighter open and off position.
MMA pad work is simply a matter of designing combinations that are effective and easy to perform that cover the transitions from standing to the ground and from the ground back to standing. It is important as a coach to choose techniques and combinations that are high percentage and easy for most fighters to learn. Because MMA is essentially a mix of four or five martial arts it is quite easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of techniques that can be performed for each martial art. A discerning and discriminating eye is needed to shift through all the techniques and find the key essential moves that make a difference most of the time in a fight.
From personal experience of training MMA with many different schools and academies is that the instructor’s primary passion tends to dictate their style of training. For example BJJ instructors naturally tend to favour the ground more than stand-up. Vice versa Thai boxers tend to favour the stand-up more than the ground. To be a truly complete mixed martial artist it is important to avoid having preferential areas of interest. Favouring one style or range above all others tends to limit one's ability to adapt and fight effectively.
This is quite common to see in amateur MMA where Kickboxers and Thai boxers find they get taken down and controlled by wrestlers. In this situation many fighters get frustrated and lose the fight because they were unable to adapt both technically and mentally to the reality of the fight. Even in the elite level like the UFC it is still common to see professional fighters who are extremely one-dimensional.
They have their strengths at which they are very good, but when taken out of their preferred skill set tend to be uncomfortable and end up losing fights. Equal time should be spent training each of the ranges of MMA including standing striking, wrestling and takedowns, ground and pound, and submissions. They should also be trained together in a fluid and dynamic situation that closely mimics a full MMA fight.
MMA pad training
Therefore MMA pad training has to include
- Anti-takedown striking (using striking to stop being thrown to the mat)
- Dirty boxing (which is striking within the clinch)
- Ground and pound (striking on the ground)
- Anti-ground pound (defending against strikes on the ground)
- Scrambling back to your feet from the ground
The more successful MMA gyms where they coach UFC calibre fighters include all of these elements when working on the pads.
If any of these areas are missing during training the fighters left unprepared when it comes to fight night. I am continually surprised by the number of gyms that allow beginners to compete without all the skills they need to survive. It is very unprofessional if not downright dangerous to let a novice fight without adequately preparing them. Many times I have seen new guys knocked out or choked unconscious because they were poorly trained.
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