top of page

Why Combat Sports?
Some History and Common Misconceptions about Training

October 2022

ancient-mesopotamia-games-sports-1.jpg

While there is no doubt that early men fought tooth and nail to survive, it is hard to pinpoint exactly when the first ‘combat sport’ was developed. But there is strong evidence of the existence of some form of combat sports practice pointing right back before the beginning of recorded history.

History of Combat Sports
Ever since people have been people, there has been combat. Whether this was settling disputes with members of our tribe, or warring rival tribes over land and resources, ancient Man was always in and around life and death combat.

Artifacts from ancient Mesopatamia often depict athletes engaged in various forms of combat. Here the figures have some sort of wrap around their hands, similar to the rape wraps used in Lethwei, a brutal Burmese combat sport, similar to Muay Thai, but with legal headbutts and different knockdown rules.

There is indication that primitive and often brutal forms of boxing and wrestling were practiced all around the ancient world, with findings from the archaeological records of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Medieval Ireland and Ancient Greece all showing literature and art referencing various forms of what are clearly sporting events, based around pitting one man’s strength and skill directly against another, in front of vast, live crowds of admiring onlookers.

Combat Sports Today

The men and women at the pinnacle of the combat sports world today command the admiration and attention of millions of fans from around the globe whenever they compete. Researchers estimate that over 300 million people regularly tune in to watch and closely follow the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

The last few decades, with the inception and rise of the UFC, have been monumental for the growth and popularity of combat sports. This is not just in viewership, as many fans are not satisfied with just watching combat sports on TV, but millions (as one study stated, over 18 million Americans in 2017) are now training in one or a combination of martial arts.

mac_edited.jpg

Conor McGregor has become one of the worlds most recogniseable athletes over the last half decade, and no doubt deserves plenty of credit for the growth of the sport in that time period. 

Why Train?

The benefits to an individual training in combat sports are endless. Practitioners often state they have experienced increased self-confidence and physical fitness, reduced mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and have become part of a supportive social group since they began martial arts training.

It’s almost a cliché now for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners to preach to their friends and co-workers about how ‘BJJ changed their life’ and how everybody should start training too. With huge influencers like Joe Rogan regularly describing “martial arts as a vehicle to develop your human potential” to his millions of avid listeners worldwide, it is no wonder the popularity and participation level of combat sports is at an all time high. 

joe-rogan-bjj.jpg

Joe Rogan started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 1996, and now holds black belts under Eddie Bravo and Jean Jacques Machado. 

But what are the risks of getting involved with sports where the aim is to physically control, dominate and potentially do harm to your opponents?

Risk of Injury?

Like with any contact sport, there is always going to be an inherent risk of injury when one chooses to get involved in combat sports. Many people have that have reached out to us about starting training often air their concern about the potential of them getting injured. This is, of course, a legitimate concern, so lets explore it a little bit. Let’s take Muay Thai (or Thai Boxing) for example.

In Muay Thai, practitioners use punches, kicks, knees, and elbows to strike their opponents, and a variety of clinch holds and trips to throw their opponent to the ground. It is widely accepted that Muay Thai fighters are some of the toughest and most well-conditioned athletes in the world today, and even then, it is not uncommon to see athletes come out of competition with black eyes, cuts, broken noses and badly bruised bodies and legs. 

 

MMA competition is no less dangerous, I myself have come out fights, even fights that I had won, and had to have reconstructive surgery to broken bones in my face. Entering into combat sports competition can be brutal, it is not for everyone, and certainly not for the faint-hearted.

blog pic 2.jpg

This is me after my third professional fight back in 2016. A left hook from my opponent broke my jaw in the first round. I won the fight, just about, but the injury took months to recover from.

HOWEVER, and this is a big however, when somebody signs up to take a Muay Thai or an MMA class, especially a class that’s part of a well-structured Basics, Beginners or Fundamentals programme, there is very little chance of them leaving that session with anything more than a heavy sweat on and a huge smile on their face.

The training environment is, and should be, completely different to that of competition. Of course, injuries in the gym can and do occasionally happen, but these are often accidents rather than the purposeful damage inflicted on participants during full contact competition. 

