Hong Kong goes 'mixed martial arts' crazy... and you don't even have to fight
New mixed martial arts gyms are opening in the city as the sport gains traction
Whoever put the "art" in mixed martial arts (MMA) missed the point that it's more of a blood sport. One study found that 30 per cent of MMA bouts end with a fighter sustaining a traumatic brain injury. The controversial research, by University of Toronto, has been described as "flawed" by the MMA camp, but the combat sport is nevertheless a fighting style akin to something you might witness in a prison riot.
"People walking past see the fighting on the screens and stop to watch," says Andrew Power, a personal trainer at Everlast Fight & Fitness centre in Causeway Bay, referring to the televised MMA bouts screened in the windows. "It's great marketing, but when we say, 'Would you like to come in and have a look?' they say, 'Oh no, it's fine.'"
Watch: Try MMA training for a high-intensity, full-body workout
Everlast is one of two global boxing and MMA brands to open in Causeway Bay last year - the other being Hayabusa Martial Arts and Fitness Centre. They each now have two gyms in town. A new entry in 2012 was Epic MMA & Fitness in Central. That's also the location of long-time white-collar MMA outfit Impakt.
Akiko Uchiyama, a director at Epic, links the rising popularity of MMA to the globalisation of US sports promotion company, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). "Now that UFC organises UFC Macau, MMA's popularity has grown fast in Hong Kong and the demand is there, Uchiyama says. "This has made martial arts such as boxing, Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu more popular as well." Uchiyama adds, however, that most club members are strictly looking for fitness: "Only the real hard core ones are willing to take part in MMA fights."
Power agrees, saying many people find MMA intimidating. But he points out that it doesn't have to be about bashing the hell out of someone - or getting yourself beaten to a bloody pulp. MMA training is a high-intensity, full-body workout, and the training MMA fighters undergo results in optimum physical fitness. It also never becomes boring. Being "mixed", it combines the skills of both stand-up fighting and rough and tumble on the ground.
"You're developing your upper and lower body," Power says. "For MMA, you need strong legs for submission and ground work, and you also need a strong grip. So you need strong hands, forearms, upper arms and shoulders. It's a full-body workout, but there are other aspects too, like you need to be fast, and you need to have endurance and coordination. It's all the elements you need in fitness."
The most popular forms of standing fighting used in MMA are karate, boxing and Muay Thai, Power says, because you can use punches, kicks, knees and elbows in the sport. For groundwork, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling are the most common disciplines. So although clubs may hold MMA submission and MMA striking classes, members who want to brush up on specific skills can also take classes in each of the separate disciplines.
Power says this approach is advisable because, "you really need to focus on and repeat your drills".
Here's a taste of basic exercises used in MMA training. It's a great workout even if your goal is to shape up rather than spar. Anyone can walk into Everlast for a free introductory session, says Power.
Everlast has climbing walls that lean out at an angle of about 20 degrees, and grips on a ceiling beam where your bodyweight is held by just the fingers. "The climbing wall can be used to develop a strong grip and core strength. Both are particularly useful for the grappling aspect of MMA - also referred to as MMA submission," Power says.
Medicine ball rebounders
This involves throwing a medicine ball at a tilted mini trampoline and catching the rebound. Power says it's important to catch the ball in the palms - without trying to wrap both hands tightly around the ball - keeping the body straight to engage the core muscles. The exercise is partly a test of coordination. Throw the ball too hard and off kilter, and it won't rebound in the right direction.
With the right foot first, run through the ladder with both feet touching each square and ensuring you don't step on the frame. Increase speed as you go along. "The ladder develops speed, acceleration and agility. The benefits of using this particular exercise for mixed martial artists is that it helps to develop fantastic foot speed in the cage," Power says.
Lift the tyre from the floor, breathing out while doing so and engaging the core muscles. While exhaling again, quickly push the tyre over. Step inside, then in front of the tyre, then back again, and repeat. "Tyre flips are very effective at improving explosive power, mostly because the move incorporates both the upper and lower body," Power says.
The heavy bag
In this case, it was basic jabs - arms straight and shoulders rotating forward into the punch - and Muay Thai kicks, rotating the upper body for more power. "Bag work is essential for MMA exponents," Power says. "It provides the opportunity to hone stand-up technique by practising kicks, punches, knees and elbows without needing to worry about defence."
With gloves on, this non-stop circuit involves five jump squats, followed by five power push-ups - hands leaving the ground, landing on the fists - then 10 left-right jabs to the trainer's pads, and 10 head blocks with hands up shielding the side of the head while the trainer whacks the gloves. The circuit is repeated three times with no break. "The combination of jump squats with power push-ups again helps to develop explosive power necessary for exponents to develop their technique, whether you are just starting out or an advanced athlete," Power says. "The one-two jab is an example of a boxing combination commonly practised in MMA training to enhance a fighter's stand-up capability. The practice of blocking is essential in order to provide participants with a basic knowledge of defence."
Watch a video of Mark Sharp training at http://goo.gl/dsPptK