How do Elite Martial Arts Coaches Consistently Produce World Level Fighters?
How do Elite Martial Arts Coaches Consistently Produce World Level Fighters?
There are certain martial arts coaches and gyms around the world who are renowned for producing champion after champion within their chosen combat sport. Is this down to how good the coach is, how great the facilities are, the quality of sparring partners available, genetics, luck or something else? Is there a formula for producing world level fighters? This was a question I put to 13 of the world’s elite martial arts coaches as I sought to find out whether there were in fact hidden secrets to achieve this aim only known by a select few!
Lucien Carbin – Bien Fighters / Carbin All Stars Diemen
Lucien Carbin is widely recognised as one of the elite martial arts coaches in the Netherlands today. The former multiple times world champion dominated a wide variety of different martial arts disciplines when back competing including those of Kyokushinhai, Savate and Kickboxing. Students of his have included elite fighters such as Alistair Overeem, Tyrone Spong and Rob Kaman.
“There is no real formula. It is a question of having a person walk through your doors who you can connect with, where he/she can act as a willing student and accept you as their teacher. They must put complete trust in you.
You as a teacher look at their physical possibilities and you individually adjust their training and techniques to that. Nowadays, there can be a lot of politics within promotions and that unfortunately can determine how often your talent comes to the fore or gets to fight (cards / table sales etc). The more often your fighter is in the ring, the faster their growth and experience.”
Paul Rimmer – Next Generation MMA Liverpool
Paul Rimmer is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt under Chris Brennan and head coach of the renowned gym Next Generation MMA in Liverpool. The gym has been running for a long time now and has produced multiple world MMA champions under it’s banner, including the likes of Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblitt, Chris Fishgold and most recently Molly McCann Cooper.
“I can’t say that there is a correct formula for training world class fighters as every single one of them are completely different. However, the following certainly helps. Starting whilst they are young enough that finances aren’t a problem. Focusing strongly on keeping outside influences from being an issue. Be there for them.
Fighters develop a lot of problems outside the gym. Helping them through this is a huge battle. Allowing them to to develop themselves and their style as much as possible. People shouldn’t be fighting exactly the same way as their teammates or coaches. Good management and career direction. Understanding the importance of building themselves as a brand, creating relationships with promoters and the media.
Lastly, technical ability, which is of course the most important. Find the areas they excel at and the ones they don’t. Try to create problems for them and let them learn how to problem solve to build their fight IQ.”
Alfie Lewis – Mushin Kai Liverpool
Alfie Lewis is a legendary fighter and figure from the UK Martial Arts scene. A multiple times world champion and highly influential coach, Alfie has repeatedly produced elite level fighters from his Liverpool based gym Mushin Kai for decades. Kickboxers fighting under his banner are renowned for their skill, aggression and mental resilience, and can be found podium placing regularly on regional to world level events.
“When it comes to getting the best out of people, I believe one of the key ingredients is to be straight and upfront. I have found by doing this, they believe in you, and by doing so they will push themselves far more than they normally would. Too many coaches over complicate things. I keep it simple.
Not forgetting, you’re having to deal with people who have live’s outside of the martial arts and that can be a major distraction. I run a very disciplined dojo that puts me in total control of what happens in the gym. By doing this I can remove outside distractions by emerging them fully into the task at hand of that period of time.
I will push them to their limits until it becomes normal and an expectable place to be, but once I get to that point I bring the tempo back down. It is hugely important to create siege mentality. This gives them more purpose and self-belief. Of course you need to monitor them and make sure they don’t peak too early. For if they do, all their hard work can come crashing down.
It is vital to get the mindset right! Once you have achieved this then you are almost across the line, because you can have all the skills in the world but unless you can switch on the savage in you, it is all a waste of time. In short, work hard, build a strong mindset and most importantly… Keep it simple! Just like I have done in this write up!”
Nick Hemmers – Hemmers Gym Breda
Nick Hemmers is the head coach of the highly regarded Hemmers Gym in Breda, Holland. Growing up as the son of Cor Hemmers and brother to both Ramon and Carlos Dekkers, Nick has been surrounded by the very best fighters in the world since a young age. This background combined with his own extensive martial arts experience is what has led him to produce numerous world champions including the likes of Marat Grigorian, Jamal Ben Saddik and Harut Grigorian.
