Monday, September 17, 2012

MMA: Guide to the MMA Shoot by Joe Silvia


A proper "shoot" in MMA seems to be a rare creature. I think I saw one of them on the Sci-Fi Channel's paranormal shows. :)

While I am just kidding, it does seem that the success of shooting has dropped considerably...and/or never was that high to begin with. A few of the reasons in my opinion, are that the shoot is being done by people new to wrestling and that wrestlers haven't modified the shoot for MMA. What we are seeing is people shooting that have recently learned the wrestling version or people shooting using the setups that have worked for them in Wrestling.

In addition, the separation of training into an antiquated 1 hour of Kickboxing/Muay Thai, 1 hour of Wrestling, and one hour of BJJ method, instead of stand-up, clinch and ground, is insuring that the "shoot" remains a Wrestling technique, since the setups don't involve striking. This method of training completely ignores the fundamental skillset of shooting within a striking environment. Setting it up from striking and while being struck at is a darn important skill.

Doing otherwise violates the training law of specificity. See the Spladdle's article on the training principle of specificity here.

So what is needed, is a shoot that is adapted, modified, altered to MMA. In other words, the shoot needs to evolve. It needs to be practical, and of a high enough percentage to be considered useful.

Necessity is the mother of invention, so for the shoot to evolve it needs to be placed in the environment of it's new sport: MMA. While the shoot itself will undergo very little modification, the setups will be altogether new, and the finishes will be altered. The 'when' and 'why' is as important as the 'how'.

Let us begin with the shoot itself, before we talk about setting it up.

Preparatory Stepping

Whenever shooting, a good golden rule to begin with is never initiate a shoot unless you can reach your opponent with an outstretched arm. If you can place your knuckles on his lips, you are within range.

In addition, don't shoot on a guy that is moving backwards, and shoot on a guy standing still sparingly. The best time to shoot is when he is coming forward.

There are a number of different initial stepping motions to use, dependent on context and necessity. Some motions set you up for a longer, deeper penetration, other utilize speed over depth of penetration, and yet another for avoiding strikes and shooting.

I am going to recommend initially to use only the first or second step and return to the other steps after you have some experience with the shoot.

1. Fast and sweet: From a staggered stance, no step is made. You simply go to the next stage in the progression. This is a fast motion, for when you don't have the time to execute the others. The downfall of it, is that your base is such that you won't be able to get a deep penetration. You are sacrificing depth for speed. In addition, this step is not as powerful since your base is staggered.

2. Pound Step: Also called the "T"-Step, this motion is drawing the back foot to be in line with your lead foot and your toes pointed 90 degrees. Your feet will form a "T". WHERE you place that back foot, will determine how deep your penetration is. The closer it is to your lead foot, the deeper will be the penetration. This is a more solid base to launch from than the previous stepping motion.

3. Sidestep: You may step to either side, before shooting. If you want to sidestep a punch to the head, using a slip and/or parry and get a better angle at his base, this stepping motion is ideal. You may step left or right. Use the foot nearest to the direction you want to step FIRST. So if you have your left foot forward and want to go left, step with your left first and the right follows.

In addition, if you step with your left foot, you may have to pivot to get a better angle to face his hips. It's a good general rule, to shoot on a square stance when you want to shoot a double or shoot on a staggered stance when you want a double. Conversely, you can "make" him square, by changing the angle.

4. Full step: A full step is bringing your back foot up and PAST your lead foot, taking over the lead, and THEN shooting. Typically done deceptively, by throwing a a punch with your back hand, let's say an overhand to get closer.

5. Triangle Step: This is very similar to the full step, but you step out to the side w/ your lead foot, then step your rear foot up to it, or past it and back towards your opponent. This is typically a defensive motion to avoid a strike and gain some momentum.

6. Replacement step: A replacement step is bringing you back foot up and placing it exactly where your lead foot was and then shooting.

Each stepping motion has a best time to use it, depending on what your opponent is doing and whether you are shooting offensively or defensively. More on that when we get to setups.

Some of these motions are smaller than others, and some are easier to execute than other, but the situation will dictate which is best. If your opponent always seems far away and you are using the "Fast and Sweet", you will need a deeper penetration that this particular motion can;t give you.

