If you’re considering jumping into the violent world of mixed martial arts, you probably have some hesitancy about getting punched in the mouth. We all did when first starting out.
In fact, many people train MMA without competing or ever even sparring, but they get the benefits of a much higher physical fitness and to enjoy it as a hobby.
If you just want to know if you can train MMA without competing, here’s the short answer:
To train in MMA, you don’t need to actually compete or get into a fight. Many of the fighting skills of mixed martial arts can be gained through learning from experienced coaches using pads, in technique and drill classes, and then practicing by yourself on the heavy bag.
If you want to understand more about training in MMA without the competitive aspect, then keep reading.
Train MMA Without Competing
Training MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) doesn’t require you to compete. Most MMA gyms are open to the general public for those that just want to learn from coaches for fitness or self-defense, without ever having the intention of actually competing in a fight.
Competition is a normal part of any combat sport, particularly in ground fighting like BJJ and Wrestling.
It’s less common for students of Boxing, or Muay Thai, to ever compete because these striking arts are taught to all kinds of people from all walks of life and not just those who are crazy about the MMA sport.
Learning MMA Without Fighting
You can learn MMA without fighting. But without training against a sparring partner, it’s difficult to become prepared for a real fight. Sparring is a common practice of training mixed martial artists because it helps them to improve their skills against another person.
There are lots of great ways to learn the techniques of various martial arts, without ever punching someone in the face (or receiving one). These options include:
- Practicing on a heavy bag or freestanding bag
- Pad work classes
- Footwork drills
- Technique drills
- Fight conditioning
- Or working on any of the above with a coach
A majority of any fighter’s training time is spent working with coaches, on the bag, or in a pad work class. That’s because it simply doesn’t make sense to risk getting beat up every day in sparring.
The sparring floor is usually twice a week in most gyms, one near the beginning and one at the end of the week. And there’s good reason for it because it’s one-half testing yourself after a good rest and the other half testing yourself to apply the techniques you’ve been learning all week.
I won’t lie to you, though, sparring can be extremely challenging in the early days but it does offer some of the best gains in figuring out your style. It also helps you learn to handle difficult scenarios that would be difficult to imitate like in pad work or on the bag.
When Sparring Becomes Necessary In MMA
Eventually, every mixed martial artist will reach a point where they likely can’t advance their skills, reactions, or awareness without sparring. If you want to become a significantly better fighter, then actually fighting is the best way to get better at advanced skills like positioning, response, and counters.
For some people, they don’t plan to fight another person and so training on pads or the bag will always be enough.
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If you simply don’t want to fight with another person, you don’t have to. But you should go into your training in the knowledge that you may not be able to reach your fullest potential of fighting ability.
Mixed Martial Arts is, after all, about fighting to beat your opponent. And the only way to reach that potential is by actually testing yourself and learning from a fight.
Learning MMA Without Getting Hurt
You can learn MMA without getting dangerously hurt, though injuries can’t always be avoided. Any kind of training in combat sports can be a risk. Many common mistakes can be averted by training with an experienced MMA coach, as most injuries happen between beginners and white belts.
If you’re new to MMA and concerned about getting hurt, here’s some of my best advice as an intermediate-advanced student of martial arts:
Many beginners in MMA rush things, go too fast and end up getting themselves or someone else injured.
I can tell you from experience that on occasion you will encounter other students who think they are more skilled than they actually are.
Fresh martial artists often learn a few skills, but they haven’t developed any control over them. I’ve had various injuries caused on the BJJ mats from other white-belts who didn’t control their excitement or energy to practice grappling safely.
Being patient is a two-way street. You should show patience with yourself and your abilities, and patience for other beginners like you.
Don’t think you know how to do something safely. And don’t presume your training partner does, either. Let the coaches guide you into improving your skills without jumping ahead before you truly know-how.
Pick The Right Gym
Who you learn from is a huge part of learning good form, great technique, and a safe learning environment.
If you pick your MMA gym for its credibility alone, you just might end up way in over your head.
Some MMA gyms can be about nothing but intensity, competing, and reaching the top. Gyms like this are great if you have a solid base and know what to expect, but jumping in the deep end with MMA gyms is just a quick route to a broken nose.
If you want to learn the techniques, skills, and values of mixed martial arts, without competing or risking your safety too much then try to pick out a gym that has a strong community in helping people become the best version of themselves.
The coaches you learn from is of course as important, too, as you need to find the right mentor who knows when to call you out on your bad technique or pull fighters from going too rough on the new guy.
That’s my best advice on how to train MMA without competing. Mixed Martial Arts is one of the most rewarding sports imaginable, so don’t let fears of a few bruises stop you from pursuing your dreams!
Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.