Mixed Martial Artists are always looking for a competitive edge. They’re constantly checking out the latest in sport nutrition and the first to explore a new workout or training routine. They need to be on top of all the trends in order to stay competitive in their sport.
Like its name implies, Mixed Martial Arts was founded on the idea of taking skills and training methods from all the fighting sciences and then combining them to create the best sport-combat strategy possible. They carefully select the most proven methods and use them in order to prepare themselves for the ring.
However, there’s one training method that seems to have been overlooked. -Or at least no one’s been willing to talk about it… until now!
I discovered this ‘secret method’ years ago while I was preparing to enter the ring for a kickboxing match.
My previous fight hadn’t gone very well and I was really tight and nervous. Before the fight, one of my trainers, Jerry Cheng, took me to an open room and led me through some T’ai Chi exercises that his father had taught him. He had me start by slowly circling my neck and shoulders, then proceeded with a routine that worked its way down my body; gently moving my arms, torso, hips, knees, ankles and feet until every muscle was stretched and warmed up. Even better, my mind began to relax and I was able to focus on the fight ahead.
I fought very well that night, easily winning by TKO in the second round. I felt loose, aware, and relaxed the entire time. To this day, I still credit T’ai Chi with helping me win that fight.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “T’ai Chi? You mean that slow-motion thing that old people do in the park on Saturday afternoons? How could that possibly help me in the ring?”
Well, here’s the deal, I know MMA looks a lot different than T’ai Chi. You have to hit really hard and really fast, while T’ai Chi moves softly and slowly. I know you practice grappling skill on the ground (Sometimes for hours on end), while T’ai Chi is all about standing and rooting in place. (So, it’s not the actual techniques but the training methods that make T’ai Chi so valuable to fighters.)
I’m not going to tell you that T’ai Chi can replace any of the bagwork, focus pads, or sparring that you currently do, but I can tell you that T’ai Chi can bring incredible benefits to your training. It’s the perfect supplement workout for anyone who’s serious about MMA competition and it’s benefits are something you just can’t afford to ignore.
Here are my thirteen top reasons why you NEED to crosstrain in T’ai Chi if you’re a competitive fighter…
MMA training is one of the most physically demanding workout anyone can imagine. It requires endurance, strength, flexibility, and mental fortitude. The athletes withstand extremely intense workouts that push them to their physical limits over and over again.
It’s a punishing sport and the athletes need to take care that their bodies recover fully between workouts. Failure to properly recover results in diminished ability, burnout, and eventually serious injury.
T’ai Chi is a perfect recovery workout because it slowly mimics the skills used in MMA Competition. However, instead of punishing the body to greater output, T’ai Chi helps reduce tension in the muscles. Practiced during the Rest period of your schedule, T’ai Chi will aid recovery by keeping your muscles moving in a soft, soothing manner. This helps keep you from becoming stiff and sore the day after an intense workout.
- Healing Benefits
Studies have shown that T’ai Chi is useful in preventing many different types of illnesses. (High Blood Pressure, Arthritis, Diabetes, etc.). All of these benefits are good news for MMA athletes who need to work hard ot keep themselves healthy and strong throughout their training. But, there’s a study that is particularly interesting.
One benefit of T’ai Chi is its ability to lessen the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This is an important health benefit for anyone who gets punched and kicked in the head for a living!
Every fighter thinks Brain Disease will never happen to them, but let’s face it, concussions are a very serious reality in this sport.Your brain health isn’t something that you can just ignore.
If there’s something that you can do now that will help you prevent future damage, then you owe it to yourself to give it a try. (This also goes for football, rugby, boxing, soccer, cheerleading, wrestling, and any other sport where concussions are a possibility.)
Dynamic Stretches, where you’re moving and flexing your muscles, rather than just static, sitting stretches, have been proven to be an effective way to increase flexibility and to warm up the body (especially the joints.) prior to a workout.T’ai Chi has been using this method of dynamic stretching for at least, the past 700 years to loosen the muscles and promote the natural alignment of the body. T’ai Chi is particularly effective because it focuses on the core movement which will help stretch the muscles around the spine, helping to prevent common back injuries.
- Slow Performance
Unlike the rapid-fire pace of the ring, T’ai Chi teaches us to slow down our technique in order to examine every detail of the action. This pace allows us to focus on proper body mechanics and moving in the most efficient way possible. By slowing down and being mindful, we can subconsciously train our body to react properly while under the stress of high stakes competition.
It may seem odd to think that slow movement is actually one of the best ways to train your body to move quickly, but this is in fact, one of the most popular methods for improving fine motor skills both in sports and also in the realm of Law Enforcement/Military training, where split second decisions may mean the difference between life and death.
- Core Movement
All movement in T’ai Chi comes from the center, the core of your body. The movements of the form will train you to hold a solid foundation for your techniques. The form requires you to generate power from the abdominal region rather than just flailing your arms and legs. By keeping these core muscles engaged and lightly active during your Recovery process, you can ensure proper development and build a strong power base for your kicks and punches.
