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Fight Fundamental Series PART 1: Techniques vs. Principles

*This whole “Fundamental Series” was borrowed from Martial Arts writer, James Stapleton. But, with different wording, discarded confusions, and added insight. You should definitely check out Stapleton’s articles if this series doesn’t do enough justice.

In essence – Principles MANUFACTURE instant, scenario perfect and original Techniques, but techniques without principles are guns without ammunition. – Ido Portal


I first tapped into this subject of techniques vs. principles in my earlier post, 3 Tips To Go Further Faster In MMA.

Originally, this was a concept that I borrowed from BJJ coach John Danaher and Movement Teacher Ido Portal. But, I didn’t really understand this idea until I read James Stapleton’s Article about the difference between fundamentals and basics and why it mattered. He used the terms “fundamentals” and “basics” which I thought were equivalent to principles and techniques, respectively. For a better understanding, I’ll explain this concept in full detail using the latter terms.

Techniques vs. Principles: What’s The Difference?

Techniques Are Simply A Key

They are the specific skillsets/movements of a fighter. Techniques explain “what” the fighting move is.

There are many core skills/techniques:
  • Fighting Stance
  • Footwork
  • Punches
  • Kicks
  • Takedowns
  • Submissions
  • etc.

Principles Are MASTER Keys

They are the concepts behind every technique. Principles establish the conceptual framework that explains the “who, where, when, why, and how” behind the fighting move.

There are 3 Main Principles:
  • Distance – how close or how far away you are.
  • Timing – when specific actions are performed, who attacks first.
  • Positioning – where each part of your body is.

Each of these principles can be broken down into more specific sub-principles.

  • Distance – can be closed, created, measured, manipulated, etc.
  • Timing – ties into pace, rhythm, initiative and so on.
  • Positioning – consists of direction, balance, stability, leverage, body mechanics and so forth.

Now that we understand the difference between principles and techniques, the real question is:

Why Does It Matter?

First, know that techniques and principles go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. We’ll use fighting stance as an example. A good stance should be based on positioning concepts, distance control, and excellent timing. Good positioning should leave the fighter balanced and mobile in all directions, which allows them to perform techniques in various positions. Fighters in good position make it easier to close or maintain distance, which allows them to strike or grapple within range. Timing a specific movement within your stance can leave openings that draw out predictable attacks from the opponent.

Here’s another way to look at it, let’s consider jabbing. As you jab, think to yourself, why am I throwing a jab? To measure distance? Or disrupt my opponent’s timing? Or to get in better position so I can setup other attacks? Fundamentally, the Principle is what initiates the technique in the first place. In other words, Principles PRODUCE instant techniques. Not just any technique, but scenario perfect and original techniques.

How Does This Concept Apply to MMA?

The message becomes clear when we look at fighting in different scenarios. Understand that, techniques change but principles don’t. It’s very important to know that the exact same principles are relevant to each fighting discipline. Whether it be Boxing, Wrestling, Muay Thai, or BJJ, the principles don’t change. Which is why having a solid grasp of principles allows one to find the common traits between different arts and their techniques. This is valuable for any MMA fighter looking to INTEGRATE multiple skillsets as Fast as possible. Principles are what bridge the gap between the different arts.

We’ll look at some examples of these Key Principles being applied in the sport of MMA:

Positioning In MMA

Good positioning through the use of angles is important in all aspects of fighting.

A fighter can change angles with an outside slip and pivot to setup his counter punch:


When in the clinch a slight angle change can offer better control to pull your opponent into knees:

A fighter can turn the corner to finish a takedown:


When on the ground a hip-escape can be used to change angles and positioning:


Distance In MMA

Establishing distance is crucial at every range.

On the feet, a fighter may be looking to step inside and close distance with an attack.


Or they may engage with a clinch to avoid medium range strikes and create close range strikes.


Likewise, when ground and pounding, one needs to find the balance between creating space to strike…

And closing the gap to regain control.

Timing In MMA

As Conor McGregor once said, “Timing beats speed”. Good timing is vital for all techniques.

A timed strike can deliver a KO blow.


The same way a takedown is best timed when the opponent comes towards you.


Putting It All Together

In reality, these 3 principles work in sync to form the best techniques for that given scenario.

Watch closely, as the fighter changes his position when he slips his opponent’s punch, as he contains close distance with a single clinch to the head, and delivers a perfectly timed blow to the face with his elbow, sending his opponent straight to the canvas.

This is what should have been, “A Beautiful Win.” Unfortunately, for Leon Edwards, Gunnar Nelson survives the end of the round. Regardless of missing a TKO victory, Leon does end up winning the fight, but by Split Decision.


Now, THIS is what I call “A BEAUTIFUL WIN.”
Can you spot the principles?


  • Techniques are a series of moves you do. They are “Simply A Key”
  • Principles go beyond techniques. They are “MASTER Keys”
  • 3 Main Principles: Positioning, Distance, Timing
  • When you actually apply the principles, then the moves become effective.
  • Most fighters skim through their “set of keys” when they try to solve a specific problem, but the best fighters use “Master keys” to resolve anything immediately.

The man who is able to dictate where, when, and how the fight takes place is the man who will win the fight. In other words, if a man does not have the sauce…then he is lost. But, there are so many variables in an MMA fight that the same man can get lost…in the sauce. However, by having a firm grasp on the principles it will manufacture perfect techniques immediately. Principles are the “Master Keys” to successfully integrate different skillsets to your game and will help you dominate your fight overall.

In Part 2 of The Fight Fundamental Series we’ll go the distance on an important concept that shows how critical it is to be able to “hit, and NOT get hit.” Stay tuned…

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