MMA best way to toughen up mentally Avoiding a fight greatest test for a true martial arts champ

IN A fast world where patience is on the wane and even minor fender benders on the road lead to murders, learning some self defence techniques is extremely important. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) expert, Amr Hafiz, encourages everyone, especially women, to be equipped with fighting skills to survive in dangerous situations, which he feels women are frequently exposed to in the current times. Some unexpected lightning strikes at the right spots can destabilize even a giant, and that’s the time to make good your escape. However, the greatest test for a true martial arts champion is not about debilitating the opponent, but rather avoiding a fight. That’s the first advice he gives to all his students. Read on and learn more about MMA and how some innocent parts of your body can turn into deadly weapons when applied in the right way.

Question: You are a certified trainer for MMA. What’s MMA all about?
Answer: I am a Certified MMA Conditioning Coach. MMA or Mixed Martial Arts is about inventing your own style of fighting. We train in a variety of fighting styles like kickboxing, wrestling, judo, jujitsu and so on.
It began when experts of different martial arts challenged one another to test which fighting technique is better. Tournaments were organized where fighters were put in a cage and made to fight. The results were astounding. Many of classical martial arts didn’t stand a chance against some of other fighting forms. Karate or Kung Fu fighters wouldn’t last a round against say boxing or judo. This was a big surprise.

So, then the fighters began to analyse their own fighting styles more deeply. They realized that a karate champion didn’t know how to grapple, and a wrestler didn’t know how to box. This was understood as a shortcoming, and to make up for it, wrestlers began to train in boxing, Kung Fu experts began to learn judo and so forth. So now everyone knew every fighting technique, and sort of became equals. This was the birth of Mixed Martial Arts.
Dana White is generally regarded as the godfather of Mixed Martial Arts. He is the initiator of UFC, which is the most famous MMA championship in the world.

Now, it is being taught in academies.
I am a certified MMA conditioning coach. I am continuing to study to attain a higher grade. I am specialized in getting fighters ready for the fight, increasing their stamina, strength and the power of knockout. This involves weight training, cardio, circuit training and other methodologies to get the fighter fit and ready for the fight.
I had who fought last Saturday in Crowne Plaza at the GFC, which was Gladiators Fighting Championship. This is an MMA competition.

Q: Was this a local championship?
A: You can’t call it local, because we had international fighters from America, Asia and other parts of the world.

Q: Did you also fight?
A: No. I was a fighter, fighting since 1990. But now I am focusing exclusively on training fighters.

Q: Tell us about your students. What do they come here for? Is it for self defence, fitness or is it because they get inspired watching martial arts films?
A: There are three types of people in general when it comes to martial arts. The first category is people who love fighting. They are crazy about fighting. They are watching fights all the time and are always occupied with fighting. The second type involves those who want to be equipped with some sort of self-defence technique so that they are more confident to face threats on the street. This type might have had some unpleasant experience of being bullied or challenged by someone and not being able to stand up to it. The third type includes those who want to stay fit.

Q: How do you begin training a new comer? Do you take their level of fitness into account to come up with a schedule more suited to the person?
A: I have two classes. One for beginners and one for professionals. I am going to start one for intermediates soon. If you come knowing nothing about martial arts you go to the beginners class. If you come with some experience in martial arts, then you go to the professionals’ class.
However, there’s one common thing between the two classes: I focus on building stamina and fitness. 40 % of my classes involve circuit training, which has been proven to be the most effective training for losing weight, gaining stamina and becoming fit.
In circuit training you work all muscles groups unlike bodybuilding where you focus on specific muscles groups on a particular day. For beginners, circuit training lasts for about a minute and half, and for professionals it’s 5 minutes.

Q: Isn’t that too short a time?
A: I am talking about one circuit. For beginners we do about 5 circuits, and for professionals 3 circuits. This is very intense back-to-back training.

Q: Are we looking at quick running, combined with push ups and so on?
A: All these are part of the exercise.

Q: However, when it comes to fighting, the toughness of mind is equally important. What do you do to toughen up the mind?
A: MMA is the best way to toughen you up mentally. Firstly, its energy releasing, anger releasing, stress releasing... and it makes you feel like a new person. The second part is the actual combat. Knowing how to defend yourself and a full appreciation of your own strengths makes anyone confident. Just to know that you can survive any situation on the street can make you very confident.

Q: You also have a lot of girls coming to you to learn MMA? What is their motivation?
A: You would be surprised, as I am, because there are a lot of girls who really want to fight and become champions. I have Pakistani, Bulgarian and Kuwaiti students, who are actually spoiling for a good fight. They are very pretty and feminine... but they have this hunger in them to be tough fighters. Then there are girls who want to be prepared to face dangerous situations on the road. Life is difficult these days for women and they want to have the skills to survive. Then there are girls who want to be fit and in shape.