At our Academy, we have 5 sessions every week that make up our Beginners programme. These run at 6:00pm, Monday to Friday. They are aimed directly at people very early in their training journey, meaning that they are safe, fun and playful sessions aimed at developing co-ordination, endurance and teaching our beginners the fundamental concepts, movements and terminology used in whatever combat sport the class is based around.

To carry on with our Muay Thai example, in one of our Beginners Muay Thai classes, you can expect to warm up with some bodyweight exercises and mobility work, maybe a round or two of skipping and a little bit of guided shadow boxing. You will then be told put on your shin pads and boxing gloves for protection and the coach will explain a fundamental Muay Thai technique or concept. You will then practice this with your partner whilst the coach works their way around the class to give assistance and tips when needed. Finally, you will be shown how to both hit and hold the pads correctly and safely before you and your partner do a few rounds each of pad work.

 

With a curriculum set out this way, even first day beginners can train safely, get a solid workout in and enjoy developing real martial arts skills, with very, very low risk of injury.

It is the coach’s responsibility to ensure that all of their students are safe whilst training at their facility. It is irresponsible of coaches that throw their beginners into ‘trial by fire’, intense and uncontrolled sparring situations. These situations can be intimidating, off-putting and potentially quite dangerous for those just starting out.

When beginners train with other students that are way above their experience level, control must be exercised on the part of the more senior student, the coach must make sure that this happens.

 

Good gyms instill a culture of kindness in their more senior students, and whilst training isn’t supposed to be easy for new starters, it shouldn't be soul-destroying either. This way beginners are pushed, but never broken by more experienced practitioners.

IMG_20180829_155712_773.JPG

Training should be in equal parts fun, challenging and informative. A healthy combination of these three elements ensures progression and the ongoing desire to keep on turning up!

Risk of Feeling like a Fool?

I hear this very often when I'm speaking with people who don’t currently practice any martial arts and I ask them why they have never given it a go. Many people say they would love to learn, but they worry that they will feel silly and embarrassed, and that people will laugh at them for not being any good. On the surface, a valid reason, but in reality, one you really shouldn't concern yourself with, and i'll explain why.

 

Of course, when you first start training, its very likely that you won’t be very good just yet. What activity with any level of complexity have you ever tried in the past that on your very first time you were an expert? None!

cxu24.jpg

I compare it to the first time trying to drive a car. I know that I'm not alone by admitting I was absolutely hopeless the first time behind the wheel. But I know that the person teaching me didn't laugh and mock me for my inexperience, that would have made them a terrible instructor.

Just like the driving instructor that has seen it all before, in the gym, the more experienced students were once day one beginners themselves and have since seen plenty of first-timers on their first day too.

Most people at the gym are there to work hard and to concentrate on their own training, they don’t have the time or the interest to be watching the new guys in the class just to poke fun at them!

Ready To Take Your First Step?
I never planned on competing before I went to train for the first time. I never even planned on doing any sparring, I was as nervous and as scared as everybody else. I had never had a fight, or even thrown a punch, in my life up till that point. But with guidance from my coach and support from the group I was training with, I got stuck in and in time I not only conquered my fears, but turned training into a huge part of my life and built a career for myself through martial arts.

After reading this, it’s my hope that some of the fears and worries around getting involved with martial arts will have been eased. I know not everybody will fall head over heels in love with training like I did back when I was a teenager, but I know that most will truly have a great time, and find themselves a new hobby they can enjoy the benefits of for years to come.

32557544_836466696538716_1137166937499893760_n.jpg

Me looking all proud and youthful after winning a second amateur championship during the summer of 2013.

I speak for myself and many others when I say that the hardest part of your whole journey in combat sports is booking and turning up to your first session. As soon as you get through the door and onto the mat, 99% of your preconceived doubts will melt away. You will realise that the training is nowhere near as scary as you thought it would be, the people involved are kind, helpful and incredibly supportive, and that its tonnes of fun. You will wonder why you didn’t start earlier. 
 

If you would like to learn more, try a class or come into the gym for a private chat, please get in touch via any of the channels at the bottom of this page and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
 

Thanks for reading, I know that was a long one :)
 

Sam.

bottom of page