Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mixed Martial Arts Striking: United Elite MMA: Dekalb, IL

Background: One of the many things that I love about the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is the diversity it brings to the table. By blending so many different styles we get a melting pot of techniques that highlight the most devastating techniques across so many arts. In general terms MMA can be broken into two distinct areas, the standup game and ground game. Both are equally important for fighters to know and train in.

The standup game in MMA was born from a variety of Martial Arts, however, kickboxers were the first to forge a name for themselves. Early MMA was dominated by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu whizzes and wrestlers. These early days taught us that despite what the claims of being able to crush someone with one punch likely the fight would be much rougher. Kickboxers made the transition first based not on the fact kickboxing was “better” but rather on the fact you had a great pool of highly skilled athletes that had the physical prowess to defend against takedowns. Guys like Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva and Mirko CroCop are all great examples of the early “Sprawl and Brawl” kickboxers that took the sport to its next level.
This is what a Superman Punch looks like a split second before it hits you in the face.

I met the head coach of United Elite MMA at a business lunch for Martial Artists and we hit it off. When he started describing his gym I knew I had to see it. A full cage and ring along with grappling mats sounded just like the place for me to spend a night. Yet, much more than equipment or the facility I wanted to see Coach Villamar’s striking class.

Standing at 6’6 I stand a good deal taller than Coach Villamar. At first glance this may seem like a horrible mismatch of body sizes. Many Martial Artists seek to find a coach similar to them and emulate their style completely forgetting that different body sizes and types force fighters to come to different ways of seeing a problem. As a counter-puncher I have a great grasp of distance and timing but I have trouble carrying the fight to my opponent. As a shorter man Coach Villamar is constantly bringing that pressure to his opponents. Grabbing my bag I set off to learn how to close the gap in between me and my adversaries.

Sparring with United Elite MMA was awesome.

What did I learn?: I wanted to learn how to close with my opponents better and I showed up on the right night to learn. In class we went right back to basics and started with some slipping. Coach Villamar caught me leaning back to slip and encouraged me to slip forward instead. This sounds incredibly basic, however, as a tall guy I have the habit of rolling back and tucking my chin behind my shoulder while countering with a jab. While great to do defensively it left me a limited offence. By slipping forward I had many more options in terms of attacks including combos and takedowns.

Coach Villamar also caught me doing the same thing with my kicks. Something I love to do is to sway back and throw a kick. I throw a lot of lead leg kicks especially the front kick and inside round kick. Again this pulls my head and shoulders away from my adversaries granting me a strong defensive position but a limited offence. By staying over the kick I got more power and kept myself in-line for a better follow up. It added a lot to my arsenal to close between myself and an adversary.

Ben throws a wicked kick into the pads.

What was Awesome?: Sometimes when I travel to other schools I hone in on a technique or training methodology that stands out. Sometimes it is an extraordinary move or combo that blows me away. With United Elite MMA what I found was incredible was one of the most basic exercises done in almost every gym and dojo under the sun. It was their shadowboxing.
Coach Erick Villamar working with his students during the shadowboxing rounds.

Here is the standard format for Shadowboxing. The instructor says something like “3 rounds of shadowboxing!” and retires to the side of the class. Occasionally the instructor may yell at his students to “keep their hands up” or “don’t quit.” Ultimately, this is a great way to kill 10 minutes of class time without having to work. Students are paying for the privilege of flailing wildly at the instructor’s air while he or she relaxes and takes a break. It is so ingrained in many schools they just consider it part of the warm up.

Where Coach Villamar surprised me is he was actively involved in his student’s shadowboxing. All throughout our rounds he was circulating and giving real advice to his fighters on how they were moving and what would help smooth their techniques out. Shadowboxing moved from being “just a warmup” to legitimate time spent drilling technique.
Putting our drills to work.

Conclusion: I had an absolute blast with the guys and girls of United Elite MMA. They run a great program that has you working hard but also developing skills the entire night. Between rounds they laugh and joke making for a fun and dynamic atmosphere where one moment you can be exchanging techniques and the next rocking out to Bruce Springsteen. 
 United Elite MMA is a great crew to train with.

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham 

If you are interested in training together I would love to get together with you. Drop me a line on facebook and we can connect. I would love to learn from you. 

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