Reflections on my Amateur MMA Debut 13


 
Saturday, August 10th, 2013 was the day of my amateur MMA debut. I arrived at the venue a little after 4pm, as requested by the organization, and filled out paperwork, made weight (170.7lbs–a week prior, I was 180.8lbs), and received my pre-fight medical evaluation. The next several hours were spent being nervous, watching other fighters warm up, and warming up, myself. We did hit a few snags, primarily with not bringing gauze and tape (thought the AZ Boxing & MMA Commission was doing that part), but all-in-all things went fairly smoothly before the fight. As for the fight, itself, the first round did not go as planned–I was actually calm and feeling good until the bell rang, at which point I got serious tunnel-vision. My opponent suddenly seemed very far away, and I felt very slow. We circled a bit, and then he threw a jab that I thought for sure I dodged. At that point, that jab popped me in the mouth and cut open my bottom lip on my lower row of teeth. That made me freeze up a bit, because it was a pretty overwhelming experience, and he took that opportunity to take me down. On the ground, I constantly tried to improve my position, attempt submissions, and control his posture and punches, but he was incredibly strong. In looking back at it, I had several options in the grappling that I could have gone with and didn’t, but probably should have. It was definitely a learning experience! You can watch the video above until YouTube decides to take it down because of the background music. The video was recorded by my instructor’s girlfriend up in the stands on my video camera, and is the full, unedited fight from walk-ins to the post-fight interview. If you don’t want to see me get beaten up, skip to about 7:20 in the video.
Frame extractions from the GIF of my knockout

Between rounds, my Sensei told me that I had been worrying too much about trying to armbar my opponent’s punching arm when he had me on the ground, which was probably true but I didn’t notice it in the heat of the moment. He explained that my opponent was posting his other arm on me to hold me down for the punches, and that if I end up on the ground again I should work on that arm. In thinking back on it, I think I could have gotten a really tight sankaku-jime (triangle choke) on him in the first round. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. In any case, I decided that I didn’t particularly feel like grappling with that guy again, so since I didn’t really have anything left to lose after the first round, I figured I might as well throw the kick I knew my opponent was open for. From watching the video of his previous fight, and seeing him in the first round, I knew that he held his lead (left) hand low and dove on his punches and takedown attempts, leaving him open for a lead (right) leg kick to the head. I couldn’t get myself to throw it in the first round, thanks to first-fight-nerves, but I did get myself to throw it in the second round. The animated GIF I posted yesterday is a loop of that kick. Above, you can see it broken down, frame-by-frame, courtesy of Ryan Gregory (author of the Back in the Gi blog).

My foot hitting his face, with the shadow on my leg clearly showing my knee is past his head.

When I threw the kick, I started with tai sabaki (body evasion) by stepping off-line with my left leg (looks like I stepped up in the video, like a switch kick) and threw my lead leg up toward his shoulder, expecting him to drop his head for either a takedown or a wild punch. Since he had so much success with the takedown in Round 1, I didn’t expect him to change up his style at all, so as soon as he started to move toward me I let out a kiai and threw the kick. It ended up landing perfectly, with the bony knob below my ankle and at the top of my instep smashing him in the chin, knocking him out cold. There was some controversy with regard to how I knocked him out, because from some angles it looked like I hit him with my knee, which would be an illegal strike. At other angles, it looks like my kick hits him in the body and my extended lead hand hits him in the face. From another angle, though, it is obvious that my foot hit him in the jaw, which is what I kept confirming for people when they asked me (you can see me pointing to my foot at various points in the video), and the referee confirmed it. Eventually, they found someone with video that showed my foot making contact. After a bit of digging, I was able to find the frame where you can see it, even though it doesn’t look like it while watching the video.

Posing for a photo in the cage, post-fight
After the knockout, I actually hesitated for what seemed like an eternity before jumping on my downed opponent. I knew that you are supposed to continue fighting until the referee stops you, but I could plainly see that he was unconscious and didn’t feel the need to keep going, even though the referee didn’t seem to be moving. I thought I stood there for several seconds before throwing a leg over his body (very nearly a kick, for some reason) and dropping down to hit him, but in the video you can hardly tell I hesitated at all. Afterward, I had a bunch of people, some of whom I knew and many of whom I didn’t, come up to the cage and congratulate me and take my picture. I was still a little shocked, but excited at the same time, and worried what kind of damage I had just done. The matchmaker for the organization thanked me for not continuing my assault. It took both commission doctors and three EMT’s quite a long time to get my opponent checked on and strapped to a spine board to be transported to the hospital.
The referee raising my hand as the official decision is read
The fight was officially called in my favor, winning due to knockout by a head kick at 11 seconds of the second round. This makes my amateur MMA record officially 1-0. The referee was a good guy, and turned out to be a Shorin-Ryu karateka who comes from a different branch of the system. He actually told me that he nearly stopped the fight on me in the first round, and I thanked him for letting me keep fighting even though it looked bad. Of course, he also told me that he thought it was a lucky kick, and I had to explain that I knew he was open for it and wanted to do it in the first round but couldn’t get myself to throw it. I will admit that I didn’t really expect it to knock him out, though! Several people told me that I won Knockout of the Night, and I was the only person to send my opponent away on a stretcher.
My awkward post-fight interview.
After the decision was read, I actually started to walk out of the cage. The prep room for the fighters had no televisions in it, so I had no idea how the fights were going, but apparently they end with an interview of the winning fighter. Someone outside the cage actually had to point at me to go back to do my interview. It was a complete surprise, and I sounded very awkward, but I did manage to thank the most important people–my Sensei, my training partners, my dojo, and my wife. I figured my wife was not terribly happy with me because of the first round, since her rules for me doing this included “you are not allowed to get hurt,” but I hoped that my victory would take away the sting of the first round a little bit.

