Denis Kelly MMA

I talk to Denis Kelly, who runs the Australian Combat Sports Academy in Melbourne and has a Black Belt in BJJ, Zen Do Kai Karate and has fought MMA professionally while training worldwide.

We discussed his online teaching experience after his state just came out of the world’s longest lockdown, where Melbourne was under curfew, and he could not operate his gym. Still, he persisted with teaching online lessons the entire time. We also discussed what he learned during that period regarding club culture and teamwork and what helped him endure those difficult times.

Listen to Denis Kelly



[00:00] – Introduction to Episode 035
[03:42] – Returning to Full Contact Training
[05:24] – Black Belts He Has
[07:10] – His Backstory
[09:40] – The Reality of Fighter Lifestyle
[12:49] – Chris Brennan as an Instructor
[14:15] – Academies Denis Has Trained At
[16:04] – His First MMA Fight
[19:04] – His Advice to Aspiring Fighters
[22:18] – The Secret to Getting BJ Penn’s Flexibility
[23:18] – Keep Putting In Effort Until You Get To the Top
[26:43] – The Downside of the Sports Industry Which People Miss Out
[34:01] – What Kept Him Motivated to Train Continuously Even During the Lockdown
[37:34] – His Suggestions to Gym Owners Considering Doing Online Classes
[43:13] – No Online Training Can Replace the Physical Contact in Jiu-Jitsu Training
[44:43] – A Good Structure for Online Classes
[46:33] – What Kept Him Motivated to Continue Online Classes
[49:03] – Ways to Make the Training Enjoyable
[52:29] – Your Training Partner’s Performance Affects Your Performance
[54:05] – The Overly Competitive Environment Is Not Good
[55:27] – Do Not Worry About Sounding Like a Broken Record
[57:14] – How He Sets up Expectations of Young Fighters
[59:33] – Is Full-Time Training Necessary?
[01:02:38] – What Is He Looking Forward To?


Being A Profesional MMA Fighter

Techniques Are Changing With Time

Denis says the sport is changing every year or even within a year. The techniques that worked six months ago won’t work now or next year. So, it’s like an unpredictable sport.

The Two Sides Of Continuously Changing Sport

The sport in the 2000s was not like how today it is. And they’re probably two sides to it. In some ways, people who are just getting into fighting have a little of an advantage that we didn’t have back in those days. Now you can find out a lot more about the sport. You can find out about what the fights look like, what the opponents look like, even what year what kind of training you should be doing. So, if you’re a new fighter getting into it, you can almost tell exactly what you need to do to be successful.

And the other side of it is if people are getting into it and want to be a fighter, they probably don’t see everything that’s going to go into it. They see successful people. They see Conor McGregor doing this and that and anything and think if I keep training, that will be me as well, but they don’t see all the extra work or the boring stuff that goes into it.

A Hazardous Sport

It is such a hazardous sport to get into if you’re looking for fame. Because no matter what happens, at the end of the day, someone is waiting with a shin kick to their head or trying some moves. There’re a lot of other hobbies that you could be undertaking to get famous.

The Downside Of the Sports Industry

The truth that most people don’t realize about fighting is that in other sports, like football or tennis. If you’re pretty good at these sports, but then you’re slowly deteriorating, you’re probably not going to get invited back to the big matches or the big tournaments. Whereas with fighting, as long as you used to be a good fighter ten years ago, you’ll still get invited back to get knocked out by the next up and coming kid. And it’s easy. You can see like promoters probably sweet talk the guy to get them in there, and you get your career back on the road. That’s the downside of it that people miss out on.

Online Jiu-Jitsu Training

Tip For Gym Owners: Focus On Beginners

He says, during the period of the second lockdown, he just focused on complete beginners. Because he thinks that people who have already been doing Jiu-Jitsu for a while want to do Gi or No-Gi moves, and you can’t do any of that stuff in online Training. So, the second time around, we focused on the pure beginners, just showing them that this is mount position, this is how we do Armbar for a month, how to do Americana for a month, this is side control etc.,

He tells about his training module by saying, “We’re basically the second time around. We’re going to do just two Jiu-Jitsu classes a week, but it’s perfect for people who’ve never done Jiu-Jitsu before. We can tell them when this (pandemic) is all over when the war is over, and we can start training again.”

