Transitioning as an Art in MMA (diary entry)




The first official lesson of 2018 began my client on an exciting new exploratory adventure in mixed martial arts and martial arts cross-training. Having spent the latter part of 2017 focusing a lot on half-guard and its place in grappling, we decided to bring it back into MMA. However, the resulting lesson ended up exploring a more encompassing yet specific topic. We looked at our old friend, transitioning. This is a common soap box subject with me. It has to be up there with the fact that you will always move in a fight in terms of its importance to me. Indeed, there is an entire system that can be taught based on the bits in-between recognisable techniques.


We warmed up working on all ranges, beginning with footwork, kick exchanges, clinching grips and breakaways into strikes, guard transitioning, guard stacking and pin transitions on the ground. Then we did some focus mitt drills, which began with basic boxing combinations and then moved into take down entries. We moved to the ground and then began looking at holistic transitioning through ranges.


Striking from off one’s back is an enlightening experience for many martial artists. You immediately discover how much power it robs a fighter. Not only is the body in a restrictive position with little to no drive from the feet, but the fighter is also up against gravity. This is the starting point for developing transitional movements throughout the ranges. Here we first trained the simple back to seated position to kneeling to standing positions or closed/long guard to butterfly guard to combat base to fighting stance. This can be stripped down into a strength conditioning exercise known as the base squat, which can also be added to train certain relevant attributes.


Moving back onto the specific transitional techniques, we built onto the movement pattern with a simple, basic four-punch combination (jab/cross/hook/cross). Here I focused on covering any gaps in my fighter’s transitions. This is where the art comes in. As he finished his first four-punch combination he moved onto his next position. So, in this instance, his final cross set up for the next positions first jab. As he retrieved the cross, so he moved into the next position and jabbed, continuing the flow of the four-punch combination into the next position and so on. This brings restrictive training into a new domain altogether. Basic self-defence drills simply teach a fighter to keep striking from their back to standing. This is good advice and great training. As we look at making a fighter more comfortable in different ranges of an MMA fight, so we start developing his skills in a more fluid way.


Next we built on the cover. This is first done as an isolation exercise. The fighter covers as he transitions against incoming strikes. Then he combines the cover action with the combination work. This follows my general rule for training the cover that the coach does not relent on the focus mitts. He allows the fighter to fight their way out of the covering position and then exerts more pressure to prompt a return to the cover and then it continues.


We then went back to our guard transitional exercise. This began with a series of movements involving safely transitioning out of closed guard to butterfly guard to half-guard by blocking the hips and apply relevant hooks. We then overlaid the combinations and the cover, and then combined them, promoting a fluid movement.

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