T Nation

MMA Curriculum



I really have intentions of opening up a dojo in a few years (I got a lot to learn, so 10 á 20), and I hoped for some ideas to think about.
I'm in doubt if I should go the boxing road, and focus on getting better, and that's it. Or forming a curriculum with belts/patches.

What do you think is better?
If you are a fan of a curriculum, how would you rougly design it? (Including wrestling, BJJ and striking techniques)

Thanks y'all


My preference, influenced strongly by my primary system, is for a curriculum with ranks/belts.

How you structured your curriculum though would be somewhat determined on how many ranks you went with. For instance, if you decided to adopt BJJ's belt system you would need to include more skills per belt, than if you say adopted American Kenpo's belt system. Both approaches can be beneficial though (depending on how you ran your rank evaluations/graduated someone to the next rank); it's just a matter of preference.

Regardless though I would suggest beginning from most crucial/fundamental skill in the earlier ranks (say for instance double leg takedown/sprawl; jab/cuff/parry; armbar from mount/Upa escape; rear leg round kick/shin block or whatever you feel are the most fundamental skills for MMA) and progressing to more complex/secondary skills as the ranks improve (stuff like Omoplatas, lateral drops, superman punches, spinning wheel kicks, X-Guard sweeps, etc...). Essentially build a strong foundation of high percentage "basic" skills and then gradually add on more skills as the students' skill levels allow.


I own a gym and although ranks and belts are great for kids I've found that the overwhelming majority of males simply want to get better. You can do either or both is my point.

Probably 20 years from today there will be no more ranks or belts as I think MMA has blown that out of the water. Meaning that many of the champions come from wrestling or boxing and had no ranks or belts and it didn't matter. Granted belts are a fine tradition begun by Jigaro Kano when he founded Judo. But, as time moves on I think they will seem archaic and will be dropped.

I could certainly be wrong and as I said kids go for belts in a big way.

Did any of this help? LOL


Any input is welcome, so don't worry, it's always usefull.

You pretty much both define the arguments I'm weighing against eachother.
If I was going to get a belt system, I was thinking of having a more BJJ inspired approach. I rather add some stripes too belts if needed, than hiring a creative team too think of requirements/skills/principles going with 10 kinds of belts. Also, for third I like how BJJ belts seem to have strong identity of some skill level.

On the other had, ZEB makes a strong case for dropping a graduation system and just get better. I like the idea of equility, and just showing your value when working.

What Sento says about beginning with high percentage techniques and working from that.


As I've enumerated a number of times on this board, I'm dead-set against the use of belts, patches, uniforms, and fantastical titles like master, grandmaster, grand dragon, Super-Ghost-Killah, Master-of-the-Universe, King Sifu, Ceaser-Sifu, Czar-Grandmaster-Kaiser, etc. in any combat system.

This is undoubtedly a result of my personal experiences: I've seen a lot of people call themselves sensei, ceaser, or sifu, but couldn't fight for fuck. But miraculously, the boxers, jiu-jitsu players, and combatives experts I've known are the meanest dudes I've ever come across ... and they leave the dick-wagging titles at the door.

Same goes for belts, patches, and uniforms; the more a style requires, the more I think the gym is a bullshit-filled money-grab. Once again, I find those that can actually fight come from gyms where things like this are not only disregarded, but viewed with utter disdain.

That being said, I'm all for just getting better in a gym setting. I never liked curriculum because it seems to be a one-size-fits-all plan well-suited to teaching kata or justifying promotions through an interrelated belt system. As such, it's great for getting mom and dad to keep shelling out cash to keep little Johnny in the dojo, but inefficient at teaching people how to fight according to their own strengths and weaknesses.

I mean, obviously you'll have some sort of curriculum or plan for how you're teaching, but I don't see the need for an inflexible sort of lesson plan.

As always, those are my two cents. Take'em or leave'em. And best of luck with your business endeavor.


This I agree with. I can only speak from a boxing perspective, but teaching stance, balance, and the basics of offense and defense will provide a good foundation and should be done from the get-go.