“Is there a formula to create world class fighters? Well to start, it all depends on the mindset o the fighter. The coach can be the best in the world but if the mindset is not right then it can never work. But if there is that, then I would say yes. It will not be a one size fits all formula though, every fighter is different.
If you can work together long enough on developing strengths (and reducing weaknesses) you can improve anyone. As long as there is a connection and the coach both knows his job and can see what type of fighter he has, then yes, I think everyone can be made a champion.
I think you need two people to dance the tango so to speak, so it does have to work both ways. But if you develop or work with a specific style for long enough and it suits the fighter, then I think that eventually he or she will become a champion.
It is a difficult question though. At first I just wanted to say no, of course not!! It takes a long time to create or become a champion. But I do genuinely believe that it can work with everyone if the feeling is right.
If I had to summarise my answer then it would read; if there is a good connection between trainer and fighter, if they have a good system, drill it long enough and work on flaws, yes, it is possible!”
Jompop Kiatphontip – Kiatphontip Gym Leeds
Jompop Kiatphontip is a world class Muay Thai fighter with over 160 fights and over 130 wins to his name. The former Rajadamnern Stadium No1 has been based over in the UK for a number of years now and is head coach at his highly regarded gym in Leeds, Kiatphontip Gym. Not only vastly experienced as a competitor, he has also had immense success in coaching others under his banner to emulate his success at elite level including the likes of Ja Kiatphontip, Brad Stanton and Jersey Pinto.
“To produce a world class fighter, I believe that the formula to be most successful is to break the bad habits, teach good techniques and see those techniques nurture into their own style. Create a fighter that can adapt to all situations within the ring, a fighter that knows every style.
Good boxing, good kick, good elbow and personally good clinch to go forward and never stop with crazy elbow but also to be smart and creative. All the fighter has to do in order for this formula to be successful is that they listen within the gym and most importantly within the ring. They have to be confident in listening to their corner and believe that their corner, their gym is the best and will always be the best.”
Cor Hemmers – Former Head Coach of Golden Glory Breda and current matchmaker for Glory Kickboxing
Cor Hemmers is widely regarded as one of the pioneers behind the rise of the highly prolific Dutch Kickboxing system. The former Golden Glory head coach was also the key figure behind potentially one of the most famous fighters in the world in the form of Ramon Dekkers, as well as a number of world champions including the likes of Semmy Schilt. He is now the matchmaker for one of the best Kickboxing promotions in the world, Glory Kickboxing.
“Each athlete is different and unique in themselves. It is the art of the trainer / coach to be so versatile that they can bring out the best of that unique person in everyone. It is mainly about the trust in each other.”
Colin Heron – Team Kaobon Liverpool
Colin Heron is the key figure behind the phenomenally successful MMA gym in Liverpool, Team Kaobon. A former high level Muay Thai specialist, his fighters have typified extraordinary striking skills in the cage over the years (such as UFC standouts Darren Till and Terry Etim). Not being one dimensional though, he is also a Luta Livre black belt under Marcelo Brigadier. As such, high level grappling then is another skill often displayed by fighters from this gym such as those utilised by triangle master Paul Sass and wrestling supremo Mike Grundy.
“So many answers to that question, obviously we are assuming your fighter has all the ingredients necessary. We as coaches are only as good as what we have to work with. Rather than give you a magical formula, what I will say is that your fighter has to have complete confidence in everything you are teaching them safe in the knowledge you have become a coach from years upon years of attaining practical knowledge of the Fight game through trial and error and from actual battle experience!
You can not teach what you have not felt, not experienced or not used effectively time after time under the pressures of combat. Do you as a coach have what it takes to develop world class fighters capable of performing on the biggest stages around the world? If as a coach you are doing this for your own ego, fame and fortune then ultimately you will always put that ahead of your fighters needs. Thus, deep down in your own subconscious you are feathering your own ego. This is not acceptable in my opinion as a coach.
As a coach you have got to be completely selfless with your own time, energy, health, financial gains, private life etc because this is what is required from both you and your fighter….always lead by example! This is why it is a very low percentage that can make it at the highest level both coaching and fighting.”
