Cross Training – A Divisive Topic

Written By: AJ Hoffman

Let me start off this piece by making one thing clear. I am not a fighter. I never have and never will fight for money. This may blur my view of the topic that is discussed here.

I am, however, an enthusiast of the sport. Back in August I decided to get my fat tail into shape, and decided there wasn’t a much better way for me to do it than to go train for the sport that I spend so much time promoting. Being new to the city, I asked around and took some advice on where the best places to train were. I found a gym, and started doing some kickboxing. I loved the training I was getting and the more time I spent around the gym, I realized that this gym may be the best one in the city. It was a really nice blend of guys. There were tons of great fighters around all the time, and I had plenty of guys on my  (extreme beginner) level in the kickboxing class.

In September I was in Austin covering the UFC, where Charles Oliveira won submission of the night. After spending some time talking to him and his coach, Jorge “Macaco” Patino, conversation turned to my training. I told him I had been kickboxing to try and get in shape, and he offered to teach me Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Gold Team. I didn’t have much interest in the grappling side of things, especially because I was still in pretty terrible shape, but the offer was coming from one of the legends of the sport. I sat on the offer for a little while, and early in November I felt like I was in good enough shape to expand my horizons to the mat. I was going to one gym in the morning, and one in the evening. The weight started to fall off, and guys at both gyms started to notice some improvements. Every Wednesday at my original gym a big group of guys, including a lot of the fighters, got together for an hour or so of no-gi. I asked my kickboxing coach if he minded me going in and rolling with the guys to see how the ground game I had been working on would measure up, and he gave his blessing. I got in and rolled with some really good guys, and I learned a lot from them. I took some of what I was learning from them back to Gold Team, and I really felt like I was a sponge. I was learning something new at both gyms every day.

In March I competed in my first grappling tournament. It was in Austin, and no one from Gold Team was participating. My original gym had a few guys, so I signed up to be part of their team for the team scoring title. I did pretty well for my first competition, and medaled in three of the four divisions I was in, including a gold. We didn’t win the team award, but I was proud to represent the gym as I felt I had learned a lot from rolling with the guys there. The next week the jiu-jitsu coaches at my original gym approached me, and essentially told me I needed to choose one place to train. I was confused at first, but I realize that jiu-jitsu has a ton of tradition attached to it. I had a good conversation with the gym owner and my kickboxing coach, and I left the gym. I was disappointed, but everything was handled really professionally by them, and we remain on good terms. Until this, I didn’t realize there were any downsides to cross training. It also gave me an idea of how it shapes the scene in Houston.

I decided to get some views from around Houston MMA to find out who felt what way about it. As you will see, there are definitely some different viewpoints.

Adam Schindler- #1 Pound For Pound Fighter In Houston – Bellator Fighter

I feel like cross training is a necessity for a good fighter’s development. You absolutely need to see different things from different people and gyms. No matter how close knit you are with your team, you must seek outside training. There is only so much you will learn from one gym. The key is to pick gyms that work well with one another, that have different ideas and fighting philosophies. Then pick and choose what will work for you and your personal game. I personally try to learn everything I can, from anyone I can, and I’m constantly thinking about different ways to improve. Fighting is not just fighting, but being a Martial Artist. You must continue to grow and develop as a fighter to improve. The goal is to get better every single day, and the best way to do that is to learn as much as you can, from a variety of people.

Not only that, but it gives you different looks. People have different styles, and at one gym you’ll see a lot of the same style, then the next similar styles. You must force yourself to leave your comfort zone and test yourself against unfamiliar styles and uncomfortable situations because you DO NOT want to see something for the first time in an important fight. Not only that, but it’s a confidence booster and lifts morale to not see the same exact setting everyday. It’s like walking into the same cubicle everyday. It’s nice to switch it up so that you do not become stagnant, and so that you are being pushed.

It’s inevitable that sometimes your gonna run into someone you’ve possibly trained with before (especially since Houston likes to do Houston fighter vs Houston fighter on every show), but as a wrestler, I used to have to wrestle my teammates in competition from time to time. That’s what happens when you train with the best kids and you are in a tournament setting. It’s the nature of the beast. But I believe that we should all want to cross train. Not be a local hero… but bring all the local bad asses together to sharpen one another so we can fight guys from all across the state, nation, and world. Which should be the goal of everyone in this business(I know it’s my goal at least) Of course not everyone will get along, so you can still do Houston vs Houston on cards. But these better up and comers should be fighting other up and comers from other parts of the state at the minimum to test themselves… so get out there, train with the best guys around to make yourself better. Travel, train with big names, that will not only give yourself a great life experience, but also a confidence boost to know, ‘Hey, I can hang with anyone.’

Mick Maynard- Owner/Promoter- Legacy Fighting

If I was speaking from a totally selfish standpoint as a promoter, it definitely creates issues with potential matchups. There are several matchups that should happen but they cant due to crosstraining, especially in certain divisions where the pool is already thin.

From my understanding Gracie Barra fighters as a rule wont fight each other no matter where they are from. I would be interested if that is the case in the UFC because Gracie Barra is so big surely they have fought each other at some point.