Kids do love belts far more than stripes keep that in mind. There is nothing like a new belt to keep a child's interest.


Oh I know - I loved stripes and belts at that age too. But I also wasn't learning to fight; I was learning some bullshit traditional art that ... well, it wasn't fighting.

In boxing gyms, there's no need for belts - you fight to prove your mettle. Same in BJJ - you roll until you can hang. And if you're really learning to fight, like you do in combatives, then how complicated does your system need to be that you need belts and all that shit? If I can't teach a guy how to save his own ass inside a couple months, what am I doing teaching this stuff?

Again, I know it's against the grain and it would be a poor business model. But I'm very anti-traditional art, and this guy asked for opinions, so I'm giving them haha.


Irish, you're making a very strong case here. Belts might work really well for kids, but I'm more concerned with offering qualty than having a crappy bussiness model. Quality and customer care built image, McDojo's bring money. A strong image will pay off evanutualy, in a morally acceptable way.

I'm still torn, but time will tell.

I have some ideas for a future dojo that even might be counterproductive for mass sales: having a sliding scale for fee, so training more would be cheaper relatively.


I think belts/ranks get a bad rap due to the McDojo phenomenon of over commercialization/watering down of Martial Arts in the name of profit/greed. However, just as the Military has ranks/titles; people in the education system have titles; people in the medical field have titles; people in the political system have titles; and even people in every day life can be addressed with some formal way when we are not familiar with them or are intending to show them respect, many titles are justly earned, representative of accomplishment/skill/experience, and not looked at with the same cynicism as the titles in Martial Arts have become.

Of course, certain people are just averse to using any type of title ever (anti-establishment types) so for them they may still object, but you can't please everyone all the time.

So to me it is the standards behind the belt/title that are the issue, not the belt/title itself. If we are going to have a belt/ranking system, then it is our responsibility to hold those belts/titles to high standards. And if we do that, then those ranks will also be worthy of the respect that they are intended to have.

If for instance someone is a Black Belt under Rickson Gracie, that title is going to garner respect because you can bet that Rickson made damn sure that person can not only fight and is tough, but can teach as well before giving it to them. If someone gets a Black Belt from Joe Lewis, you can bet that person can fight, is tough, and can teach. If someone got a Black Belt under Oyama, you can bet they could fight, was tough, and could teach. If someone gets a Black Belt under Walt Lysak, you can bet they can fight, are tough, and can teach. And any of these Black Belts can readily demonstrate and prove their skills should anyone question them (both in doing and in teaching).

I would also disagree with Zeb that MMA will be the death of belts/ranks. MMA has been around for over 20 years and there has been no decrease in the number of people earning Black Beits. Heck, professional MMA fighters often seek out and earn belts in systems even after going pro (BJJ most notably, but also under guys like Hackleman). I would also argue that many males don't care about rank for 2 reasons IME:
1) the belts don't demand respect (I can tell you that not a single male who has ever gone through even 1 belt test in SENTO does not immediately have huge respect for the belts in the system)

2) ego (they don't want to humble themselves/put themselves through the discomfort necessary to get them)

There are again those who just hate titles, but they are the minority IME and to be honest their reasons usually boil down to one of the above reasons anyhow.

But, I will readily admit that belts/titles are not mandatory by any means; boxing and wrestling are both great combat sports that have no belts or titles.


I actually don't disagree with most of this - as you said, a Rickson Gracie black belt commands respect immediately, just as a judo black belt from a reputable school does. From me, and everyone else that knows fighting.

The problem is, as a new school, how do YOU get to commanding that level of respect? Well, I guess you can't right off the bat. You've got to consistently put guys who know what they're doing and show it - then your rankings will earn the level of respect they deserve. The problem, as Sento enumerated, is the watering-down and overcommercialization of martial arts - the McDojos, the black-belt factories, the "traditional martial arts" schools that are great at kata but couldn't fight to save their lives against a house cat. Unfortunately, that's about 9 out of 10 schools out there - maybe even more. So it's a Sisyphean task.

That being said, I still won't ever call another man "master." Not now, not ever. And I sure as fuck won't bow to any foreign flags, Japanese or otherwise.