Richard Smith – Bad Company Thai Boxing Gym Leeds
Richard Smith is a the renowned head martial arts coach of the internationally regarded Muay Thai gym, Bad Company in Leeds. A former world level fighter himself, Richard has produced some of the best Thai boxers to have ever come out of the UK. Fighters such as Liam Harrison, Jordan Watson, Andy Howson, Rich Cadden and any more proudly bear the made in Bad Company stamp.
“My answer to “is there a formula to producing World Class Fighters” would be… Basically, no! A lot of things have to come together. Of course they have to have talent – you don’t get a Liam Harrison or a Jordan Watson walk through the door every day. Recognising the talent and doing something about it is something different of course. The fighters themselves have to have the desire to train and to want to take it as far as it can go. As that takes a lot of sacrifice and hardship there has to be a desire there.
There needs to be a good relationship between fighter and coach and training has to be enjoyable and varied so the fighter is always getting something out of it. Equally the gym has to have a good atmosphere with good training partners and a good buzz. Trainers and managers also have to work with people and have the contacts and knowledge to find the opportunities for them to progress their career. It’s no good having talent and good coaching if you’re not getting fights and exposure!
As far as the actual coaching goes, every fighter is different. I’m a big believer in finding strengths and working those rather than focusing on weaknesses or what they’re not good at. A good coach needs to progress with the fighter and keep learning and developing. The sport develops and changes year on year. Coaching methods and styles change and of course new opponents require different training so a coach needs to be able to adapt. Fighters need to believe in what you’re doing with them and respect you enough to listen, especially when they’re getting well known and successful themselves.
As much as anything this means letting go of your ego! If someone else can help, bring them in and let them have the credit for their help, don’t try to do it all yourself. It’s a team effort, one person can’t be enough at this level. A good coach can coordinate all the elements of training into a programme that suits each fighter and each opponent.
So if there is a formula this is it… Talent + determination + hard work + training partners and gym atmosphere + good management + flexible coach + the right team around you + a coach that learns and develops + respect (both ways) + lots of other things + a bit of luck = world class fighter (or maybe not because nothing is for definite!”
James Doolan – Higher Level Martial Arts (Dinky Ninjas Fight Team) Whitburn
James Doolan is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and former professional MMA fighter. His gym Higher Level Martial Arts has produced multiple world champions across a wide variety of the best Mixed Martial Arts promotions in the world (including the likes of UFC and EFC). Hugely respected in the community for both his vast experience and his unparalleled record for helping athletes develop into world class fighters (including the likes of Stevie Ray, Danny Henry and Jo Jo Calderwood).
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a set formula. In my experience from traveling and studying highly regarded coaches, gyms and teams, most of the top end guys are doing the same stuff. Striking, wrestling, grappling on the ground, strength and conditioning, drilling technique, pad work, sparring, positional work etc. It never really differs between the professional gyms.
However, there is 100% certain ingredients that have to be present. The main approach or principle I follow as a coach is specificity. No two athletes are the same. The formula used for each athlete is not the same, from individual to individual and from fight to fight, the athlete changes and should grow fight to fight, the opponent changes and the game changes. Coaches, gyms and teams using a cookie cutter, one size fits all approach rarely have continued success.
Firstly, the athlete has to want success as much as I want success as their coach. If that balance is off, success won’t come. When it comes to what an athlete wants, talk is cheap, you can tell me all day you want to win. You want to be a champion, you want to fight in the UFC or what ever but it means nothing, I need you to SHOW ME you want that, put the work in, make the sacrifices, live the life that doing these things requires.
As a coach I work on a model I refer to as the four C’s! Athletes who are successful always tick off the four C’s. Consistency, Concentration, Coach-ability and Confidence. Consistency meaning the athlete is training like a professional athlete and not missing sessions. It also refers to the level of coaching being consistently high. Concentration means when the athlete is training, it’s in a state of deliberate practice. Each session has a goal and purpose. Nothing is ever just going through the motions.
Coach-ability simply means the athlete is open and willing to learn, refining their game, adding to their game, following instruction. Confidence is multi layered, the coach must have confidence in their ability and the athletes ability. The athlete needs confidence in the coach, in the training protocol, in the work load and in their own ability come fight night.
Confidence leads to trust which is another element that’s crucial to success. With the athletes I’ve worked with at higher levels of combat sports we have had a mutual trust. I trust the athlete is living the life, not cutting corners and doing what I require. They in turn trust me.