- Dynamic Relaxation
Being able to relax and stay loose in the ring is vital to staying focused during competition. Unlike sitting meditation, T’ai Chi teaches you to deeply relax while moving. This allows you to stay alert and active while also remaining relaxed during competition. Breathing becomes easier and your techniques are more efficient, even when you’re caught defending your position from the ground. This T’ai Chi mindset can help fighters stay calm and resist panic if they should find themselves in a bad situation during the fight.
- Requires No Special Equipment
T’ai Chi doesn’t require any special equipment and can be done anywhere.This means you don’t need to go back to the gym to workout. You can run through a form first thing in the morning before road work or at night before bed.
It’s an excellent supplementary exercise because it can be done quickly and will not wear you out during the recovery phase of your training. In fact, you’ll probably feel pleasantly refreshed after running you form.
Also, you don’t have to spend much time training to start seeing results. Fifteen to twenty minutes a day should be enough to aid with recovery and help you relax. However you will have to practice consistently, 4-6 times a week if you want to see improvement.
One of the most difficult skills to master in the ring is remembering to breathe properly. It seems easy but it’s a lot harder than it looks when someone’s trying to kick you in the head or has you in a choke hold!
How many times have you seen a competitor ‘gas out’ in a fight just because he or she forgot to breathe properly?
T’ai Chi helps reinforce proper breathing because you inhale and exhale with every move. The diaphragm breathing taught in T’ai Chi allows you to completely fill your lungs with air. Becoming mindful of this type of breathing during your form will help you breathe more naturally while you’re in the ring.
- A Lifelong Art
T’ai Chi is an art that can be practiced well into old age. Although there’s a lot of ‘Old Dogs’ in the gym, who’ve been doing MMA for decades, let’s face it, age and injuries take their toll.
T’ai Chi is a great way to keep the ‘martial mindset’ without taxing the body or aggravating old injuries as we mature. It’s also a good way for younger fighters to stay active while they’re recovering from a pulled muscles or other physical setbacks.
Like it or not, we’re all going to get older. There’s no way around it. Why not get a head start on the aging process by practicing an art that will keep you loose, limber, and active into your Senior years.
If you start learning T’ai Chi in your 20’s or 30’s, you’ll be way ahead of most people, who wait until they retire before they even begin learning.
- Pre-fight Ritual
Everyone gets the pre-fight jitters. It takes a lot to step into the ring and lay it all on the line.
What you do before the fight will have a major impact on how well you do. Simple things, like the way you wrap your hands, the music you listen to, or the way you warm up can all put you in the proper mindset for competition.
Having a good pre-fight ritual will help you stay loose, relaxed, and calm before you enter the ring.
Like the experience I described earlier, using T’ai Chi warmup exercises to relax and focus before a match can help you to clear your head and prepare for the task at hand.
- Push Hands
T’ai Chi Push Hands training is an excellent sensitivity drill that will help you ’feel’ how and when your opponent is going to move against you.
It’s especially helpful during a clinch or while grappling from the ground. The purpose of the exercise is to feel, rather than anticipate, how your opponent will attack and to respond naturally, without thought.
In addition, the ‘rooting’ practiced in T’ai Chi will help you maintain a standing position if your opponent tries to initiate a take-down.
T’ai Chi teaches you how to be mindful during competition. This strong state of mind will keep you from ‘freaking out’ if something unexpected happens during the match.
Mindfulness means that you’re able to stay present during the fight and can react naturally without overthinking your techniques or allowing yourself to be psyched out by your opponent’s antics.
Like the Samurai of old who studied Zen meditation to keep their minds strong during battle, you’ll be able to stay focused and clear as you respond to anything your opponent tries to throw at you.
- Stress Relief
MMA athletes are under a lot of stress. Besides the grueling workouts that can last 3-6 hours as day, they often have to hold full time jobs to support themselves or go to school during the day.
Keeping their relationships, paying bills, and getting through life can be a challenge for anyone that dedicates themselves to MMA training and competition.
T’ai Chi can help them take a ‘time-out’ from their problems and come away from their practice feeling refreshed and relaxed.
Stress can have a negative effect on fighters, both physically and mentally. It’s important to find positive ways, like T’ai Chi, to handle the problems and frustrations of life so that they don’t start to affect performance in the ring.
Using the soft, soothing movements of T’ai Chi to relax can also help fighters get a good night’s sleep, which is important for muscle recovery and mental alertness.
There are many supplementary exercises that MMA athletes can use during their training. Yoga, swimming, running hiking, even biking all provide benefits for any fighter who wants to use cross training to combat mental fatigue and boredom. But no other activity even comes close to T’ai Chi as a complementary exercise for the serious MMA athlete.
Although it may seem a bit counterintuitive at first, T’ai Chi is the best option for adding balance and mental awareness to a MMA training routine.
Cover Image: Pixabay.com