I hear you about bowing to foreign flags; the only flag we ever bow to is the American flag.

Regarding the term "Master" I guess it depends on the interpretation of that term you are using. If you are taking it to mean "master" like someone who controls you (like "slave and master"), then I can see how it would be objectionable as it suggests surrendering your autonomy to that person. If on the other hand you use it to mean someone who has "mastered" the skill they practice (like a "master plumber"), then it isn't as threatening.

Generally the terms "Sempai" (senior student), "Sensei" (teacher), or "Shihan (expert) are used in Martial Arts with Japanese roots. Americans have adopted the term "Master/Grandmaster" as somewhat of a loose translation of some of these terms and since the term "master" also has other meanings in English it gets mid-interpreted and abused. And of course, sadly there are those who further manipulate these false interpretations to control other people.


As I said it may take another 20 years for that to happen. Then again it may never happen. What did happen when MMA came around was a student discovered quickly that his Sensei was not the badest guy on the planet. And as you well know many inexperienced practitioners from white belts to even mid level and higher were under that false impression. This (among other factors) I think may lead to less Dojo's having a belt system. We have to look no further than the original poster who is questioning even starting with a belt system. MMA has encouraged many Dojo's across the nation to open up their doors to the melding of Boxing, wrestling and other martial arts that do not use belts. Hence, within a 20 year time period there is a possibility that belts will go by the way of the stage coach once the automobile was created.

Certainly, I could be way off base no one knows what the future will bring. But, based upon what I have seen over the past 20 years there is a distinct possibility that belts will no longer be a factor.


The same thing was probably said back in the late 1960's/1970's when Bruce Lee exploded onto the MA scene and criticized the "Classical Mess" of Traditional MA's. On the contrary his influence (both on screen and via his influence on the full contact movement via fighters like Joe Lewis and Mike Stone) simply brought more people into the MA's and with more people also brought more wannabes.

So while MMA did expose the realities that adding resistance create (of which in actuality many had already been exposed via Full Contact Karate/Kickboxing, Judo, and Catch Wrestling decades if not nearly a century before), it has not really influenced the MA industry to the point where belts are in danger (Tae Kwon Do, which is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to McDojo's, is still far and away the most popular MA on the planet, even in Brazil.

There is also the reality that people get into MA for a variety of reasons and while those who want to compete in combat sports or for real world self defense may or may not care about belts (though many still do), they are only a fraction of the total MA industry.


My base is a kyokushin school, and they had tough, tough, tough test. I loved it. My blue belt left me bruised and battered, a badge of honor.
I want to make sure the belt/patch (no-gi it will be) will be only given to guys worth their salt. If you are a physically fit guy over 150 lbs and you can't give the me, all my guys and the average guy on a tournament hell, no black belt will be awarded. If I may choose a graduate system, that is.

I don't like bowing to flag or someone per se. I do think a small moment of meditation is important. And honestly, martial arts (especialy the ones centred around real fighting) are the meet-and-greet of immigrant boys. Immigrant boys who are very easily drawn to criminality.
I want to make sure no one of my students is a criminal, so I want to speak to them. So a built in moment for that is important fo me.


Kyokushin is a very tough system, Oyama was a legit badass and his system and students reflect(ed) that. I never liked that they don't allow punches to the head, but Inwould never question a Kyokushin Black Belt's legitimacy.

Your concern for the criminal factor/abuse of the skills you teach is one of the primary reasons why I actually think things like bowing, titles, and etiquette are very important in MA. There is a reason why the military is extremely strict regarding saluting superior officers, always addressing superior officers formally, and there are very strict rules and regulations regarding etiquette. You can't train large groups of people how to kill and give them access to weapons without also giving them strong guidelines within which to use those skills/tools. Keep in mind that many arts came from battlefield application, and Japanese culture itself is very militaristic in nature (very heavy on formality, honor, respect, self control, and many of the other qualities synonymous with Traditional Martial Arts), and thus the arts reflect this reality/history.

