Getting started with any kind of fight training is mostly feeling like a rookie every session, learning something new each day.
But eventually you’ll get to a point where you want to feel like you know more and can do more, this definitely happened for me when I started sparring for the first time.
In this article, I’ll give you ten tips from my own experience trying to improve my fighting skills that will assist you in how to become a better fighter.
Let’s get to it.
Table of Contents
1. Learn and apply the A.R.E. method
I’ve come up with the acronym A.R.E. which stands for Awareness, Reflexes and Efficiency.
These three aspects I find to be the most important pieces of improving your fighting, especially at that beginner-to-intermediate level.
Awareness allows you to predict your opponent.
Reflexes enables you to respond to a quick changing needs of the fight.
Efficiency is the perfect balance of technique and maximizing your output for fighting.
Let’s look into each of them in a bit more detail.
To improve your awareness, spend plenty of time working on different aspects of martial arts training.
The more you know, the better your awareness will be.
When you move one way, you’ll know what to expect from your opponent.
And when they make a certain attack or movement, you’ll also know what doors are open for you next.
It’s essentially understanding techniques at a deeper level, but also general fundamentals like distance management and footwork.
My friends program, Boxing Fundamentals Course, is a great tool for working on those fundamentals:
Developing your reflexes helps massively with avoiding being hit.
And there’s no better way to develop that other than practicing the art of avoiding hits. But it can be done lightly, with a game like tag boxing with a sparring partner.
Tag boxing involves tapping each other on the shoulder or thigh while trying to avoid the others attacks.
A step up from that is working with a partner in speed drilling with countering and getting help from a coach to apply more pressure on your reflexes and countering on the pads.
The greatest test and development is to get in the ring and do some live sparring, where you will be constantly tested and enter unpredictable scenarios and have no choice but to respond.
You can maximize your efficiency by putting the hours into technique drilling and burnout sessions.
Get into classes that will push your cardio with drilling combinations on the bag or pads.
The key is to try to maintain solid form while feeling new levels of exhaustion. Working one-on-one with a coach can make this even more optimized.
Fighting always pushes your mental and physical capacity to the maximum and being able to maintain good form and technique during it is how you’ll become a better fighter.
The most efficient output you can get from every strike you throw is what can turn good fighters into great fighters.
2. Improvement comes with persistence
It can take between 2-3 years to become a good fighter.
Some may begin fighting at amateur competition during this time, possibly even go pro if they are a naturally gifted fighter.
But from my own experience, it took me a solid 2 years to feel like I knew what I was doing when entering the ring.
Before that, I felt like I was constantly on a rollercoaster of feeling like the newbie and the pro.
The truth is that everyone’s path is different.
Certain fundamentals don’t fit together in your mind quite as quickly as it can for others.
Whether it’s timing, footwork, advanced combinations, or just plain reflexes not being up to scratch.
Getting bonked on the nose over and over can help some people improve, and seriously demotivate others.
With fighting and learning martial arts, the best route to success is unwavering persistence.
It’s going to hurt at times, you’re going to get injured at other times, but it’s the love of martial arts and enjoying the learning process that will keep you on the path.
If you enjoy fighting and martial arts, then commit to it by showing up every week.
3. Use anti-style to defeat better opponents
There will always be someone better than you in some way. In fighting, this is true every time you try sparring.
Beating someone better than you is often about noticing their movement patterns to know where they will be next and countering with anti-style.
Anti-style is the concept of changing your style to wreak havoc with whatever the opponent is trying to do.
So look at what they are doing, look for those patterns. Understand the patterns they are making, and look to counter it through interruption.
You can also lead your opponent by making them feel like their patterns will work but instead having a gift-wrapped fist on the end of their error.
It’s a way of thinking about fighting that goes beyond the awareness of only yourself and it’ll help you grow to beat better opponents.
4. Keep training outside of the gym at home
Whilst there’s no comparison to experiencing actual fighting or sparring, you can keep your brain learning while away from the gym at home.
Fundamentals of striking, footwork and conditioning can be done anywhere, anytime.
But challenging your reflexes in sparring scenarios will surely make you better and faster.