Q: You rightly pointed out the world is increasingly becoming a dangerous place for women to live. They are under threat and it’s not wise for women to go out at night alone. Can you give some quick tips as to how a woman can defend herself when stalked or harassed?
A: The first advice I give to all my students is “Don’t fight unless you really have to.” This is for both girls and boys. If there’s a way you can wriggle out of the situation and avoid a fight then do that. If by submitting to your opponent you can pamper his ego and thereby avoid a confrontation, that’s the best technique. There’s nothing shameful in doing this. At the end of the day, our objective is to avoid trouble and not invite it.
The second advice: if you can’t avoid a fight and you are pushed into a situation where you have to fight, then strike with all your might and try to finish the fight as soon as possible. If you dither and soften your strikes, then you are provoking your opponent, who might come at you angry and more dangerous. You don’t know how strong he is or how good a fighter he is. Therefore, show no mercy when it comes down to an actual fight. Hit hard and end the fight soon.

Your first blow should be the only blow. Although in our training we are trained to carry on for a long time. A person who sincerely undergoes MMA training for 6 months can fight anyone and survive any situation. It doesn’t matter how many or how tough the opponents are. But remember, I am talking about survival, not destroying your opponents. It needs dedicated training.
Let me at this point tell all the readers not to fall for those bogus ads claiming to make you a martial arts expert in 3 days. This is never possible. I actually went to one such crash course just to check out what they teach. Believe me, it’s a rip off. They are stealing people’s money. Nobody can teach you self defence in 3 classes, each 2 hours long.
Do you know how many years people spend in the gym just to have their first fight. My fighter, who fought this Saturday, has been training for 1 and half years.

Q: You were telling me about your girl students. Now it’s a fact that women are by nature weaker than men. How much is it possible for women to surmount their biological challenges and overpower a man?
A: We can’t ignore the truth that men are stronger than women. I don’t advice any girl to engage a man in a fight on the street or in any situation unless she is in a situation where not fighting becomes riskier than fighting.
In such a situation, she has to strike with her full force, fearlessly, and at the right spots. I would like to underline in bold the word “fearlessly”, because if you are scared your strength drops down to 20 % of your full potential. Your blow becomes ineffective. But if you remain fearless and strike hard at the right spot using the right technique, you can debilitate any man irrespective of his size or strength. Because few people know how to protect themselves from an unexpected attack. So, if you execute your strikes with precision and power, then you can create an opportunity to escape the situation. If your attack throws the guy off balance, then make use of the opportunity to flee that place or call for help. Run at the first opportunity; don’t be emboldened by the initial success and try to prolong the fight, because as I said men are by nature stronger. So run as soon as possible.

Q: What is the most effective way for a woman to attack a man?
A: Use the four most powerful weapons that nature has gifted you. The two elbows and the two knees. Because it’s fully bone. Now if I am striking you with my elbow in your face, back, ribs or stomach, I am putting heavy bone matter into areas that are soft and weak. It can have a terrible impact. Of course, you should know how to strike. The technique is very important. Let no one, after reading this piece attempt to strike someone and think that they are going to create serious damage. Practice is a must. You got to toughen your elbows through constant practice. You should know how to strike and pull back. Speed is also important.

Q: You named some vulnerable parts of the body. Which is the most vulnerable part of the human body? I heard it is the groin. Is that true?
A: That’s a big mistake. 90 % of the times it difficult to make a contact with this part of the body. You miss the first time, then the guy gets alert, and there’s nothing you can do.
The best place to attack is the neck. It’s the most vulnerable part of your body. An attack anywhere in the neck is enough to make the opponent lose his balance at least for 5 seconds, which is enough time to end the fight with a few more power blows or escape.

Q: Tell us something about the ongoing MMA championship, GFC, in Kuwait.
A: The first round of GFC was held at the International Fair Grounds in Mishref, about 5 months ago. What took place last Saturday (Feb 9, 2013) was the second round, at Crowne Plaza.
GFC is organized by Adel Al Rowdhan, who is a famous fighter himself. He organized the first MMA tournament in Kuwait.
We have been preparing for GFC for 5 months. My fighter, Bader Al Ramyan, trains 5 days a week, 4 hours a day. He is a Kuwaiti fighter, 20 years old. He is trained in kickboxing and jujitsu.
I want to thank Mr Ahmed Al Akhmer, a judo jujitsu trainer, who is training my fighter in grappling. Now, we have stopped training and he is relaxing in the run up to the bout.