Combat Sports don't tend to require this moral/ethical compass and formalities as there are rule sets already built into them and they are not teaching skills meant to kill their opponents. They also, as you say tend to attract people who are seeking a sense of control, structure, belonging (hence why many of them get mixed up with gangs), and purpose. If you give them those things and show them you genuinely care about them, they generally will not fall into crime. MA's tend to attract the same types of people, it's just a matter of many TMA's not having the same combative nature or competitions in which the students can test/push themselves, but the proliferation of arts like BJJ (which has a SMA and Self Defense side) are somewhat changing that.


I remember that era quite well and of course the opposite happened. Bruce Lee while he spoke out against traditional martial arts on occasion in articles and books that was less important than what people saw on the movie screen. This made them want to take up the Asian martial arts and join Dojo's. Lee flying through the air and kicking two people at the same time. Taking on small groups of people only proliferated the myth of the indestructible black belt. Lee's influence caused an increase of traditional Dojo's across the country. Perhaps nothing did more for these schools than Bruce Lee. There is absolutely no comparison to what Bruce Lee brought to the world as to what MMA has brought--None.

Once again there is no comparison to full contact Karate and today's mma. Guys like Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace and many others still stood and fought each other in very traditional ways. For example, there were no take downs, no ground fighting etc. As for Catch Wrestling, that was probably the worlds biggest martial arts secret (along with Jiu-Jitsu) back in the day. It had zero influence on the Karataka of the time. Not even boxing which was immensely popular, I dare say more so than today, had much of an influence on Karate practitioners. The thought at the time was this: "boxers can only use their hands karataka can use hands and feet therefore Karate is superior." One more falsehood, but believed by just about every member of every Dojo.

MMA has also exposed that myth as well. the primary striking component of each MMA fighter is almost always boxing as it is a superior striking skill to traditional karate punches. Which moreover takes away from traditional Karate methodology and belt ranks etc. For certain Karate has not been shut out of MMA. GSP and Machida (and others) have proven that. But in order for each man to gain their championship belt what did they do? GSP trained with the Canadian Wrestling team and became as good as any Wrestler, regarding takedowns at least. And Machida is also a BB in BJJ. Proving once again that Karate alone will not help you defeat other well rounded world class fighters. This also may cause long term damage to the belt system.

I certainly agree with you. But, once again traditional martial arts was exposed as not quite being the ultimate fighting art that it was cracked up to through MMA. The myth of the black belt twirling through the air and defeating multiple opponents simultaneously, is literally dead. And as I have said previously Bruce Lee proliferated this myth he did not kill it. However, MMA not only killed that myth but buried it solidly so it will never rise again.

The question is this, will any of that destroy the belt system 20 years from now as I have suggested? I believe it will. But once again no one knows the future. If I could predict with accuracy the future 20 years out I would be a billionaire many times over, be running for President and insulting everyone...But seriously, the reality of what a good martial art can and cannot do is now in the face of anyone who wants to open their eyes and look. This may mean that there will be less participation in traditional Dojo's (with belt rankings etc.) unless they come to the realization that adding some ground fighting and also boxing. By doing such they will indeed help build their programs and also help their students be more effective for street self defense regardless of their interest in actually getting into a cage to fight professionally. If this does occur and I think it will, where does the belt ranking system fit in? I don't think it does.


Lee spoke out against traditional arts on numerous occasions, publicly. He also had no formal ranks in his system of JKD, and even went so far as to shut down all of his financially successful schools because he believed so strongly in "the individual over the system" and was afraid that the same dogmatic thinking and traditionalism that he saw in other arts would eventually infect his own system (which is ironic as this has indeed happened after his untimely death).

If you take into consideration what Chinese Opera/Kung Fu movies looked like prior to Lee's entrance on the screen you can see a stark difference in the relative realism in Lee's films. It's also worth noting that as Lee gained stardom and thus more and more control over his films and their fight choreography, that the realism continued to grow (look at the fight scenes between Fists Of Fury/The Big Boss and Way Of The Dragon/Return Of The Dragon for instance). But it should also be noted that no matter how much control he had, movie/screen Martial Arts will never be the same as real combat, as it's purpose is to entertain the audience or tell a story, not to accurately display combat which is messy, ugly, and unpredictable.

