‘Just try to pin me,’ says the huge, muscular man standing in front of me, before wrapping a massive arm around my shoulders. ‘Try to get me down to the mat.’ So I try – and, predictably, I fail. When new boutique health club U Concept invited Time Out for a wrestling training session with its mixed martial arts (MMA) experts, Tolga Aykut and Matt Towers, I jumped at the chance. Or, more specifically, my editor did. I’d sort of grimaced at the prospect, while anticipating a good kicking.
Tolga is a 1.9m-tall powerhouse from England who, along with Matt, has been brought to Dubai to run the DIFC club’s MMA workshops, teaching the kind of varied fighting techniques seen in globally popular combat league UFC. ‘We’re not going to take it easy on you,’ grins Tolga.
He isn’t kidding. With all my might, I attempt to force him to the floor. He barely budges. I grab his wrists for leverage, but with one swift movement, he flips his hands around mine and applies a vice-like grip around my wrists. Before I know it, the man mountain has me pinned, and he isn’t letting go. ‘Tap the mat if it hurts,’ says Matt, with what sounds like a smirk. It does hurt, so I tap out, my arms and pride equally sore.
After a quick recovery, it’s time for a little more training. ‘I’ll take you through some of the techniques,’ says Matt, several inches shorter than Tolga, but equally muscular. I’m a fairly tall guy, but if I think my height advantage will be any help, I’m gravely mistaken. Matt whizzes through a string of (painful) holds and take-downs, showing me how to counter several types of attack, both in the MMA arena and on the street. There hasn’t been this much tapping since Fred and Ginger last took to the stage.
‘It’s not about strength,’ Matt then tells me. ‘MMA is a multi-disciplined art, including elements of striking, wrestling and submissions via joint manipulations or choke holds. The techniques you just found yourself
on the receiving end of were mainly submission wrestling techniques. There are literally thousands of ways to make someone tap out.’
Matt should know – he brings with him 10 years of MMA teaching experience. ‘When you engage in a clinch [a grappling hold] with someone, you’re stepping back in time to an ancient contest of brain, brawn and, more importantly, leverage and technique. This is what makes wrestling and MMA in general such a great sport to undertake. It teaches you self-control, makes you physically strong and fit and teaches you methods of self-defence, which is also ideally suited to females – many of the techniques we teach are designed so a smaller person can overpower a larger foe.’ As I had seen only too clearly.
The pair then put me through an MMA-based fitness workout that involves punching, ‘bear-crawling’ across the mat and tossing medicine balls in the air while in the ‘chair’ position against the wall. ‘You did well,’ Tolga lies as I try to catch my breath after the workout. ‘The training we do here has huge benefits for anyone. Matt and I train athletes and clients in physiological, technical and psychological components relevant
to the sport of MMA.
‘My aim is to recreate the psychological and physiological stress experienced during an MMA fight. The effect of creating high psychological arousal and physical fatigue leads to panic, which leads to poor judgement. We aim to promote relaxation and open up the thinking process during this high stress period.
‘I want the athlete to be a thinking fighter, someone who can cope with high stress and is prepared to go the distance with a great cardiovascular capacity. Basically, our aim is to create machines.’
Mission accomplished, if my workout is anything to go by – I’d rather take on The Terminator himself than agree to a rematch with these two.
Mixed martial arts workshops are Dhs90; free taster sessions available for non-members. U Concept, DIFC, www.uconcept6.com (04 4228721).