After I was cleared to leave the stage by one of the commission doctors we headed back to the prep room, and passed the loading dock where my opponent was being put on an ambulance. We checked on him, and were told he would be okay, so we continued on our way. About half-way back, I started crashing from my adrenaline high and had a very strong urge to vomit. It took a long time for me to calm down and clear my head, which was just a little sore. A bunch of fighters and corners were congratulating me on my win, but I really just wanted to stop feeling terrible. My wife came back to the prep room, punched me in the arm, hugged me and sat with me until I had calmed down. At that point, we went back up to the stands to watch the rest of the fights, where one of my coworkers took the above picture of me. When the fights were over we all went out to eat, and I didn’t end up getting to bed until 4am.

My face the morning after my fight–my eyes aren’t swollen from the fight, but puffy from sleep and being sick.
The next morning, my lip was still swollen, my forehead was still lumpy, my ribs hurt from his elbow landing on me during one of his slams, and I had come down with a cold. All-in-all, though, I didn’t come out of my fight too worse for wear. I put myself to the test against a trained opponent trying with all his might to put me on the ground and knock me out, and I overcame adversity to put an end to the fight. There is a ton of room to improve, of course, but it was a great learning experience and an intense challenge. Now it’s time for me to recover, eat all the food I couldn’t eat while cutting weight, and get back in the dojo!
Update: The MMA organization I fought in posted the recording of the live stream for this event, and I pulled the above animated GIF out of the replay of my KO. The primary camera for the stream actually missed my kick completely, but they switched the feed to one of the other cameras while they were going back and looking at it to make sure it wasn’t a knee strike. The quality of the official video is actually not as good as the video we recorded from the stands, and the commentary is rather typical of anti-TMA announcers.

Update 2: The official video was uploaded a few days ago, so I pulled another GIF from it–this is the angle that makes it look like my kick landed to the body.

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Noah

About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.


13 thoughts on “Reflections on my Amateur MMA Debut

  • Myke B

    Noah,

    Congratulations again sir. I’ll have to drag up the video and watch the whole fight when I can get a decent connection speed. Sounds like you had a good experience over all, got your head straight in the second round and followed your game plan. The pressure of competing tends to make you brain shut off when the adrenaline hits. I basically went deaf and forgot everything I knew at my first BJJ competition last year. The good thing was that I wasn’t getting punched in the face. I appears you did well though and your training was just what you needed, both standing and on the ground. My one question is this, do you intend to continue with other fights or was this just done for the experience? No shame in being one and done, I’ve had friends do it and consider it myself, but I’m curious about a fighter with strong traditional roots fighting again. Either way, again good work sir.

    • Noah

      Thanks, Myke! I wanted to do this as a challenge for myself, and this fight was certainly a challenge so that goal was accomplished. I feel as though I didn’t represent my skills as well as I would like, though. The tunnel vision really impaired my ability to defend the takedown in Round 1, and I subsequently missed many opportunities for sweeps and submissions on the ground. I am planning to do one more fight, since I would like to be able to showcase my offense, and then I will be done.

  • Myke B

    The tunnel vision is very likely from elevated heart rate and adrenaline dump from the fight. Time and experience are about all that can cure that. I went stupid and took a “combat stance” in my competition that was narrower than my shoulders, something I never do and had auditory exclusion (that deafness for my coach). Your fight was higher risk and turned out better than my outing. I’m happy for you and figure you’ll do well in a second fight. Seems like you’ve got an honest handle on what happened and what was good and bad during your fight. That points to good things for a second fight.

    • Noah

      Yes, there was definitely a major adrenaline dump, and I was quite shaky by the time we got to Round 2. I tried to evaluate myself realistically, and I know what to work on and what to expect for next time. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Anonymous

    Nice to see TMA well represented in MMA. I have 3 initial observations.

    1. Your 1st round (your 1st MMA fight) jitters coming from TMA would be criticized by a number of MMA proponents. TMA, they propose, does not realistically prepare one for full contact, real-time MMA. Some of the MMA rule conventions aside, I never accepted that criticism because the mental discipline instilled by proper traditional karate training is what carries one through any type of physical altercation.

    2. Your constant thought process sets you above most MMA practitioners. The opponent was clearly a physically tough, well-rounded competitor. Your 2nd round KO, however, demonstrates that the mentally-adept fighter who is physically fit, prevails over the physically superior fighter. His standard strike / take-down tactic left him highly exposed against a bona-fide karate striker, IMHO. Subsequently, it only took a few seconds in Round 2 to highlight that principle. Contrary to boxing lore, feints & head movement (generally) wilt in the face of accurate karate striking.