You are right though that most Westerners are familiar only with Enter The Dragon, which was less realistic than Way Of The Dragon, or Game Of Death was scheduled to be and that film brought a whole generation of people into the Martial Arts (many of whom were duped into believing the same mystical nonsense that Lee had so passionately spoken out against). It also didn't help that Lee died prior to the International release of ETD and since he had already closed down all his schools, his beliefs on the subject were not readily available.

Once again, you need to take things in their historical context. Lewis fought the first full contact Kickboxing/Karate match in the Western Hemisphere (which Bruce Lee helped to organize and trained Lewis for). Prior to that time many Karateka believed that their strikes were too deadly to be used on another human being (after all they could break all those bricks/boards). Lewis, Lee, Stone, and other real Martial Artists knew otherwise (since they had already been engaging in full contact sparring/training and were big fans of boxing) so they wanted to prove this fact to the rest of the Martial Arts/sporting world on a National stage.

No, they did not allow ground fighting (though, Lewis started out as a wrestler and Wallace was both a talented wrestler and accomplished Judoka prior to starting their Karate or Kickboxing careers, so believe me they knew and could have very easily hung on the ground if it had been allowed), but there were absolutely no combat sports that allowed for both striking and grappling at the time, so faulting them for that is a bit unfair and misses my point. Lewis did fight a couple exhibition rounds with Muhammad Ali (prior to Ali's exhibition match with Inoki) though in which he double legged Ali to show him what Inoki was likely going to do to him.

And that's not even mentioning Gene Lebell's fight with Milo Savage.

The only thing that the UFC proved that had not already been proven was the effectiveness of the Guard for ground fighting.

What do you think the primary striking skills of full contact karate/kickboxing was? Lewis trained personally with Sugar Ray Robinson, and extensively with Eddie Futch during his years on the full contact circuit. He and Lee used to watch countless hours of boxing film on Ali, Louis, and other great boxers. According to Lewis, Lee had already come to the conclusion that Boxing hand strikes were superior to Karate's in the mid-late 60's while they were training together and had switched almost completely away from Kung Fu/Karate striking methods.

Wallace's hand skills were also strictly boxing in nature, as were pretty much all of the full contact fighters.

And even if they were not, Oyama sent 3 of his best fighters to Thailand to take on the best the Thai champions and they won 2 out of 3 of those fights by KO. So unless you are saying that Muay Thai is an ineffective art, then you have to also acknowledge that Karate can be as well if trained realistically.

No argument about the "Ultimate" fighting system thing. If there is one thing that MMA has unequivocally proven it is the need to be a well rounded fighter, and that it is the individual fighter and what they bring to the table that matters, not the system itself.

Regarding belts and the cage/reality, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu still utilizes them, John Hackleman still uses them, Joe Lewis and Bill Wallace still utilize them, we still utilize them in Sento, and the Military (Marines at least) still utilize them. All of those systems have enviable success records in real combat and sport competition, so it's not like the use of belts is on some way mutually exclusive with realistic application. It's all in how you implement them.


All true, but as I said the typical Bruce Lee fan was infatuated with what he saw on the silver screen. In other words, actions spoke louder than words. And as I have also said that is the reason that Karate school proliferated because of Lee's movies. There was a gigantic influx of new students all very happy to be promoted through the system and wear various colored belts on the way up. None of that of course is occurring because of the huge success of the UFC and other lesser organizations. Therefore, we have two exact opposite occurrences which are in fact creating exact opposite outcomes.


I totally agree, and that is the main reason that the myth of the unconquerable black belt was not busted as it was with MMA.

Glad we agree on this.

You are spot on with that information.

