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4 Fool-Proof Ways To Maximize Your Martial Arts and Self Defense Training

Every martial artist knows someone who's 'been training forever' but doesn't seem to actually improve. And we all know of people who excel amazingly fast despite being new to the sport or training far less than everyone else. What's the difference? The latter often gets labeled as a 'freak athlete', but what's happening more often than not is a drastic difference in the quality of their training time. Quality training is just as or more important than quantity. Here are four things you can do to improve the quality and progress of your training.

The Girls Who Fight Women's MMA Class

1. Come Prepared To Succeed

Set each training session up for success by being on time and prepared.

Be Early

Missing 5-10 minutes of every class adds up! When you're late you miss the full benefit of the warm up which is there to help your body get ready to move and prevent injury.

Dress for Success

Tank tops are perfect for kickboxing and striking classes, but for anything that includes grappling or ground techniques (like the GWF Friday MMA and Saturday Self Defense classes) you’ll want to wear a rashguard or at least a fitted t-shirt so your skin won’t hate you.

Bring Your Equipment

Sharing sweaty gloves? No fun. Make sure you have everything you need to do AND feel your best in every class! Here’s our amazon storefront with striking gear picks if you don’t have equipment yet or want to add to your collection.


You can't do your best physical training if you're dehydrated. Make sure you bring more than enough water so you're ready to give your all.

2. Conscious VS Mindless Repetition

Repetition is a huge part of developing skill. Over your training you're going to do hundreds, even thousands of reps of the same movements and techniques. But muscle memory doesn’t discriminate. If you train with 50% precision and technique, that’s what quality of skill your muscles will memorize. Reps add up, but one good, conscious rep is worth more than 10 so-so mindless reps. So don't just start kicking to get through it, make them all count.

How to practice consciously:

  • hit the same precise target each time vs just anywhere on the pad/opponent

  • execute techniques fully: turn your hips on kicks, pivot on your elbows and punches, bridge your hips fully on your mount escapes, etc.

  • breath with every rep

  • finish techniques properly: getting back to your stance, circling out, putting your hands up, standing up in base, etc.

These tiny adjustments can make the different between good and great especially over years of training.

3. Focus on Yourself

It’s easy to compare yourself to teammates and people online. But remember that the best pro fighters started out as a beginner feeling just as awkward as everyone else. Know that you will accomplish all your goals, become incredibly skilled, and get in the best shape of your life— just not overnight!

There's a phrase I use in our kids class to snap them out of looking at the other kids instead of practicing the move. I tell them “put on your blinders” and they pretend to put blinders on the sides of their eyes. Racehorses don’t look at the other horses. Their blinders force them to only focus on what’s in front of them, what's going to get them one more step ahead. Adults are wise to put their blinders on too.

4. Forge A Winners Mindset

Training is as mental as physical and so is self defense and combat. Training is a great place to forge a strong, warrior mindset alongside physical skills.

Train Your Brain Not To Quit

There's 20 seconds left in the round and your body wants to give up. This is the perfect opportunity to teach your brain that when things get tough you don't quit. Pushing past these mental limits every class is what gradually convinces you that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. If you ever have to defend an attack, your mind and body will be so much better prepared to fight for your life because of the mental and physical strength you've built.

Prioritize Skill Progression Over Outcomes

A winners mindset is not about winning.

There are talented athletes who refuse to train with people who give them a hard time because losing hurts their self-image. There's beginners who give up before the round starts because they don't believe they can win. In both situations, fear of losing holds them back from reaching their full potential.

They're focused on the outcome when what they should focus on is the learning. A winners mindset doesn't come from winning every round with every person. It comes from not giving up no matter the challenge and always finding an opportunity for growth. You're going to be paired with people who are more advanced, less advanced, bigger, smaller, male, female, etc. Before sparring with someone, instead of calculating your chances of winning or losing and psyching yourself out before you start, think of something you can focus on during the round that will help you improve no matter what.

For example if you're sparring with someone who's bigger or more advanced, focus on defense. Don't stress about being offensive just for the sake of 'doing something'. If you get through the round defending all their attacks, that's a win! If they're less advanced you can slow it down and be much more technical, like working on nailing the timing of your push kick. If you and your opponent are the same level and size, you can test out your skills with maximum effort and resistance, achieving the most growth for each of you. If you win, great. If you lose, great. The progress happened either way, and you need one another to reach your greatest potential.

Winning is not an outcome, it's an attitude!

There's always something you can learn from any training partner as long as you focus on skill progression over outcome.


Hopefully you're training at an amazing school with attentive instructors, a structured curriculum, great class culture and well mannered training partners. But no matter where you train, these tips will help maximize the return on your time in every training session.


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Written by Gemma Sheehan, founder of

Girls Who Fight.

Our mission is to help women and girls lead safe and confident lives. Learn about our programs > 

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