As someone who trains and has competed in the past I can understand wanting to get different sparring partners etc. just to see various styles etc. and also get that intensity level of sparring against someone who isn’t a friend or teammate. At the same time you have to realize it may limit your opportunities to fight locally.

Tony Orozco- Owner- Silverback Fight Club

As an owner of a gym, I like it but I don’t. Let’s say you have a good fighter, like when Derek (Lewis) was first coming up, and he wants to go out and train somewhere else. Cross training can either really help you, or bite you in the ass. People get to see your fighter, but you get to see theirs too. If your fighter goes once a week to another gym, maybe someone there gets in his ear telling him he should just train here all the time. Then you lose a good fighter.

I see the benefit for the fighters. It is a good thing for the fighters, but it hurts the promoters and the gym owners. As a coach, it’s tough. I don’t mind them training with guys who aren’t putting out fighters. I know a black belt in jiu jitsu that I will send my guys to. I have boxing coaches that I can send my fighters to. I don’t like them training at MMA gyms though where guys are going to try and find weakness in your guys that they might be fighting down the road.

If my guys want to see where they are with their jiu jitsu or their hands, I will tell them to enter a jiu jitsu tournament or take an amateur boxing match. Im 80% against it, 20 % for it. I feel like if you have enough good fighters in your gym, you shouldn’t need it.

Anonymous- Professional MMA Fighter- Owner- Anonymous Houston Area Gym

As a serious fighter, cross training can be extremely beneficial to one’s growth. Without cross training you will be missing out on other instructor’s vision of how martial arts should be expressed and interpreted. But I do not believe cross training should take place immediately after a student enters martial arts. Cross training should be for serious martial artist who seeks an open array of knowledge after establishing a foundation of one particular Gym’s philosophy.

Like growing up in school, we had one general teacher as a young child for development reasons. As you grow older, we are introduced to multiple teachers who specialized in one area. In college, we are taught by those with professional experience.

I believe young martial artist or fighters should remain under one gym for an extended amount of time. In my opinion, different master or instructor philosophies can become confusing for most students trying to form a foundation of a martial art. A master or instructor must develop a student’s physical and mental framework before the opening the door to outside elements (elements being another martial art instructor’s philosophies). A student’s mental development for a martial artist is crucial. The mind is an extremely valuable tool in times where your body works against you.

Once a strong foundation is established and with instructor approval, a serious fighter should consider cross training to further their martial art education. A martial artist should have the opportunity to fine tune their techniques and build upon the philosophies previously instilled.

As a gym owner, serious fighters who cross train can be extremely beneficial but also extremely costly. Gym owners must look at their business formula and find out if cross training fits. Over time, fighters become complacent with each other, especially in sparring. When you introduce a fighter cross training from another gym you add another element to the equation. Sometimes it’s a positive equation and sometimes not. You must choose this person coming into cross train very carefully. This fighter can totally disrupt a gym. There may be philosophical differences between your gym and the cross training fighter. They can inadvertently convert your members to other gyms. They can also agitate your current members or be disrespectful causing your members to leave. Not to mention, fighter who typically come in to cross train look for a free temporary membership. So you could lose paying members for a non-paying cross training pain in the ass.

I am a professional fighter/gym owner and I do cross train myself. I pay whereever I train and ask all training philosophies of the gym so I do not disrespect anyone. I do have a problem fighting friends who I cross train with. Unless I am fighting on the UFC level I see no need to fight a friend. If it is someone I do not care for, then I don’t care if I have cross trained with them, I will fight them. But at this time, I haven’t cross trained with anyone I would fight. In the Houston area cross training is becoming a normal thing. The Houston martial arts community is getting larger but at the same time it is shrinking. Gym numbers are increasing yet we are all becoming closer as a community. Especially at the professional level, we have been fighting each other for years now. We need to start importing fighters into Houston from other areas or get the local promotions to start bleeding into other cities.

Scott Dawson- Owner/Promoter- IXFA

Cross training at present is a very big problem on the local level. Most local area shows including ours struggle to maintain a budget that can afford to bring in fighters from out of town. When fighters from different schools in the immediate area train together, more often than not, they end up becoming friends and thus they don’t want to fight each other. I don’t know if the sport of MMA will ever truly become like wrestling where you would compete against your friends as easily as you would play basketball or baseball, but that would be an idealistic world.

Right now, I would recommend to fighters wanting to cross train that they do it with schools who are located in other cities; i.e. if you are in Houston cross train in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas or the Valley. I think 5 years from now we won’t have this problem because the sport is changing so fast. There will be so many new fighters from this area popping up every year that it won’t matter too much. But right now, the sport is still young locally and it will limit your opportunities as a fighter especially if you happen to be in a “thinly populated” weight class.

In short; cross training is great for the fighters skill set development, however if it is done locally, it may be detrimental to their ability to get fights which may delay their career since they can’t post as many fights.