Level change

The level change should be done while stepping or as you are finishing your stepping. It should be one motion whenever possible.The level change is usually done out of order. For example, it's pretty common to see people execute a penetration step before they change levels.

A level change is a straight up and down motion. You are not, bending over at the waist. You are staring directly at your opponent's chest, and bending at the knees. This SIMPLE motion is typically glossed over.

Outside of your preparatory step, the level change is the FIRST motion of a shoot. You want to shoot forward, AT him, not shooting diagonally downwards at him, for when he sprawls or defends, he gets gravity, and your DOWNWARD momentum to help him do the job.

Another common problem is people POUNDING there knees on the mat. This is because they are penetrating BEFORE their level change. Level change FIRST.

There are 3 levels to drop: high, mid-level, and low. High is a slight bend at the knees, mid-level, you will go down to one knee, and low is all the way down, crouched. The high shoot is for not only single legs and double legs, but for upper body ties and locks. The mid-level shoot is for single legs and double legs when outside, and for Hi-C's, and Fireman's carries when from the clinch.

Penetration step

Once you have stepped and level changed, you are in a stable base or platform to get as close as possible to your opponent with a penetration step. There are two general kinds of steps: outside and inside.

Outside penetration is stepping your foot outside his foot and inside is stepping your foot anywhere within the zone between his 2 feet.

When you are ready to step, the weight should now be OFF of your lead foot making it mobile. You launch off of your back foot, pushing or jabbing your foot into place as close to your opponent as possible, either outside or inside. There are numerous fencing videos online, that you can watch. The lunge has very similar footwork and if you watch these guys in action they can reach their opponent in a split second from FAR away.

Once your foot has been placed where you want it, you will now be somewhat extended, with your trail leg behind you. From this point there are MANY routes and finishes. IF you need further penetration you can GLIDE your knee forward to the ground, dropping your level even further.

Many people mistakenly, shoot mid level shoots randomly, not realizing that the idea behind putting the knee down IS TO GET FURTHER PENETRATION. It serves no other purpose. If you penetrate and find you are too far away and WISH to continue on with a double or single, then you need to glide that knee forward. The common maxim here is "Knee touches glass." That knee is to touch for a split second ONLY and it glides to the mat...if there was broken glass on the ground where your knee landed, you should barely have a scratch.


Once you have penetrated, you need contact via a wedge. You need to either have forehead contact on his chest/sternum or his ribs, shoulder contact on his hip, thigh, or shin depending on whether you are doing a single or double, and whether it's a high, mid-level or low shoot.

You should always be looking ahead or up towards the ceiling, so you can slow done his choke game and utilize your head as a wedge efficiently. If you find yourself violating posture and looking to the floor, either get it back into posture or place your chin against your sternum so he can't slap the choke on.

If you don't have this contact, HE IS TOO FAR AWAY. You need to either abandon your shoot and go back to striking, or shoot again. This contact or lack thereof is your cue.

If you are using forehead contact, your wedge should be knocking his spine out of alignment with his hips. He should be bent past vertical, either backwards or laterally. This wedge will disrupt his posture and alignment, increasing your chance of success when you begin to finish.

If you are using the shoulder wedge on his hip, you need to "punch" his hip HARD enough to get him to bend over no matter how slight. When you do this, you know you are close enough and have your hips under him, so for any pickup/lift finishes or tackles, you will have an easier time finishing. You are basically moving on to the finish while he is trying to realign his posture.

In addition, when he is out of posture and you have that wedge, he will have to REMOVE that wedge to effectively defend.

This is another CRUCIAL stage that is ignored. When you shoot on someone and do not have contact, the wedge, or that disruption of his posture and he is IN posture standing straight up and down, he has all his defensive capabilities available. In addition, when it comes to lifts, it will be VERY difficult to lift someone NOT bent over. When he is "draped" over your shoulder, life is easier.

Simply experiment with it: Have your partner stand straight up and down. Lift him. Next: place your shoulder at his hips, let him bend at the waist and drape himself over your shoulder and then lift. You'll notice a tremendous difference.

Return to Base

After you have disrupted his posture through contact, and your wedge, you now need to bring that trail leg up. You need to bring this trail leg up IMMEDIATELY. Pretend you are trying to bring it up at the same time as your penetration step is landing. If you are doing a HIGH single leg or HIGH double leg, you are then in the ready position.

