The Extreme Fighters Guide to Studying Fight Videos

The Extreme Fighters Guide to Studying Fight Videos

Standing over your opponent after years of training, knowing that your arm is about to be raised. There is nothing quite like the thrill of completion. The feeling of victory, to experience great sacrifice coming to fruition is one of the peak experiences in life.

Competitive fighting has many benefits but to compete at a high level it takes discipline, determination, tenacity, and much more. When you finish your work for the day and take off the gloves, many fighters just want to veg out. But the elite know that training continues even after leaving the dojo. Those who want to be great will leverage every opportunity available. Perhaps one of the most valuable things you can do away from the ring is to take time to watch film.

Most people watch UFC, boxing, and glory kick boxing just for the entertainment value of it. By never paying attention to the science and amazing techniques happening in front of them, they are missing out of something critical that could greatly boost their performance. Even martial artist and follow fighters are guilty of it.

Many amateur fighters watch videos of themselves to see what needs improving. They watch their opponents’ videos to see where he/she is weak. They also watch it to see what defenses they will have to build up. However, they don’t always look at their opponents’ videos to see what they are doing right. This is a mistake because there is just as much to learn by studying and trying to mimic your opposition’s strengths.

While watching video doesn’t take the place of physical training, there is a ton of information to be had by doing so. Scientist Daniel Glaser has studied both capoeira performers and ballet dancers while watching video of performances. What he found was amazing! While watching others perform, these dancers had neural activation in centers that were only active while dancing. This is evidence to support the idea that watching film can serve as a form of mental training that will accelerate a fighter’s development.

Even the great Bruce Lee thought so, even if the science to back it up was not available to him at the time. He studied footage of Muhammad Ali often and even incorporated boxing into his fighting style. The fluidity that Lee exhibited in his flawless application of what he termed Jeet Kune Do was shaped by studying Ali.

I can go on forever about how important it is to watch at least some video. But that’s not the point of this guide. The point is to help make you master of video observation. This is a major step on the road to becoming a master martial artist.

Let’s start with the Basics of Watching Fight Videos

know basics are boring as hell, but they need to be learned. Without a solid base, you cannot advance beyond an intermediate level. Without further ado, here are the fundamental rules:

· Rule #1: Don’t let it consume you. Put a time limit so you don’t spend more time watching film than you do actually training. A good recommended time for beginning is between 15-20 minutes a day. Your mind is only fresh for so long and beyond a certain point, the mind cannot grasp the concepts when it is overly taxed.

· Rule #2: Try watch from a distance. Yes you want to be able see everything. At the same time, you need to protect your eyes. Watching from farther away is better for your vision.

· Rule #3: Try watching in intervals. For the same reason rule #2 you want to do so in small sessions, then give your eyes break. The mind can only take in so much, so you must be disciplined in your breaks.

Now that’s out of the way let’s start making you into a video analyzing master.

Watching Your Own Fight Video 

In a post from Stout Train, writer Garry Tonon, makes suggestions based on research about work place task and advice from some pretty big coaches. 

Here is one tip that stuck out: Make sure when you take video of your self-training from an angle where you can see key points. This is a good tip, but also a tricky one because it takes some practice to make sure you are getting the best angles.

There are physical mechanics happening on all sides of your body when martial arts moves are being performed. So, there two options here, the first is to simply try and find wide angle where most of the action can be seen. Option two is recording from different angles either with mutable cameras or by chosen a different spot every time you perform the move.

Another idea that a friend and I have been throwing around is to try a first person point of view with a GoPro. This way we can see what is going on throw our own eyes. However, we have not tested yet, and there some safety concerns about doing fighting techniques with a camera attached to our heads. Try at your own risk (just don’t blame us for any injuries).

My first tip is watch like a coach, not a fan. Look at the footwork, then the movement of the hips, followed by the waist, and continue to move up from there. Watch at different speeds, and focus on every detail.

In a post called “Why study fight videos?” writer Wilson Pitts suggest setting aside specific time for watching video. This helps make it part of your daily training routine. Cultivating good habits with video is the same as other aspects of training. It takes dedication and commitment to form a good routine.

Watching and Learning From Legends

As mentioned in the intro, Bruce Lee loved watching the great Ali. He mimicked his moves and studied his foot work. He even incorporated western-style boxing into his own fighting style.

Above I mentioned a post called: “Why Study Fight Videos?” where the writer said watch like a coach not a fan. The same rule applies here as well. You are not there to munch on popcorn and be entertained. But to painstakingly study the movements of the great fighters by constantly slowing it down to varying speeds and honing in on key aspects like footwork.

The writer offers another great tip as well. He said to watch the film in the mirror. It is important to realize that instantly the right handers become left handers. Watch video from both viewpoints and try to visualize everything. This is a technique that has worked well for numerous elite martial artists.

It is said that Bruce Lee used to pretend to fight Ali in the mirror. In a famous story about Bruce Lee it is said that the legendary fighter believed Ali would kill him in a fight based on the outcome of his pretend fights. Bear in mind that Ali also had eight inches and nearly sixty pounds on the svelte Lee.

There is a ton of information to be taken from videos beyond what may seem to be possible at first glance.

What to Look For When Watching to Learn

When watching the legendary fighters of the past you should be looking for a particular type of technique. There is a temptation to try to take it all in at once, but it is better to focus on one or two aspects per session. Perhaps you want to focus on something like new moves to add to your own style, different types of foot work, body movement, or head movement. Your viewing should have purpose.

How do you choose who to watch?

Who to watch will depend on what your goal is. If you’re looking to study defensive body movement then Ali might be worth considering. If you’re looking for offensive body movement then Mike Tyson is a great choice, or maybe you want judo throws, then Ronda Rousey is your girl.

Besides your personal goals, it’s not a bad idea to pick based on your own body type. This may not always be possible, but should be taken advantage of when it is. This is a good idea because a person with the same body type will have similar movement to your own and be easier to mimic.

You should watch the video at different speeds. Watch it in slow motion, super motion, real speed, and maybe a little bit in fast forward. This is important because it gives you the opportunity to fully absorb what is going on. In real time it is often hard to see all of the intricacies of a technique especially if the fighters are exchanging blows in close range.

Using instructional martial arts videos

Thanks to YouTube there a ton of these available. Some are way better than others, and some are not even worth your time. There is also the option to purchase instructional videos. Not all these videos are worth your time or money. Try look for ones with reviews and strong following.


One of the most important aspects of learning from your fight videos is picking good instructional fight videos to watch. The best instructional fight videos are ones that are great quality, preferably HD. Have a shot from a good angle with a steady hand (meaning no shaking). It is often even more effective to have more than one angle.

The instructor in the videos should be clear when he speaks and break down the moves thoroughly. Some of the best videos show the techniques in varying speeds. When possible try to find videos that move at different speeds and angles.

In the words of esteemed coach and competitor Dave Esposito, “You have to be an idiot not to watch video.” This is a stern remark but Esposito is blunt because he is trying to emphasis how important this tool is to your success as a fighter.

It may seem counterintuitive to those who have spent their careers getting their butts off the couch every day to go to the gym to be encourage to sit on the couch and turn on the TV. But the truth is this: your future depends on it.

Let Us Know

If your you are a coach or expert that has valuable advice that you think others will benefit from please share it with us by either emailing or commenting below. We will be happy to include a link to a fighting or martial arts related websites. Thank you.