Seeing progression in your skills is one of the greatest motivators when you are training in MMA. however, it’s also one of the most difficult things to see. If you can’t see progression in your skills then it’s easy to become demotivated and believe you are in a rut or have hit a plateau (even though you may be actually progressing very nicely).
Often the reason for this is that we are not consistent with how we are measuring ourselves and our expectations continuously change. Imagine for example that you’ve been practising your Inner Forearm Choke / Guillotine Choke for a few months and you’ve just started to tap a few people out with it in some light drills. This makes you feel very positive about the move and so your brain gets imprinted with the notion that you are
getting really good with the guillotine choke”
A few more months pass and you start to realise that it’s been ages since you caught anyone with a Guillotine Choke. This produces negative feelings
I used to be really good at the Guillotine, how come I can’t get it on anyone now?”
But in those few months some very important things have changed
The conditions of your training
Nothing stays still in MMA for very long – even in your own training environment. With each month that passes you will add more skills, more tactics, more experience and more intensity to your training. It’s likely that when you measured your Guillotine last time around you were probably doing at a completely different intensity and with far fewer things to consider. The Guillotine Choke may have been one of the only techniques you knew so you naturally looked for it a large proportion of the time and because you were training at a less intense pace you were able to succeed quite often. Now when you are measuring it you’re doing it faster, in more intense drills with more variables and against better opposition. It might even be the same opposition that you were facing before but of course they’ve improved to and if there Guillotine Choke defence is really good then it’s probably thanks to you!
Your expectations of your abilities
As your skills and experience in MMA progress, so to do your expectations of what you should be able to achieve. When you’ve never been able to get a Guillotine in sparring before your expectations are low – you’d be very happy if you could just get one. But as you get more success you set your expectations higher, by the time you’ve hit ten or so Guillotine Chokes in sparring you start to expect to be able to get it all the time. Expecting more is healthy, it’s part of your progressive path that you should be pushing yourself and changing your goals continuously. Where it becomes an issue is when you don’t recognise that you’re increased your expectations or when you’ve set them unrealistically. Because a lot of these measures are quite subjective and hard to track it can be quite difficult to actually recognise these changes and even though you think you are measuring yourself in the same way you used to you are in fact being much tougher on yourself than before. If you don’t see this then it can be very demotivating as you feel you’re going backwards.
Your perception of what you used to be able to do
The final factor that changes with time is your perception of what you used to be able to do. It’s a bit like looking back on school days – you only remember the good bits! If you cast your mind back more than a few months it’s very difficult to recall with accuracy or real objectivity exactly how you were performing at that time. The memories that get solidified are usually the extremes – something that you did really well or times when you’ve preformed terribly. In the example of our Guillotine Choke it may be that you remember how we couldn’t do it at all at the start or how you used to get tapped out by it all the time but your more recent memories may be of how you used to tap people out with it all the time. It’s unlikely that you’ll recall the exact nature and intensity of the drill you were performing when you were having the success or be able to objectively assess how good your opponent was. You’ll also not remember how many times you failed when you attempted the guillotine choke but were not successful with it. So your perception of what you used to be able to do gets distorted and usually to the extent that you’ll remember yourself as being far better than you actually were.
So seeing your progression is extremely motivational and yet it’s actually very difficult to achieve. Hopefully if you do feel like you’ve hit a plateau or a rut with you’re MMA training then some of the above may serve to remind you that actually you are probably significantly better than you were previously but you are just not able to objectively compare your current performance with your past. In the next part of this series on assessing your own progression and performance we’ll look at some great tips for making sure you see the good as well as the bad when you are appraising your MMA skills.