I wrote this about a year and half ago for a friend’s now defunct fitness website, so I thought I’d throw it up here. Clay Guida fights Tatsuya Kawajiri on April 11, 2014 in Abu Dhabi.
I took Aikido classes while doing my undergrad at U of T about 20 years ago. After classes came a ‘martial arts club’ where people of any discipline could share techniques and do some light sparring. The UFC was brand new and the world was just beginning to learn who Royce Gracie was. Fast forward to today and the UFC is a household name and MMA has changed the martial arts world. I attended a workshop at Fitness Kickboxing Canada hosted by UFC star, Clay Guida, in FKC’s Orangeville gym. I was training for a marathon, had good cardio and good lower body strength. Looking at the schedule for the day – warm up, conditioning, strength training, grappling and submissions, striking drills – I figured a good portion of the day would be spent watching videos. They couldn’t possibly exercise for 6 hours straight, could they?
There were about 30 people signed up for the workshop, several of whom were amateur fighters. I was one of only one three non-martial arts practitioners (unless you count the orange belt in Judo I earned in grade school, the green belt in Aikido I got in university or the yellow belt I got in Tae-Kwon-Do I got just after graduation).
The day was to start with a one-hour conditioning warm up – jogging around the gym, push ups, sit ups, lunges and some resistance training. The music to pump us up was the theme song to the Ultimate Fighter played on an annoying loop. The trainers cut the warm up in half because apparently Clay was going to ‘put us through the ringer.’ I was breathing heavy by the end of it, but I felt good. I figured this wasn’t going to be as tough as I had feared.
Clay showed up at 10 am, thanked us all for coming and launched us into more jogging with sprawls and shadowboxing thrown in. Then we paired up and did some strength training. I was able to piggy-back a 195 lb man across the gym and do 6 squats holding my partner on my back, but I struggled with the bear crawl (crawling across the floor on all fours without letting the knees touch the ground) and couldn’t do a single push up carrying my partner. I opted out of the drill where we had to carry our partner, perpendicular to the ground, arms around the head and between the legs, across the gym. I didn’t think my back could take it. Then we did the duck walk, a wrestling exercise utilized in takedowns. Clay ended that first hour with a series of push-ups and planks, demonstrating his strength and fitness as he outlasted us all holding the push ups an inch off the ground. My lack of upper body and core strength became very apparent.
Then the MMA portion of the workshop started. We practiced various wrestling takedowns and takedown defenses and then moved on to submissions and escapes. This was where the workshop transcended a typical martial arts class and appealed to the MMA fans as Clay demonstrated moves he used in actual fights. I recognized the takedown he used on Nate Diaz and the modified guillotine choke he submitted Takanori Gomi with (the modification used a leg across the stomach as opposed to full guard).
After lunch we continued with the grappling drills and I felt the techniques starting to sink in. We ended the day with striking drills. Clay had fun calling out combinations (crosses, jabs, uppercuts, knees) and even said: ‘I don’t know how you guys do that’ when he called out a spinning roundhouse kick (I didn’t know how to do this kickboxing technique, either). The last drill was something he called ‘pyramids’ where we kicked a pad once and did a squat, kicked it twice and did two squats, all the way up to ten kicks and ten squats. Then we switched legs and did it again. Yup, that worked out to 55 kicks with each leg and 110 squats.
When it all ended after five and a half hours (we didn’t watch any fight videos), Clay hung out to give signatures, take pictures and answer questions. He talked about the more skilled martial artists in the lightweight division, which was why he worked on his cardio so much. He said his toughest fight was against Gilbert Melendez when he lost his Strikeforce title.
I stood there exhausted and carrying a newfound respect for the training UFC fighters go through. I’ve trained for adventure races and marathons, I’ve been to real boot camp and fitness boot camps and this was, by far, the most grueling day of exercise I’d ever done. It was easy to see how important a healthy body is to fighting and how easy it is to get injured (One of the three non-martial artists broke a toe in grappling practice). It also put into perspective Clay’s elusive game plan in his last fight against the hard-hitting Gray Maynard. Who wants to get punched in the face?
In retrospect, it’s easy to forget the gritty parts of the workout – the chokes difficult to sink in because of excessive sweat, chunks of flesh scraped away by the abrasive mats (particularly on the knees and the tops of toes), the protein shake farts squeezed out by shoulders being driven into stomachs during takedowns, and sore, aching muscles – all leaving an imprint of an amazing day up close with one of the toughest sports on the planet.
Thanks to Clay Guida and Fitness Kickboxing Canada for an awesome experience. Check FKCI’s website for upcoming events.