While I am not done with training, I have been out of competition fighting since August. It's a strange transition. I started my fight career at age 16 in TKD point-fighting competitions, moved into full-contact kickboxing in my 20's, found a great boxing coach who got me a few amateur matches, and even did a few amateur MMA events before taking my one and only professional kickboxing fight earlier this year. Despite that fight, I still consider myself an amateur fighter.
I was never willing to commit to making fighting my career, and that unwillingness to commit would have forever kept me out of true professional fighting. Now I find myself committing to a different career, one that demands that I not be punched in the face on a regular basis, and I figured I would write down some of the realizations I had over the years. Take it for what it's worth (very little). This is a self-indulgent moment for me, but I hope that some of the young fighters and hopefuls out there can pick up something from it that I had to learn the hard way.
1) Point fighting does not prepare you for full-contact. If anything, it teaches bad habits. I was forced to unlearn many things from my TKD days when I got into full contact fighting. Fortunately, I transitioned back before the MMA explosion, and I acquired a good boxing coach, or I might be writing this from a hospital room.
2) Even if you're not a boxer, if you fight any kind of standup you need a good boxing coach. Not a kickboxing coach (although there are some who are also good boxing coaches), but someone who can teach you how to punch and protect yourself against punches. Most of my wins were due to my hands, no matter what rule set I was fighting under. If you can throw solid basic punches, in combination, even some high-level amateurs are going to fall under your gloves. I am constantly amazed at how few alleged professional fighters can throw a hook with real power, or are unable to throw a real uppercut at all. Slapping jabs and sloppy overhand rights will only take you so far, no matter how strong you are.
3) Strength and endurance assistance work is just that - assistance. Most of your workouts should be fighting. I can think of very few things as good for your fight-specific aerobic conditioning as fighting. Get several partners so that you have a string of fresh guys lined up to make you work. Hit the bag. Shadow box.
Please do not misinterpret what I'm saying as telling you that strength and endurance is not important, endurance especially is extremely important, but you can work on it using fight-specific motions and have both better fighting technique and better endurance in those specific motions than if you just go to 2 fight classes a week and run 50 miles a week. Some weightlifting is great, if not essential, but you need to decide whether you're a fighter or a weightlifter. If you're a fighter, lift some, but lift to fight, and don't let it hurt your fighting.
4) Cutting weight properly is essential if you're going to compete. I was late to this party, I spent several years as the guy who would go in at his "natural" weight, or maybe cut just 4-5 lbs, never more than 10. Then I started fighting at 185 (had been 205). The difference was night and day, and because I had a coach making sure I rehydrated and kept my nutrition up I didn't feel weak like I was afraid I would.
If anything, weighing less and going against lighter opponents made me more explosive. All the wrestlers out there are laughing and nodding their heads, they've been doing this since they were 12, but it was a revelation to me at the time, and kids at MMA gyms that don't focus on competition might not have anyone guiding them in cutting for a fight or picking the proper weight class.
5) Coaches are everything. Notice how many of the revelations above start with "I had a coach whoÃ¢?" That's because coaches are the guys who teach you how to get better. Quality coaches will make you want to die and then roll over and thank them for killing you. My boxing was great, because I had a coach who taught me ruthlessly and wouldn't accept mistakes in my technique no matter how tired I was.
My fights usually went my way, because I had coaches who were good at picking matchups, and the ones that didn't usually went against me because something my coach had identified as a weakness in the matchup ended up biting me in the ass. I was never surprised by a loss, only upset that the fight turned against me the way my coach and I had thought it might. Great coaches will keep you out of competition until you are ready, and once you are they will push you into it to improve your game.
6) Fight. The best way to improve your fighting is to fight. There is simply no better motivation for training than "In two months, a man is going to try to use physical force to prove his superiority over me, and I must destroy him and eat his soul." I exaggerate, but only a little. If you're just going to a fight gym for the workout, and never intend to fight someone for real, you might as well hit up the cardio kickboxing class with the soccer moms at the "Y." This is not to disparage self-defense fighting styles such as krav maga, they train to fight at an unknown time and place, but still train to fight for real.
7) Know when to get out. I still struggle with my decision to stop fighting, even though I know it was the right one. I'm in a job where I can't show up to work with a black eye, or cauliflower ear, or a broken nose without risking distracting people to the point of being ineffective.
I quit because my job is more important than fighting. Know when something is more important, whether it's a relationship, your health, or your career, and if it is, get out. You don't have to stop training altogether, I still spar and help prepare other students to compete, but I have scaled it back to fit within the realities of my life.