Whether it’s the programmes I ask them to do, the game plans I formulate or the adjustments I ask them to make. The best coach / fighter pairings always has trust as a common component. The last important consideration I would put forward is detail. Like I mentioned earlier, the top fighters and gyms are all training in a fairly similar manner.
At elite level they all train hard, they all train a lot of the same areas and even the same techniques. They are all excellent athletes, but detail makes a difference. Whether it’s a detail in a technique or a detail in an approach, sometimes the difference between success and failure is all down to those little details.”
Mousid Akhamrane – Mousid Gym Amsterdam
Nathan Leverton – Leicester Shootfighters
Nathan Leverton is highly respected MMA coach and head instructor of Leicester Shootfighters. For a long time Nathan was responsible for coaching a number of the UK’s standout MMA fighters (under the rough house banner) including the likes of Dan Hardy, Andre Winner and Dean Amasinger. Although a phenomenally talented grappler in his own right, Nathan’s real strengths are to be found in the exceedingly high levels of his instruction.
“One of the biggest factors that comes in to play with world class athletes is timing, something that in many ways an individual athlete has little control over. An athlete needs to find their sport at a time in their life when they have the resources to dedicate time to training and grow in to the sport. They need to find a coach who is both at a level of competence to help them succeed and also at a stage in their career where they have time to give to the athlete. In addition, the level of competition and opportunities to compete must be right in order to progress their game.
It is something that is talked about in books like Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Bounce by Matthew Syed. Systems can be put in place to increase the chances of success but luck also plays a large part. But on the subject of what an athlete and coach can address more directly then mindset is a major element. Specifically, the balance between being coachable and being confident. In the gym an athlete needs to be always learning and have the mindset of a student.
But on fight night they are the only one stepping in the ring or cage and while they should be coachable from the corner, they must be confident in their own ability, believe they will win and able to act independently in the moment to make that happen. An attitude that can get a fighter through a tough bout may not be useful in the gym and vice versa.”
Francois Lubbers – Vos Gym, Amsterdam
“The answer if we can produce World class fighters, is yes, ‘but’. Yes we can ‘but’ you can’t make a world class fighter out of everybody.
The fighters must have some kind of skills that we trainers look for. We look for many things such as power, tactical and/or technical vision, mentality, fighters heart etc… If a fighter has a number of these skills or attributes then we know we have a good chance of making a world class fighter.
We teach them the things they miss and we make better whatever their weaknesses may be. It takes time but if coaches and fighters dedicate themselves to this, champions will be made.
‘But’….sometimes a person walks in the gym and you can see in an instant that they are talented. Now at this point some trainers make the mistake by believing they will do great just by having them train and simply hope or presume they will get titles someday……
This is a big mistake, you must work hard in those fighters to make them better and better every day again. Don’t make the mistake thinking that if they have ‘natural talent’ then they will become good anyway. If trainers dont teach them technical and tactical skills or anything else they are lacking, they will never become truly great.
So yes there is a formula BUT it will not work for everybody. You will need the right person with the right inherent skills and attributes to make a world class fighter.”
Kieran Keddle – Double K Gym London
Kieran Keddle is a world famous instructor who has gained mainstream global recognition from his work coaching actor Idris Elba on the documentary series ‘Fighter’. He is also a former Muay Thai world champion himself and through his gym, Double K in London, he has produced a large number of elite level fighters including those such as Charlie Peters, Luke Whelan and Jamie Whelan.
“There is not just one thing in being a high level coach. Many people think being a decent pad man makes you a great coach. Far from it. In my opinion, to produce everyday fighters is relatively simple, but taking them to world honours is an almighty task. It’s easy to say to someone you need patience, time and passion. But you need a degree of intelligence to know whether a student can reach his/her physical and mental potential. It’s not something done overnight.
The key word for me is dedication. I live and breathe it and I make it my life. I expect if you want to be in the ‘Elite’ then you need to show me this also. Only then, with a little bit of luck thrown in, will you be world-class”
Do you think there is a formula for being able to consistently produce world level fighters? Do you agree or disagree with any of the martial arts coaches views voiced above? I hope you have enjoyed this article and found the insights offered worthy of your time to read. Let me know any thoughts you have in the comments section below and feel free to share this post if you have found it of use!!
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