Again, pretend that you want to bring that trail leg up at the same time as your knee touches the ground. You should feel like a runner at the start of a race at the Olympics. You should feel that you could DRIVE off of that trail leg that has now become your lead leg.

From here, you may either stay at mid-level and go to your finish or, ideally raise levels and finish. In MMA, you are better off not being stuck on your knees, while your opponent is standing. Ideally, you will utilize standing finishes.

Drill Time

OK, now that you KNOW what the shoot is, you need to DRILL, DRILL, DRILL. Then DRILL some more. Spend more time on the high shoot, since it's the most practical of the three.

Here are some recommended drills:

1. Break down and isolate the entire shoot into parts where possible and drill shadow-wrestling:

  • Step only (if working on pound step)
  • Level Change only
  • Step and then level change together
  • Step, Level change and then penetration step
  • Step, Level Change, Penetrate, and then bring the trail leg up

2. Work the body mechanics of the contact and wedge on your partner.

  • Step, Level Change, Penetrate, CONTACT, and then angle out. Do not touch your partner with your hands. You are working on distance, placement of the foot, and the contact. We call this a "Hit 'n Run" Drill when working on the double.
  • Option for more advanced: Do the single leg version and end up in "Base Camp": Forehead wedge, knees pinched together sandwiching the leg, gripping around his leg.

3. Option for more advanced: Work a high level shoot, the mid-level with the knee down, and the low version.

  • Isolate as you did in the first stage, but with a variety in level change.
  • Add contact with all 3 levels. When doing the mid-level contact, be SURE that your contact and subsequent knee down and bringing the trail leg up DRIVES him backwards AND forces him to bend over. When doing the low, make sure you contact his shin(s).
    When doing the low double, be sure to scorpion tail one of your legs in addition to cupping the heels. This will drive a stable posture and your momentum into him assisting in the finish.

4. Option for more advanced: Work on inside and outside versions:

  • Head inside and Head Outside (Hi-C) singles with inside AND outside penetration
  • Head inside and Head outside Double legs w/ inside and outside penetration

When you are at the stage of putting them together, you can begin to develop set ups and finishes. Since the finishes are outside the scope of this article, we will cover some setups.


The setup is really what decides how successful you will be. A proper setup, makes your technique work because your opponent is caught off guard (timing/rhythm), aggravated or mentally disrupted, off balance, in "attack" mode, out of alignment or posture, physically or mentally uncomfortable, etc.

Attacking someone that is aligned, centered, postured, aware and ready, in balance, etc. is not the BEST way to go about things. You will find everything you try to do on this person, far more difficult to do.

There are two types of setups: Offensive and Defensive.

Offensive Setups

When shooting offensively, you either:

  • time your shoot when he is distracted
  • time your shoot when he is fatigued
  • time your shoot when he is not expecting it
  • time your shoot when he is emotionally out of sorts
  • time your shoot when he is hurt
  • after a combination, ideally a successful one

Again, I have to reiterate you MUST be within arm's reach before shooting.

The single greatest reason for the failure of the shoot in MMA, is people are shooting from another zip code AND doing so with NO SETUP whatsoever. The world is not really shocked when it fails with little to no effort on the other person's part. Neither are we shocked when the shooter is sprawled on.

When you are in the clinch, you can not only shoot doubles and singles, but you have the Hi-C (head outside single) and Fireman's carries that both use the Shoot.

Your setups from within the clinch will entail having a dominant control tie-up and utilizing it for your set up:

  • Get him stepping a foot into you or squaring up
  • Get him off-balance
  • Get his spinal axis out of alignment
  • Get him raising his weight upwards
  • Get him to distribute his weight unevenly
  • When your opponent is pinned against the cage or ropes
  • Any of the above setups

Defensive Setups

When shooting defensively, here are some options:

  • Shoot under a "bomb", such as an overhand or wide swing hook
  • Slip a straight punch
  • Parry and smash a straight punch
  • Crash w/ a cover
  • After his kick and on his return
  • When he is attacking and violates his posture or gives too much pressure

While not comprehensive, this guide should get you on your way, to stop shooting like a Wrestler and start shooting like an "MMAer or fighter"!



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