We were interested in finding out what the path to success in fighting would look like for athletes of various skill levels. John Danaher, 4th Degree Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt and Team Sanabul Athlete, gave us his thoughts on the topic and those can be seen below.
An adult student with no background in martial arts training that wanted to begin MMA training with the intention of getting as good as he or she could using whatever training time their life permitted.
The first thing to understand is that the beginning student has two main priorities. The first is to assess what is the weakest part of their game. We all have different body types and personalities which means that some skills are easier for us to develop and others more difficult. The result is that our progress in MMA will not be symmetrical. You will progress more quickly in some areas than others and as you do so you will naturally begin to prefer those areas of faster progress and devote more time and attention to them. Understand however that the most likely area for you to be defeated in a bout is in your WEAKEST skills sets. Therefore you have a responsibility to identify your weakest areas and try to raise your performance level to the minimum standard required for whatever level of competition you are aiming for.
As the old saying goes - a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. Similarly in MMA - a student is only as good as his weakest skill set. Once an opponent identifies what your weakest area of performance is you can be sure that he will try to take the fight there as much as possible.
So once you have begun training for a little while and the natural disparities in training progress have created strong areas and weak areas, you must devote special attention to those weak areas and at least become competent in them
There is a second prerogative. If you are to win bouts, you must have some area of specialty that you perform better than your opponents. This will provide you breakthroughs against tough opponents. There has to be something you do very well and which opponents fear. Time will reveal certain skills that come more naturally to you and which you enjoy performing. Once you identify these, spend specialized training and tactics around these skills. The idea of MMA training is to be competent/good at everything so that you have no obvious weaknesses that an opponent can exploit and very good/excellent at one or two things that enable you to attack and defeat an opponent. When you can leave your opponent no obvious weakness to exploit and have a few specialized skills that can overwhelm and intimidate most opponents you will be a difficult fighter to beat.
Your training regimen should reflect this two-directional approach. First, to build up overall competence across all the fundamental skills of the sport so that opponents cannot exploit any basic weaknesses. Then as training progresses, to identify skills that seem to naturally appeal to you and make these your primary attacking weapons. Your overall competence will be your defensive shield against opponents, and your favorite attacks will be your attacking sword with which you engage in your terms.
There is no telling which areas of MMA will probe to be your favorite. History shows very clearly that champions have arisen from every skill set. Some were specialists on the ground with submissions, some with ground striking. Others were mostly powerful strikers on the feet. Some were specialists in the clinch or on the fence. Done well, they all work. Your body type and personality will over time push you towards certain directions. Make those your special attacking skills. At the same time recognize that you can’t present obvious weaknesses to an opponent.