    3. The early UFC myth of grappling superiority over striking arts was exposed here. Your inability to defend against the boxers jab, a common sport karate failing, caused you to be vulnerable to GNP. And the wrestling-based opponent made you pay in Round 1. Boxers believe in the solid jab as almost indefensible. Against strong traditional karate defense, the boxer’s jab amounts to an annoyance at best.

    Equal congratulations on taking the MMA challenge & the on the win. The applied goal of traditional karate is to end the conflict efficiently and decisively. You met that standard in Round 2. Round 1 showed that knowing karate technique isn’t enough–it’s being mentally disciplined at all times that makes karate work. Otherwise, strong MMA competitors will pound you right into the ground.

    • Noah

      I will say that I was disappointed in myself in the 1st round–despite what you see in the video, I DO actually know how to grapple! I actively practiced and competed in judo for 4 years, and between that time and my fight, I was still practicing grappling at least once a week. I’m sure his wrestling ability was much better than mine, but I know how to do plenty of things from that position, and didn’t even try them, for some reason. It’s pretty embarrassing, honestly.

      As for the jab, I have noticed that karateka seem to be vulnerable to it, but I think that is more the result of its lack of use in competition than anything. Most karate competitions don’t score the jab, and so competitors use the backfist, instead. My dojo does use the jab quite a bit, and I feel I have gotten pretty good at defending it–and using it against karateka from other dojo works like a dream. In this case, I simply didn’t defend against it because he looked too far away to land it :P.

      Thanks for the comments!

    • Anonymous

      HEY! You won the real battle by just entering into the fight. Conventional MMA thinking posted by MMA commentators is that TMA just doesn’t transition well to MMA–they say as evidenced by the lack of TMA-based competitors & successes in MMA.

      And before I forget, my compliments on an extremely well written and well illustrated article…one which more than rivals anything I’ve seen written by so-called karate commentators @ MMA blogs & websites. IMO, there is one good MMA editor that can look at karate intelligently, although his background is BBJ, Muay Thai, I believe. Perhaps you could hook up with him down the road.

      I’ll respond directly on the substance of your response to my critique in a separate comment…

      You article, IMO, represents an MMA training case study that any karateka planning to enter MMA should review.

    • Anonymous

      SPECIFIC REPLY TO NOAH NOVEMBER 16 COMMENT:

      ROUND 1. It’s the mental dimension of karate that sets it above the MMA-sport based fighting methods. The closest karate term I can think of to address your shortcomings in Round 1 is the Japanese term “Mushin.” A short definition of Mushin is that one engages the battle without emotion or inner conflict. Thus, the mind is free to act quickly and decisively, constantly adjusting & acting in response to the opponent.

      Obviously obtaining Mushin is an ideal state. It takes practicing karate as a mental exercise, not a physical one. This is why kata is properly performed in a relaxed, even meditative manner. In fact all traditional karate training is mental. Once the mind has been strengthened, then you can gear up the physical intensity.

      The natural reaction in dangerous conflict is various emotions and worry, hope for victory, etc. It’s normal and that what happened to you. The consequence is the mind becomes conflicted and hesitant… and so overrode your knowledge base. I’d say you recovered well in Round 1 and put up a decent grappling defense which enabled you to survive to Round 2. That was essentially another victory. The stronger wrestler couldn’t finish you….

      ————————————————————————————————

      THE JAB.

      First of all, I never use a jab, per se. I typically use karate straight punches, both a front punch or reverse punch. In sparring, some of my opponents use boxing jabs. some don’t. I don’t care what they use because I train to block strikes…period. The overall applied goal of traditional karate is to SMASH your opponent no matter what he does. You gave a good rendition in Round 2 of karate’s applied goal.

      IMO, the technical defense to a jab is a parry or palm block. These are generally adaptations of the full ROM power block or knife hand blocks taught in my style’s black-belt curriculum.

      The reason the jab works against karateka is because they are not practicing karate. They are reacting to the jab and very often reacting against the short stroke of the jab takes too long and you get smacked.

      We don’t react in traditional karate, we act. It’s the same exact principle taught specifically in 1-step sparring. You address the target that’s attacking. In 1-steps it’s a straight punch. The lesson is that the straight punch is only the form. The mental skill is that your block meets whatever strike the opponent throws at you and dissuade, deflect, defeat or otherwise neutralize the assault.

      Of course, it takes a high degree of mental discipline to do this. That’s the challenge of traditional karate. Sport karateka fail against boxers because they are trying to exhibit the faster reaction. Hence the active mind is left out and the block fails….it’s too hard to react faster against highly skilled athlete.

      The Japanese karate term here is “no sen” and it’s extensions. Only when the conscious mind is actively engaged & highly disciplined can the “no sen” concept of action succeed…. This is why you see so many sport karateka reverting to boxing-like technique. They haven’t developed sufficient mental discipline.

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