LOL..so true. I can recall my Sensei telling our class how easy it would be for him or anyone who knows these "lethal techniques" to kill a man with one blow. At the time I was on the High School wrestling team and was even then pondering how my master would handle a double leg takedown. Don't get me wrong I was not being prolific. I knew he would win I just didn't know which lethal blow he would use --LOL


I never faulted them for this. My point was that most of the impressionable members of the many Dojo's did not get to see any realistic fight scenario's played out. Therefore, they will still mesmerized by the lone stand-up martial artist. Certainly not the fault of Wallace and the others. But nonetheless it did not urge any of the Karateka to throw their belts off and think "no need for these belts there are many forms of fighting that seem just as good as what we're doing." As I said that didn't even begin to happen until MMA came into popularity. And even now as we both know belts are still quite popular. But as I also said many of the successful Dojo's are bringing in grapplers, boxers etc.

Yes, I recall that very well. This caused me to look forward to the Antonio Inoki Muhammed Ali match with great anticipation. Unfortunately, the match (as you know) turned out to be a large disappointment as neither man really wanted to engage the other and used the rules to avoid such engagement.

Anyway, even though Lewis was aware of takedowns and could when pushed perform them does not mean that the general Karate/martial arts population at the time was aware, or even cared.

Saw it and loved it! But again, simply because it was one semi-legitimate MMA match at the time does not mean that the many practitioners of the Asian martial arts were seeing it, believing it, or even caring that it took place. It was looked at as an oddity. And as you know some things have to literally be pounded into the heads of people before they actually believe it. In fact, believe it or not, there are still some TMA who claim that the UFC and the many other organizations are offering up fake fights. I know...I know...incredible but people being who they are do not admit to the truth so readily especially if it may cause them to lose face (so they think), or lose money. Certainly, one 1963 MMA match was not to turn the tide regarding belt rankings and how the TMA looked at a real fight.

True, but let's not miss the main point which is the many, many MMA fights from the year 1993 to today certainly has made a huge impression the typical TMA. 22 straight years of blended MMA is far more persuasive than one or two events over a period of years back in the day. The impression has now been made and really there can't be any argument about that aspect. The only question that remains is how this will ultimately effect the belt system. There are many schools already that have dropped the belt system and included grappling as you know. The only question that remains is will there be any sort of belt system 20 years from now.

No one can argue there are simply less strictly stand up fighters in martial arts than there were back in 1992.

I certainly agree, but let's not get off the track the topic is not "were the best Karteka at the time aware that boxing strikes were superior to karate strikes." The topic is how much impact did any of that have on changing the operation of the typical Asian martial arts studio...to the point where belts would be dropped. Of course the answer, as you know, to that question is pretty easy. The top guys training with and using boxing strikes in their stand-up full contact karate matches had zero impact on the overwhelming majority of Dojo's across the country. And certainly no comparison as to the impact that the current MMA craze has had on those same Dojo's.

Once again, you are veering off the main topic. As a side note I have great respect for both Thai boxing as well as Karate. But as we both know each is limited by the confines of the art. In other words, it is not complete without grapping etc. Back to the topic at hand...

We agree again.

Yes, but again that is a Jiu-Jitsu system passed on to the Gracie's by one particular Japanese fighter who travelled to Brazil. Of course they still have the belt system. In other words they are actually traditional as well...Interesting, while they popped the bubble on the typical Asian martial arts school it was more of an attitude that grappling was better than standing. But as it developed the realization has occurred. "Hey...we need both to actually be good." So much so that Royce took up kickboxing to try to remain relevant. It didn't work for him but that's another topic.

I totally agree, the effectiveness of any art is not related to the fact that one does or does not wear a belt. You have given good examples. However, once again I remind you that I was speculating about the future 20 years from now. It took a good deal of time for the TMA to stand up (pun intended) and actually take notice that their lethal techniques were not so lethal in an MMA match. How much longer will it take them to realize that a belt, while certainly not a bad idea, and one that has only been around for 120 years or so, is really not necessary to one's advancement in any given martial art be it traditional, from Asia, or those rooted in the US like boxing and wrestling.

The answer is I have no idea and neither do you. But it is fun to speculate. And I do enjoy the debate that we have had. There are not many people (perhaps you and maybe three, or four others on this site) that I can have such an exchange with whose opinion I respect.

I thank you for the discussion.