Because mixed martial arts (MMA) is one of the fastest growing sports among women, we thought it would be helpful to glean some advice from someone who knows a thing or two. We tracked down Brian McLaughlin, a 1st degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and former professional MMA fighter. He is also the owner and head instructor of Precision Mixed Martial Arts in LaGrange, NY. Here’s what he had to say:
“I remember when I began training MMA in 1999, people had a very different view of the sport. The most common question people asked me was how many boards I could break. When I began fighting professionally in 2006, bouts were often held after hours in “gentleman’s club” parking lots, a far cry from the sold out arenas of Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Winning a bout earned you little more than a pat on the back or, if you were lucky, one hundred dollars.
A decade later and things couldn’t be more different. Never before has the sport enjoyed more widespread appeal and popularity. However, MMA is not only attracting more spectators and pay-per-view buys; people from all walks of life are awakening to how MMA training can improve their everyday lives. By far the demographic that has seen the biggest influx of both competitors and recreational athletes is women.
MMA was marketed as the ultimate boy’s club. Champions were referred to as the baddest man on the planet, the UFC commentator co-hosted “The Man Show” on Comedy Central. The president of the company, Dana White, when asked when women would compete inside the octagon, famously replied, “Never”.
Ronda Rousey changed all that. She showed an entire generation of women that they could not only become fighters, but that they could be feminine at the same time. Women went from being on the fringe of the sport to headlining the biggest cards of the year. This paradigm shift has not only opened doors for combatants, but women everywhere who want to participate in the sport. MMA gyms are now marketing directly towards female consumers often times even creating exclusive female-only training sessions.
I’ve worked with women of all levels, from four-year-old girls all the way up to the current UFC champion Amanda Nunes. If you’re a woman who has been bitten by the MMA bug, here is some info that can help you on your path through mixed martial arts.”
Thanks for the overview, Brian. Now, for the questions we all want to ask.
FG: Do I need to be in shape before training MMA?
BM: By far, this is the most frequently asked question by potential students. MMA seems intimidating to the outsider. Aside from fearing the punches and choke holds, the last thing a woman wants is to collapse from complete exhaustion halfway through the class warm-up. Unfortunately, this fear leads many ladies to put off training when in reality it is completely unnecessary.
MMA training will get you in shape! Most people who step onto the mat are not super athletes. In fact MMA superstar turned movie star Gina Carano began training because she was out of shape and overweight. MMA training is also a very specific type of strength and endurance. Running laps and lifting weights might make you look good, but it won’t help your MMA training as much as just stepping on the mat and taking class.
FG: What benefits can I expect to see from my MMA training?
BM: It has been said that MMA training generally shows men they are not as strong as they thought and teaches women they can be stronger than they ever imagined. One of the greatest fears a woman can have is to be held down by a man that is bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than they are. Mixed martial arts teaches women in a supportive environment to not only confront that fear, but to reliably overcome it in nearly any circumstance. Showing a woman that she can overcome that terrifying scenario gives her the confidence to tackle any problem placed in front of her. Knowing you can survive being choked, kicked and punched on a nightly basis makes that big meeting or presentation seem a little less scary by comparison.
Aside from the physical benefits, MMA training allows women to form a social network of men and women who truly care about them. The bond that develops between training partners runs deep. MMA training forces you to be vulnerable and exposes your true personality to those you share the mat with, this type of training builds a bond like no other. The sense of community, camaraderie and friendship that MMA training builds will help any women navigate through life’s tough times.
FG: What is the most important attribute for training MMA?
BM: Whenever I’m asked this question people expect me to reply with some derivative of strength, speed or athleticism. While those are certainly beneficial, they pale into comparison to the most important attribute – being a good listener. In my experience, women make better students than men. The main reason is women do not think they know better than the instructor. Men have a natural stubbornness; they often strive to be the alpha and as a result will follow their own intuition before adopting that of the instructor. Many men are shocked that they are unable to beat the instructor on their very first day. Women, generally, do not come to the table with this hubris. By not trying to constantly prove themselves they listen to their instructor rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and, as a result, have a more direct path to success despite the fact that they may have less natural strength or explosiveness. Listening to your coach and asking for help when you need it will do more in the long run than any amount of speed or strength.
FG: How often should I train?
BM: When beginning, I’m a firm believer that 2-3 times a week is ideal. This keeps students from burning out or injuring themselves while the training is still new. Additionally, it makes sure the student looks forward to training rather than getting tired of it. For recreational students, that training frequency is perfect, the key is consistency. However, for those who wish to one day compete, after the initial 6 months they should up their intensity to 4-6 days a week. Some students want to do extra work at home. While a little bit of shadow boxing might do some good, the best thing you can do is to follow a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep. This will allow you to give training your all and keep you healthy enough to continue long term.
FG: Should I train with men?
BM: Female students should absolutely train alongside the men in class. At any academy the males are likely the most experienced and knowledgeable practitioners and can pass that on to their female teammates. Additionally, from a self-defense perspective, women are most often concerned about being attacked by a male perpetrator. Therefore, it is important that they are familiar with the size, strength and aggression with which men are endowed so that they can learn to counter and overcome it. Finally, your training partners are going to become some of your best friends and that bond is made stronger by training together. Excluding yourself from training with the majority of the class will take away from your experience. With that said, should a male training partner act inappropriately be sure to notify the instructor or gym manager. If the person acting inappropriate is the head instructor then make sure you find a new school immediately.
FG: Thanks, Brian. Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
BM: Hopefully, this information will help you on your journey towards becoming a mixed martial artist; a decision that will undoubtedly make you a stronger, happier, more confident woman.