Reed Shelger- Owner- Paradigm Training Center

First off, I am a big fan of cross training. I think the idea of getting different looks, different sparring partners, and having an open minded approach to learning is great.

That said, I think we need to be careful how we define “cross training.” Cross-training to me refers to those situations where you visit another gym as a guest to train with different sparring partners, friends, etc. However, I think it is equally important to have a loyal team, to know your team/coach is behind you, and in your corner. For example, Brian Melancon is part of team Paradigm. This past week I arranged for him to visit Urijah and train with his team in Sacramento. i think Brian got a lot out of this “cross training” experience. That said, Brian is part of team Paradigm and he is loyal to his training partners and coaches at Paradigm.

What I do not think is appropriate is to have multiple coaches and to be a man without a home. Particularly in BJJ, one needs to know who his coach is. Who will give you your belt promotion? Who will you give credit to for teaching you this art form? I can visit other gyms as a guest, but I know I represent my team and my coach when I enter a competition.

This is sometimes a challenge for me as a gym owner. We have had several instances of students wanting to train with us to supplement their training at another gym. I am generally ok with this if it is for a different discipline. For example, we have some people that do MMA at another gym and come to us for wrestling. Or Angel Huerta does BJJ with Draculino and kickboxing/MMA with us. However, if a student wants to learn BJJ from Paradigm and then enter a competition and say “thank you to my jiu jitsu coach Draculino…,” I would say this in innapropriate and disrespectfull to our coaches. At the end of the day, I have my staff’s back in these situations and tell the student that they cannot train with us if they want to give credit to another gym/coach.

Of course every situation is different. Another factor to consider is experience level. For a professional fighter or higher level BJJ guy like a brown or black belt, I think cross training is more acceptable. I think this because the higher level guy is usually at a point where he is less a student and rather primarily “training.” If a brown belt comes to us and says, I want to remain under my coach that has brought me from white to brown belt, but I want to train with you guys, we are probably cool with it. Similarly, for a pro like Mike Bronzoulis who trains with us consistantly and always reps Paradigm, I dont mind that he sometimes seeks out sparring at other gyms. On the other hand, for a novice or white belt to be going around to different gyms is not really necessary. Novices need to pick their coach and let that person teach them the discipline.

Andrew Craig- IXFA and Legacy 185 lb. Champion

If you are a fighter who is serious about making it to the big stage and don’t train full time at a Jackson’s or ATT then cross training is a necessity. No matter how good your sparring partners are at your home gym, you will get used to their style, intensity, power, speed, skills etc.

I always encourage my teammates to cross train with me, so that we can all benefit. I want us to get better as a group. There are a lot of aspects involved with fighting that take you out of your comfort zone, so I find it very helpful to go elsewhere and have somebody that I’m not very familiar with try to take my head off in sparring. By doing this on a consistent basis, I know that I’ll be prepared for the curve balls of a fight.

I have and will fight people who I’ve trained with. I fought Malborough after training with him regularly. I will never fight another Team Tooke fighter, but the situation will occasionally arise where you are put in the position to fight someone you have trained with before.

Angel Huerta- Undefeated MMA Fighter

From someone who represents 2 gyms, I see many advantages and a few disadvantages to cross training. There are so many things to cover in mma that it’s almost impossible to get everything under one roof. In my case for example, I get great professional mma sparring and wrestling at Paradigm but at Drac’s I get top notch ground work as well as many bjj competitors close to my weight to learn from and roll with. I also invite fighters from all over the city to come train week nights or weekends at my dojo for different looks.

The only disadvantage I see really is if you’re a gym nomad, if you keep hopping from gym to gym. Eventually someone you’re going to fight might train there and give away all your weaknesses. Also, one has to be selective of who they let into their circle. I’m not going to invite someone to train with me when the first thing out their mouth is negativity about anyone they train with.

I would rather not fight people I’ve developed a close bond with but it depends what the stakes are. As a martial arts instructor myself I know what it feels like to have a student who you invest all your time and energy into to go elsewhere without a thank you. Doesn’t feel good and it sort of makes you think twice about getting that invested again. Loyalty is important in life especially in mma. If you are secure in what you teach, there shouldn’t be a problem with your student or fighters cross training so long as they give you their due and represent to the fullest.

Obviously there are a lot of different point of views. My personal take doesn’t matter too much, but I have no hard feelings toward my original gym. I was angry about it at first, but in retrospect I realize where they were coming from. I learned things there that I still carry with me and it gave me an opportunity to train with some of the top guys in Houston. Since I left I have cross trained with other top guys including Daniel Pineda and Andrew Craig.

I can definitely see the benefits that the fighters see as well as the negatives that the gym owners and promoters mention. The only way to keep improving is to get new looks, especially for the guys at the higher levels. I think the best thing you can do is take it into account when choosing your gym and your training partners. Make sure if you are training at multiple gyms, you have the blessing of your instructors. Also realize that if cross training limits the number of guys that you are willing to fight, it also limits a promoter’s ability to match you up.

Any and all feedback on this piece is more than welcome in the comments below.

Thanks to all the gym owners, fighters and promoters for their participation.