Discovering MMA and Taiji: Part 1

Perhaps it was due to having athletic parents and a brother two years older than me that I developed into a child that could adapt quickly to any sport. With fast reflexes and good coordination, games quickly became more about the strategy involved for me rather than trying to achieve competence in the necessary physical movements.

Football (soccer), tennis, and swimming were the sports I spent the most time on when I was younger, but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I first took up the martial arts.

I went to a university which was well known for its sporting achievements and decided it was time to embark on something new. I had seen the big boxing matches on TV growing up, and although I felt that it would be something I could be good at, boxing never really appealed to me.

The idea that there could be a “winner” who still received multiple head shots during the bout didn’t make much sense, which is why I guess I was drawn to kung fu – where the master is portrayed as someone possessing such superior skill to their opponent that they could not only win easily, but win without taking any damage. This seemed like a real challenge, a worthy pursuit with uncertain outcomes.

Hung Kuen MMA
Old photo from my Hung Kuen competition days, circa 2005.

MMA in UFC?

With time, I began to realise it was the challenge itself which sustained my interest in whichever endeavour I undertook. But the martial arts would prove to become a lifelong obsession. My motivation and satisfaction would be taken from moving along a never-ending path, gaining wisdom along the way as I learnt from my mistakes.

Not to just take on board whatever dogma was being spouted about the way things “should be done”, but to learn lessons the hard way and gain knowledge the only way possible – from experience.

After two years of training in Hung Kuen (Hung Gar) – a southern Shaolin style of kung fu based on the five classical animal styles and known for its low stances – I entered and won the national open weight division championship. But a seed had already been planted by this time, and I knew another test was approaching.

During my university days, recordings of UFC: Ultimate Knockouts had begun to circulate. I would watch in awe for hours as two men of MMA  styles would enter a cage and do battle with no rules!

And so there I was – a skinny 20-year-old with only two years of martial arts training under his belt – who didn’t feel like a tough guy in any way, who never considered himself a fighter, but with a big golden trophy on his bookshelf, wondering to himself,

“What the **** would happen if I had to stand across the cage from one of those monsters?!”

flying knee MMA
Flying knee against the previously undefeated Matt Riddle, in front of 17,000 UK fans, on my way to a 3rd round victory.

Now why this thought entered my head I cannot tell you. But again, perhaps it was the mere challenge and intrigue of the whole scenario. I wanted to know how I would handle the intense pressure of the situation, when part of me would feel my life was being threatened.

Would I be able to keep my cool, overcome the freeze or flight syndrome, and be alert and attentive to the present moment? It would certainly be a way to find out a lot more about myself in a relatively short amount of time.

Just four years later I would find myself in that exact scenario, fighting in the mecca of combat entertainment in Las Vegas. I fight for the world’s largest and most prestigious martial arts organisation: The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

victory shot MMA
Post victory shot, an indescribable feeling!
Daniel Domp

First Time in MMA gym

The first time I entered a mixed martial arts ( MMA ) gym, I had little expectation other than thinking,

And I quickly found out that my suspicions had been correct: the striking skills gained from my previous training held little worth when I was unable to defend against the takedown attempts from competent wrestlers. They quickly took the fight to their territory – the ground – where I was like a fish out of water.

And so, it was a humbling experience where day-in, day-out, the ego took a pummelling, and I felt like a complete novice once again. The strange thing was, I liked this feeling and quickly recognised that it was the beginner who gained much more from each encounter with his superior. I was absorbing new principles and techniques at an incredible rate, my body was changing shape, and I quickly began moving up the in-house hierarchy.

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