Teach Beginners With A Dummy

It’s probably easier for beginners to learn it on a dummy because they’re not worried about accidentally breaking the new guy’s arm on the first day, so they don’t mind doing it slightly wrong.

Online Training Can’t Replace Physical Training.

The majority of Jiu-Jitsu people who have been doing Jiu-Jitsu for more than one year are doing it because they like physical contact. So really, no amount of online drilling is going to replace that for them. But people who are in the zero to one year range can benefit from training with dummies and getting stuff explained to them. If they’re doing it appropriately, they’ll benefit when they first start doing an actual physical impairment.

ACSA MMA Club Culture

Making The Training An Enjoyable Activity

Making the training an enjoyable activity comes with the attitude of the coaches as well. There’s a lot of different things we can do through games. He says, “People take the fight seriously, but I see it mostly as an enjoyable activity. Sometimes people get caught up in a life or death struggle and you’re defending yourself from samurais or ninjas or whatever. Whereas the reality is that, what we’re really doing is play-fighting and it’s just an elaborate form of play-fighting. So if you can keep that attitude, then that sort of transfers into your classes and into your training and people tend to enjoy it more.”

A Cooperative Community Is Going To Work Out Better

He says, “There’re gyms where it becomes too competitive when the coach is pushing for a win at all cost kind of mentality. I think it’s okay for a little while. You get good short-term results, but then the fighters are sort of sabotaged in each fight because they want the coach’s attention. So this guy doesn’t want to spar with this guy.

This person doesn’t want to roll with this person. This person doesn’t want to show their moves because everybody’s okay for that number one spot. And then eventually it all falls apart, and everybody leaves and goes their separate ways. And then it’s starting from scratch again. So I think making sure that kind of cooperative community is going to work out better.”

It may seem counterintuitive, but if everyone is helping each other and having fun, better competitors can come from that. Or maybe a more consistent or wider range of competitors can come from it.

Do Not Worry About Sounding Like A Broken Record

Referring to the dilemma of whether to tell or not your training partner about improvement in their techniques or postures, he says, “If things need to be said, you probably need to repeat them a lot. And the only thing is that, sometimes the first time someone hears it, it might not make any sense to them or might not be relevant. But you should not be worried about sounding like a broken record.”

Is A Full Day Training Necessary?

Training for all those individual kinds of martial arts styles, it’s going to be time-consuming. He says, “I would advise people, don’t quit your day job. My general advice is until you’re getting paid the same amount per year, as a fighter, as what you would be getting from your job, Do not quit your job. If you need to get to a really good level at Jiu-Jitsu, striking on tape guns, etc., that’s going to cost money. If you’re looking at Rocky where he trains poor kids for $1, then don’t get your hopes up. That’s realistically not going to happen anywhere in the world.

Unless you’re already a really good, well-rounded martial artist, you’ll have to pay someone to teach you. And it’s going to be very difficult to do that. If you don’t have a job, then there’s a lot of other expenses. You’re probably not going to get paid for your first fight unless you’re getting paid to lose. You’re probably not going to get paid much for your first 10 or 15 fights. If you’re always low on money, if you’re always broke, you’ll probably have to take short notice fights just for money. Those short-notice fights will probably be the ones where you get an authored, or you get an injury, and then that sets back your career. So, there’re a lot of good reasons not to quit your job, to focus on fighting.”



“You want your training partner to get better because that’s going to make you better.”

– Denis Kelly

“The tough thing is that people don’t realize that you put in all that effort. And if you get a good result, if you win a fight, then your reward is that you get a tougher opponent the next time. Then you have to put in twice as much effort. And then you have to keep consistently doing that and find better and better people until you eventually get to the top.”

– Denis Kelly

“If things need to be said, you probably need to repeat them a lot.”

– Denis Kelly

“The more you spar, the shorter your career is gonna be.”

– Denis Kelly

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Denis Kelly