Here’s a quick summary of what you can do at home:
- Shadowboxing—improving awareness, movement, and footwork (no equipment necessary)
- Jump Rope—getting better stamina and staying light on your feet
- Pushups—building a strong core and improving core stabilizers (no equipment needed)
- Heavy bag—pushing your muscles to power output
- Burn-out rounds—taking your entire body and muscles to their max and building cardio
5. Watch more fighting and take notes
You can work on improving your mental awareness of fighting by watching a lot of fights.
Head over to YouTube, search for fighting in your chosen martial art and take notes about the successful fighting moments as well as the errors fighters make.
If you’re into boxing, then similarly search for your favorite fighters and seek to understand the details of their fighting style.
Once you see new techniques or combinations you like, find technique tutorials or work with a coach to practice them and absorb the technique fully.
You can always start by shadowboxing wherever you are to imitate the movements and begin the learning process.
6. Be prepared to work REALLY hard
Becoming an unstoppable fighter requires an extreme level of hard work.
The fight takes place on multiple levels, which means you need to be disciplined in various skills.
You need to be not only highly physically conditioned but also have considerable mental abilities in observation, awareness, confidence, and more.
If you’re training in MMA, then you’ll also need to learn multiple fight arts like Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing and Muay Thai.
If you look at the records of unbeaten fighters in professional sports, it is always clear that they are some of the hardest workers in their field.
The now-retired UFC pro Khabib Nurmagomedov had an unbeaten record of 29-0 and his fight training camps were gruelling physically, which also developed his significant mental fortitude.
If you want to become great, you have to act like you already are. And THE greats always have the biggest commitment to training.
7. Don’t let fighting get to your head, stay humble
As you are growing in your fighting skills, it can become too easy to feel the desire to ‘test’ them outside of the ring or cage.
But street fighting has little to no benefit to your development. It has too many negative outcomes that are not worth the risk!
In one single punch, you could find yourself in a court or ruin your potential for competing entirely.
Keep your fists to yourself and use that energy to motivate your training.
8. Find an amazing coach that fits your goals
The best way to improve your fighting skills is to find yourself a great coach.
Finding the right coach can be a challenge. They need to align with your mentality, fighting style and how you want to grow.
Allowing your coach to guide you will help to fix any weak points and maximize your strengths.
But you do have to build some of your own confidence about what kind of training you need.
Coaches can guide you, but it’s even better when you can tell them what you want to focus on and how you want to grow.
It makes the sessions they can give you all the more impactful. You’ll become a great fighter if you build this synergy with your coaches.
It’s worth trying a coach for a few months and seeing how you work together. Ask yourself:
- Do they hear what you want to focus on and give you a training session tailored to it?
- Can you communicate well with each other?
- Do you listen to or disregard what they say?
Finding the right coach for you is like finding gold.
You’ll want to keep pushing yourself and make them proud. It’s worthwhile.
9. Learn how to compete against different sized opponents
Many fighters are born with a natural gift for fighting.
Some have powerful physical attributes, speed or amazing reflexes can all be gifted.
These abilities can pay off massively when learning to fight, which translates well into having an advantage over your opponent.
I’ve sparred with various kinds of physical fighters, like the tall and slim kind, but also the short and thick.
Each of these body types have their own unique advantages. The same is true for you.
Sparring fighters of different shapes and sizes brings new opportunities to learn and adapt.
I’ve had shorter fighters easily get inside the pocket underneath my strikes and punish when not keeping distance.
And others have been so more physically larger or powerful that they’ve swarmed me into a corner with no escape.
But each time this happens; you learn to deal with it! You learn a little something. And the next time, you change your approach.
Because that’s what is most beautiful about learning to fight. The goal posts are always changing and you are always forced to grow and change.
10. Work on your mentality
Fighting may appear entirely physical, but it is overwhelmingly more mental than it is anything else.
That’s because you have to be prepared to work extremely hard and overcome many boundaries—life getting in the way, injuries, relationships—while looking after your mental health simultaneously.
It’s clear that most of the best fighters of all time share a unique ability to work towards their goals diligently with unwavering confidence.x
Some are born or grown up to have this kind of mentality, for others it must be developed. But for either, it still needs to be maintained constantly.
So this is a reminder to work on your mental health to ensure you are happy, grateful and optimistic while also improving your mentality for success and growth.