3 Things I’ve Learned from Starting (and Sucking at) MMA Training


MMA training lessons
iStock/Cecilie_Arcurs

For the past few months, I’ve been training in MMA (mixed martial arts). And by “training”, I mean the most amateur version of MMA training imaginable. Rather, I show up to class and leave slightly less defeated and embarrassed than the class before. Progress, right?

I go twice per week for 90 minutes a session. I have absolutely nothing to contribute to the conversation of MMA itself – I simply decided to use it as a unique form of exercise and hopefully pick up some wisdom along the way. For anyone looking to break from the regular workout routine, I highly suggest taking up MMA (or any form of martial arts). No matter how bad you suck at it or how high you thrive, you learn a lot about your body and mind, their limitations, and their potential.

What is MMA?

MMA is exactly what its namesake proclaims – it takes on techniques from various martial arts and combat sports and is considered to be one of the most effective martial arts for unarmed combat. MMA allows for striking and grappling and is performed both standing and on the ground.

MMA is gaining more attention among the masses in the U.S. with the rise in popularity among individual fighters, such as Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, who put the sport on the map in recent years.

I knew nothing about MMA until I discovered my landlord’s son was the world MMA champion from Turkey (more than ten years ago) and that he just opened a training facility in my neighborhood. A few girlfriends and I got together and signed up for his morning class. We all wanted to kick ass, and the opportunity to learn MMA from someone so experienced felt rare.

3 Things I’ve Learned from My MMA Training

1. It Feels Good (and Oddly Refreshing) to Grow

That sounds like a corny blanket statement, but it’s true. After a certain age, it seems that we are all stuck in our rituals, rarely trying out new things. Or, even more accurate: we don’t commit to or excel in new things. Sure, we’ll try out a group class at the gym, but we rarely get into it – so into it that we begin to grow and change because of it. I know I’m guilty of this. I have my ways and it takes a lot for me to change my regimen.

Because none of us girls in the class are quite in shape (according to our trainer), he spends a lot more time on our conditioning rather than on kicking and striking. We are still punching the air or hanging bags and I still have no idea what I’m actually doing. But with each class, I learn more. I am faster. I am stronger. I take cues better. I am getting the jargon. I moan and complain less.

The best part is, despite having physically suffered during its duration, I leave class wanting more. I feel like I am becoming more precise and honing a skill I never knew I could have. The progress is encouraging, and it makes me ever the more excited to get better. It also opens up a world I never knew existed.

I don’t get this same sensation from spinning or yoga classes, and maybe it’s because I’ve been doing them for years. MMA is so off my radar, it feels like an escape from my comfort zone, and to evolve in that awkward space is particularly refreshing. It is also a direct sport – you are punching or grappling someone. The effects feel very immediate, and thus very rewarding.

2. I’m Much Weaker and Less Coordinated than I Thought

I’ve always had this urge to start boxing. To me, boxing is just what a cool girl would do to vent her frustrations. But the competitive aspect didn’t really encourage me, nor did the technique. I just envisioned myself punching the shit out of a boxing bag and looking badass while doing it. MMA reminded me that there is, indeed, technique to martial arts and that without it, I would never look cool.

I once took a dance class. When I dance at a club, I always imagine I look sexy and coordinated. But when I saw my reflection in the mirror as I twisted and twerked throughout the class, I was mortified. Who did I think I was? Nothing brings you down to earth quite like public-school-bathroom-bright lights, a mirror, and a sober conscious. That’s kind of how MMA feels to me right now. Our MMA trainer has no mirrors in his studio, and I am thankful for that. Even so, I can feel how silly I appear while boxing, despite being a fitness fiend. I was sure I had the stamina, strength, and general poise to get through a MMA class without making a fool of myself. However, I break down often. And while this hurts my ego, it also reminds me that I am accomplishing just what I set out to do: to challenge my body in new ways. I’m working muscles that were formerly dormant and stretching and bending in ways unfamiliar to my body. While I may be weak now, I won’t be later.

3. Mental Endurance Gets Boring, Too

Three to four times per week, I do a pretty intense run on the treadmill that incorporates bouts of sprinting and inclines. It’s hard and requires a lot of endurance. My mind is used to the routine. Each minute is planned out and I repeat the same run every time.

In my MMA training, I find myself struggling to perform certain movements for a set period of time that pale into comparison to the endurance needed during my regular run. MMA requires mental strength, but I am not so easily able to transfer the same mental strength I have during my intense runs to the MMA mat. I began to wonder if I was ever mentally strong in the first place. Was my mind just a creature of habit, bored and used to the repetitive nature of my run?

MMA reminds me that progress is just as important in the mind as it is in the body. It has to adapt, shift, and accept new challenges. So caught up in my regular routine, I became stuck in my expectations of what I would accomplish at the gym and my mind became stubborn because of it. MMA breaks the cycle and reminds me to embrace new challenges and instead signal my body with positive, encouraging thoughts, not restrictive ones.

Going Forward with MMA

I’m still training and learning, and so far, my MMA experience has been pretty wonderful, despite, or rather, because of the challenges it offers me. My three main takeaways from MMA training can be applied to other sports, not just martial arts. For me, MMA came out of left field, just as it may for you, and it has inspired my workout routine for the better.

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Aylin Erman