4 Surprising Things I Learned Practicing MMA

As a new practitioner, I was eager to learn all I could when I started with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and later began to train Muay Thai (MT). While I found a great deal of content to help ready me for the muscle soreness, buying a gi or mouth guards, or the feeling of being submitted and kicked, I was a surprised by the rest.

Things I learned from training.

You get used to being covered in sweat

Practicing Muay Thai and/or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (together as MMA) is hard.

When you start, you more than likely haven’t developed all of the muscles you’re going to use in the sport. You probably don’t have the cardio to do a full hour of class even and that’s okay, I didn’t either.

I had completed races up to a mediocre 15k, a mud race and a decade of prior weight lifting, a year of capoeira and I can tell you confidently that you won’t find any other exercise that can push you like this.

When your training, your training partners will be from all different levels of experience, ages and mindsets.. I have observed that no matter what level you are, how old you are or how fit you are, we each want to work through our own challenges and get better. When you are the partner you become part of the challenge.

In this sport you will find personal challenges yourself when you train and you will push yourself to overcome them. It helps having people around you doing the same and encouraging you to beat your yesterday-self. Beating yourself is the hardest and both you and your training partners will sweat, and I mean a lot. You will literally make it rain.

One day, you’ll come home, upon emptying your gym bag after class you will wonder how you didn’t notice the 10 pounds of sweat in your gi while you wear wearing it. After more time has passed, you will notice that the sweat your gi is accumulating isn’t even all yours, mostly probably someone else’s. Finally having achieved a level of recognizable skill in the sport, you will realize during class one day while working a defense on your back, that your partner sweats a lot more than you and as you consider their profuse perspiration all the while panting their sweat falls right into your mouth.

And you don’t worry about it, you stay calm and focus on the task at hand of defending yourself.

You make a lot of friends

Aristotle defined friendship as being one of three types: Friendships of utility, of the good, and of pleasure. Most of us will focus our lives around friendship of pleasure. This is the type of friendship where people become friends out of a mutual interest, fishing, cars, or MMA.

In a  combat sport, we can become friends of the other types because MMA offers a unique opportunity. We see in our training partners the utility.

Our training partners provide us with a benefit of having someone to train with. MMA is a sport not well learned without a training partner. You will never become good BJJ without a training partner. You may learn how to through a great kick in your garage alone but you will never learn the intricacies of moving will putting up a good defense and offensive with a live opponent alone.

For this reason, in the back ground of our minds, we learn to value our training partners for the value they bring into our lives. These people help us become better by being there for us to train with. We also become friends of the good.

Friends of the good are the most important. This type of friendship is the type based upon mutual respect and admiration of character. This is in its extremity is the type that build lifelong bonds from war. Of course, while MMA is not going to build the bonds of war experiences, it does trigger the same mechanism.

In MMA you will see amazing practitioners, you will train with them and you will see their willingness to pass onto you their skill. Each class people will also work submissions on you. These are moves that would in real application might break your elbow, blowout your knee or break your ankle. When you tap to indicate you give up, hopefully you do so before it would be painful, they will stop immediately. Often they will ask if you are okay, share feedback  about what happened, bump fists and do it again.

This cycle of being observant for  your well being during training builds trust with each other. It is hard to trust strangers, but training partners who are considerate and observant to not cause injury in a sport based around causing injury builds mutual appreciation, sharing skills build administration. Injuries will happen, they are unavoidable in sports and MMA is know exception.

When I broke my foot training, I had more people ask how I was doing and healing from the gym than I did from family. I am not saying family doesn’t care just that you will come away with even more people who care.

The people you train with, do not want to hurt you, nor do they want you to hurt them. We each want to come to class the next day. We just want to get better than we were before.

You will develop obliques and glutes

I had gone my entire life, 36 years exactly, without developed noticeable glutes. My wife would say I had the sad place of where glutes should have been. While I was slender when I started, I certainly had no obliques either.

In MMA, you will work every muscle though. Muscles like obliques are targeted by repetitions of drills. One such drill is called “shrimping” and another called “bridging”. Bridging happens to target your glutes. After thousands of repetitions of shrimping and bridging you might develop a nice set of glutes and obliques as well. Of course, if you do not eat a balanced calorie appropriate diet they may not show.

You’re a happier person

Our brains are wired with a really cool neurotransmitter called Dopamine. The effect of dopamine on the brain is in creating a reward and motivation system. This is the same system at work for addicts of cigarettes, heroin or alcohol. For most people, it just makes you want to eat a lot and watch TV, or workout out, or spend time with family.

Dopamine creates the mechanism for us to perceive rewards for our actions and motivates us to take those actions. The actions don’t necessarily have to be good for us, just make us feel good in some way.

When you train MMA there is constant game of risk and reward. This game plays out with our evolutionary monkey brain the same as it did for our ancestors thousands of years ago. Even if you can’t perceive it, the instinct to survive is there releasing dopamine during the match, every time you escape or counter, even if you don’t consciously feel it and by the end of class you feel almost euphoric.

The result of this is dopamine in your blood that lasts a can a while. I find others and myself report leaving with class calmer and happier. On the other end, a dopamine insufficiency has been linked to depression.

I had no idea how bad my monkey brain would fail me.

Probably the biggest shocker I learned how ill prepared I was to defend myself in a real self defense situation.

Before I set foot in an MMA gym, I think I had the same mindset of 90% of American males. I believed that I could reasonably defend myself if I had to. I thought that I could foresee the options, make the right decisions, execute and save myself and my family in an emergency. I though maybe I could even do better, I was in athletics my whole life, ex-military and fairly active compared to the population at large. I was 100% wrong. I didn’t have a clue that my brain would trick me constantly and make me feel good about it.

Specifically, I mean a couple things. Regardless of how many people claim adrenaline will turn them into Rambo, that they’ll deal with foes in one punch, pull out a sidearm and put down their assailants, the truth is most people will freeze up or do something dumb. Dumb decisions are the product of that dopamine system I mentioned earlier.

To make it worse, while our brains pouring out dopamine to motivate those dumb decisions it will dump adrenaline to make you really really pumped about making them. Only training can overcome this evolutionary mishap that is your survival mode. Even when it does, you still won’t magically know how to do things like defend yourself when you haven’t practiced.

Self defense is incredibly taxing on your body. For most people, there is enough reserves in their gas tank to handle a single assailant for maybe 30 seconds of constant attack. When there are three assailants, forget it, most people have a few seconds to scream for help.

We recently practiced three person attacks and even with the high level of cardio I have, I was nearing my throw up threshold after a minute. Again, self defense is hard!

Ultimately, I was incredibly to shocked to learn that my own brain would deceive me at every turn about how to survive. Even to this day, two years later it happens constantly. If you don’t practice self defense you absolutely will not know how to defend yourself.

Even better when you do practice self defense you will be happier, have more friends, be in better physical shape and hopefully will have overcome survival brain enough make the right decisions should you ever need to.



Patrick is a student at North Texas Mixed Martial Arts. Along with sharing his passion for MMA, he also writes about motorcycles, tech and AI, and raising kids.

You can check more of his posts here and at JenicaandPatrick.com.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt

Start typing and press Enter to search