Q: What are the rules in GFC? Do you fight until the opponent is floored, how does it go?
A: There are two types of rules, for two categories: professionals and gladiators. Gladiators are sort of amateurs. You can win by points or knockout or tap out or TKO, which is Technical Knockout, meaning the fighter is not floored but not fit to continue the fight as per the referee’s discretion. There is a referee inside the ring and judges around the ring. Gloves, mouth guard and abdomen guard are compulsory accessories to be worn by the fighters.
You are allowed to use punches, elbows, kicks and takedowns. When the opponent is down on the floor, you can’t punch or kick him. For the higher category, punching is allowed when the opponent is down.

Q: When did you start your lessons in martial arts?
A: I started at the age of 5 in Egypt. Of course, back then there was no MMA. I began with Karate like most kids. I spent about a year. I didn’t like it, and so I switched to classic Kung Fu. I loved it. However, I didn’t find it very helpful when it came to real fights in my school. I tried all these fancy kicks but was ineffectual, and got easily beaten. I also became the butt of ridicule. I was told that Taekwondo is really good, and so I took up lessons in Taekwondo.

Q: So, it looks like you were already on your way to becoming an MMA champion, learning so many styles?
A: Yes, I guess so. And then I learnt judo, which surprisingly was the most effective fighting form. Because any fight on the street eventually ends up in clenching. Yes, you flourish your arms and throw kicks initially, but soon you will start grappling, holding each other’s bodies. So, if you know how to clench well and throw, then you can be a very effective fighter. I really enjoyed Judo. Actually grappling runs in my blood. My father and my uncles were also wrestlers. My grandfather too was a wrestler. The national wrestling coach of Egypt in fact invited me to train in wrestling instead of judo. So, I went for Graeco-Roman wrestling, which was also very useful. It was close to judo, but had its own advantages. I learnt wrestling for 3 years. And then I dabbled with boxing for a year alongside wrestling.

In Egypt around that time, there was a new Kung Fu style emerging called Senshu or Senda. It’s a military type of Kung Fu. The Chinese army trains its cadets in this style. It has punching, kicking and takedowns too. This came easy to me because I was familiar with all these techniques. I was the national champion in Kung Fu 4 times in Egypt. The fifth year I lost because in the second round I broke my foot. It was swollen and blue. I was 19 then. However, I made the terrible mistake of continuing to fight. I emptied two cans of pain killers on my leg, wrapped it up and went into the ring. My opponent was an international fighter; he was very good. But then it got so worse that I couldn’t touch the ground with my leg, and pulled out.

Q: If you had your fifth fight when you were 19, you would have become champion when you were 15.
A: Yes. I was 15. This was under-19 category. Then, I got married, settled down in life, came to Kuwait to work in an advertising agency as art director. For six years, I forgot all about fighting. Once I was passing by a kickboxing gym in Hawally, and my interests were roused again. I joined it. My coach there was Dr Ismail Radwan, who was a kickboxing and Senda Kung Fu world champion. He has the biggest kickboxing gym in Kuwait. That was in 2006. I trained in kickboxing very intensely for 3 years and got a black belt, Dan 3.

After that, the two of us, I and Dr Ismail, went to Lebanon to study Moi Tai. This is a Thai style of kickboxing. I also went to Thailand to further train in Moi Tai for about 2 months.  I later moved to Canada for about a year and half. I had gone there to settle down, but it didn’t work out and I returned to Kuwait. However, in this time, I learnt Jujitsu. It’s about how to make your opponent submit to you. This was the last style I learnt. Back in Kuwait, I began my career as a full-time trainer. Initially, the going was tough. I started my gym, Warlions MMA Academy, and now things are going fine. I have 45 students from all nationalities.

Q: What is your advice to the readers before we close?
A: I am highly disturbed when I see a lot of obese kids around. This is a very sad situation. A boy of 9 is unable to live a normal life because he is too obese to play or do things a boy of his age does, this is a bad situation. And this is not the result of a disease, but just lifestyle. Too much TV, junk food and sedentary lifestyle. I advise our youth to be active, to be engaged in any physical activity on a regular basis. It need not necessarily be MMA. It could be some sport, or at least walking 10 minutes every day. Make it a part of your everyday life. And my second advice is “learn how to defend yourself. You will never know when you will need it.”


Amr Hafiz is a Certified MMA Conditioning Coach and the owner of Warlions MMA Academy in Salmiya. He is currently training 45 students under him, many of them girls, with the help of experts in other fighting techniques. Amr Hafiz is four times Kung Fu national champion in Egypt and has mastered a variety of martial arts and fighting styles. His student Bader Al Ramyan is a favorite in the Gladiators Fighting Championship (GFC), an international MMA tournament, currently underway in Kuwait.

- By Valiya S Sajjad - Arab Times Staff

By: Amr Hafiz

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