Should I Train Grappling or Striking First?

Should I Train Grappling or Striking First?

Training mix martial arts (MMA) is the best preparation possible to learn how to defend yourself in real life situations. MMA is not like other traditional martial arts where you specialize in only particular skillsets like punching or kicking. It requires you to be proficient in both striking and grappling.  Being able to both strike and grapple allows you to dictate how you want the fight to go, whether it is in the ring, in a cage, or in the streets. 

This article describes the various benefits associated training both grappling and striking into your martial arts repertoire.


If you come from a grappling background, MMA sparring sessions will open up your eyes to the new possibilities as well as the danger of specific positions.

Transitioning from Jiu Jitsu to MMA

Grapplers have the tendency to watch MMA fights and unfairly criticize jiu jitsu black belts for making moves they considered simple and fundamental mistakes. One thing they do not comprehend is how much being punched factors into your ability to defend and escape from bottom positions.

  • The jiu jitsu master Carlson Gracie Sr. once famously said, “Punch a Black Belt in the face once, he becomes a Brown Belt. Punch him again, purple…” The point of this message is that there is a threshold where the damage taken by a grappling specialist will cause them to throw their technique out the window and resort to panicking. (Check out some of the best jiu jitsu books for beginners)
  • As the person on the bottom, you will learn that many common grappling techniques utilized for sweeping or reversing positions in jiu jitsu actually occupies both of your hands and leaves your head exposed for getting hit. Therefore, MMA will reinforce techniques applicable to self defense and teach you to not hang out in bad positions.  
  • Training in MMA shows how you can use hammerfists and elbows to open up the opponent to submissions or to situate yourself into a more dominant position.

Importance of Takedown Defense

For striking specialists, there is nothing more important to your survival on the mats than the capacity to defend takedowns. Once you hit the ground, you will have but a few precious seconds to scramble to your feet. Otherwise, the alternative scenario is being stuck on the bottom in prolonged misery and hoping the round timer goes off soon.

  • Not only is having the ability to sprawl and scramble to your feet necessary, experience in MMA will allow you to predict when an opponent is attempting to shoot for a takedown and react accordingly.
  • Case Study: James Toney vs. Randy Couture
    • Back in UFC 118, a former boxing world champion in James Toney was matched up with a MMA veteran named Randy Couture.
    • James was overly confident that his natural punching power and the use of the small MMA gloves will ensure an easy win via knockout.
    • Shortly after their match begun, Randy immediately shot for a successful takedown. Without absorbing any significant damage, he then maneuvered himself directly into the mount position. Upon securing the mount, he proceeded to hammer down punches while James held on for his dear life.
    • Randy finished with an arm triangle submission in the first round.
    • This case study provides a great example of what happens when a striking specialist takes on a MMA fighter and does not have the capability to stop a takedown.

Here is a very short video of the fight:

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Against the Fence

With the popularity of MMA organizations such as UFC, the usage of cage for MMA matches has become a commonplace. Therefore, MMA will give you the experience of knowing how to defend yourself and reverse the opponent’s position when they try to neutralize your striking skills by holding you against the fence. Furthermore, this skills is useful in real life situations if you ever find yourself pinned against the wall during a fight.


Solely trusting your grappling experience to carry you through a MMA sparring match is a foolish idea to contemplate in one’s mind. Unless you were a highly decorated wrestler, learning to strike is a needed skill to endure the MMA sparring sessions.

  • Ignoring the Striking Aspects of MMA – Regardless of your grappling experience, one thing you will quickly find out about MMA is the feeling of getting hit in the face. Not only are you facing opponents with MMA gloves that are smaller and less cushiony than the boxing ones, but the incoming elbows and shinbones to your face and body will soon be a rude awakening.
  • Becoming Versatile – As you learn about the various elements of striking, you will naturally gain the competence and understanding on how to protect yourself from strikes and obtain clinching positions with minimal damage. Moreover, it allows your movements to be less predictable while maximizing your grappling talent.
  • Range – Shooting for a takedown from a great distance away will give a knowledgeable striker the ability to time and land a vicious uppercut or knee. Therefore, training in MMA will instantly show you the folly in only having a grappling background.

Footwork and Head Movements

Since MMA fighters come from all types of martial arts background, you will need to develop footwork and head movements to handle the different stances and styles you encounter.

  • Range – Different types of martial arts have specific ranges where they inflict the most damage. It is important to have the footwork needed to place yourself in the optimal range that is advantageous to you.  
  • Poor Footwork – Do not be sloppy with your footwork. Being caught out of position is highly detrimental in sparring since it is harder to stop incoming kicks and makes you more prone to be taken down.
  • Changing Old Habits – As a boxer, you may utilize a lot of dipping motions to avoid punches. However, training MMA will instinctively adjust your head movements and body positioning due to the danger presented in head kicks. For example, Dominick Cruz still utilizes low dipping motions, but his MMA experience and footwork empowers him to exit quickly out of striking range.
  • Defense – Due to the small size of the gloves, MMA training will have you grasp the skills needed to avoid damage via movements and footwork, in addition to understanding how to actively guard your head and body.  


Training both grappling and striking forces you to understand all aspects of fighting, have the creativity to combine different elements from each style and be a well-rounded fighter. Not only will training both help you become comfortable adjusting between striking and grappling, the skills from training both could be transferred back to the isolated forms of traditional martial arts. You can still be a specialist, but you need to know and be comfortable anywhere in a fight. Modern day martial arts dictates it. 


A less than stellar martial artist