Starter kit: All the gear you need to start training martial arts


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Martial arts training is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. As a lifelong practitioner, I can confidently say that my experience with Boxing, Kickboxing, Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, Kenpo Karate, and Wing Chun have made me a better, more balanced person. Preparation is key, though, so before you go throwing punches and shooting takedowns, take a look at some equipment that can help you get started.

How we chose these items

I’ve trained in various martial arts for the better part of 20 years. During that time, I’ve gone through countless pieces of equipment and developed as many gear preferences as I have protein powder preferences. The list below includes some of my personal favorites, as well as some that I think are great for anyone just starting out. Remember, as with any product, you have to find the gear that works best with your needs and within your own budget. 

GLOVES, SHIN GUARDS, & PROTECTIVE GEAR

“Protect your tools.” I’ll never forget those words from my first MMA coach. Having good quality protective gear is essential for longevity in the fight game, even if you’re not competing. Whether you deliver the punishment or defend against it, you want to ensure your hands, shins, teeth, and whatever else are well cared for. 

Best all-purpose boxing gloves: Hayabusa S4 Boxing Gloves

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Everybody needs a standard pair of full-face boxing gloves for training. These may be the most fundamental pieces of equipment for a fighter. They can be used for solo training on the heavy bag, for hitting the focus mitts with a trainer, or for light-drilling with a partner. The Hayabusa S4 is a great starter glove that hits the mark for almost any workout. Get yourself 16s (ounces) if you’re expecting to spar (most gyms have a 14-16 oz minimum rule, depending on your weight class).

Best MMA Gloves: RDX Hybrid MMA Striking Gloves

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If you’re trying to grapple in your sparring sessions, you’ll need a glove with an open palm and fingers to make adequate grips. I have a pair of the black and gold RDX MMA gloves, and I love them. The knuckle padding is sufficient to protect my partner for light striking while not being too bulky to lock in a jiu-jitsu choke.  

Best hand wraps: Ringside Mexican Styles 180 cm Hand Wraps

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A good hand wrap is key to helping your hand bones stay properly aligned when punching. I like the Mexican-style wraps because of the bit of elastic they provide. It gives you a tight fit without cutting off circulation. Even with smaller hands, get yourself 180 cm, so you have plenty of material to work with. Ringside is a staple in the boxing world so that brand is always a good bet. 

Best shin guards: Fairtex SP5 Shin Guards

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I have more pairs of these Fairtex shin guards than I know what to do with. They’ve been a standard piece of equipment in my arsenal since I started training. They sit in the perfect midpoint of efficacy, affordability, and simplicity. You’ll appreciate how easy they are to take off when your workout is over. They’re also made from the Fairtex Syntek Leather, making them vegan-fighter-friendly.

Best elbow pads: Combat Sports Advanced IMF Tech Elbow Pads

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When you start suiting up to throw elbows, the amount of gear you wear makes you feel a bit like Robocop. That said, elbows can do a lot of damage, so having good padding will ensure you don’t recreate Matt Brown’s famous knockout during practice.

Best knee pads: Adidas Wrestling Knee Pads

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Knees can take a beating in fight training, and not just from getting caught in a heel hook leg lock. Checking kicks and banging knees during a roundhouse can be pretty painful with poor technique and no padding. The Adidas knee pads are low profile enough not to get in the way under your shin pads and will protect your partner when you’re kneeing their ribs in the clinch.

Best mouth piece: Venum Challenger Mouth Guard

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Dental work is expensive and usually painful, so protecting your teeth is a good idea. Most people I train with have at least one or two of these Venum Challengers in their training bag. I wear it when I roll (the casual term for grappling during jiu-jitsu), too, because it keeps me from scraping the inside of my mouth if my face is ground into the floor.

Best groin cup: Venum Competitor Groin Guard

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Do I even have to “sell” this? Getting hit between the legs hurts for everyone, so protect those sensitive areas of your body the best you can. It’s a traditional design that allows you to wash the garment and the cup separately.

Best ear protector: Cliff Keen E58 Headgear

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For many, cauliflower ear is a rite of passage in fighting (particularly in wrestling and jiu-jitsu). It causes big build-ups of scar tissue. For the rest of us, it can make putting in earbuds far more work than necessary. The Cliff Keen headgear is nice because its glossy, non-porous material doesn’t absorb sweat or water, making it easy to rinse off. 

APPAREL

You’re going to twist and turn your body, sweat a lot, and even have your clothes tugged on when you train, so dressing properly on the mat is important. I’m usually pretty low-key when it comes to my gym clothes and will just run my old band t-shirts into the ground, but a well-constructed jiu jitsu gi or comfortable Thai shorts can go a long way.

Best jiu-jitsu gi: Elite Sports BJJ Gi

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The gi is probably one of the most iconic outfits in martial arts equipment. Virtually identical cuts are used in jiu-jitsu, karate, tae kwon do, judo, and a host of other disciplines. It even has its own emoji. You can get really fancy with gis, but I like this basic Elite Sports BJJ gi to start with. It’s inexpensive, does the job, and the black with red trimming makes me feel like Kylo Ren.

Best all-purpose training rash guard and shorts: Half Sumo NoGi Bundle

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MMA and the UFC have really popularized no-gi jiu-jitsu over the last few decades, and guys like Gordon Ryan have shown what mastery in the sport can look like. Half Sumo is a New York-based company that has wild art and patterns printed on top-quality gear. I’d wear these even off the mat because they look so good. The tight-fitting material prevents bunching and chafing. It also wicks sweat effectively.

Best Thai shorts: Yokkao Carbonfit Shorts

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Yokkao is one of the most well-recognized names in Muay Thai, and for good reason. With GOAT’s like Saenchi on their roster, it’s no wonder people train at their facilities and wear their apparel. The Carbonfit shorts are nice because they don’t have any fancy materials and can be easily thrown in the wash. They’re short for maximum movability, and the wide waistbands keep them locked in place.

Best boxing sneakers: Hayabusa Pro Boxing Shoe

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If you’re a fan of the elite-level movement of recent champ Vasily Lomachenko, you may want to drill your footwork. I’ve never been a boxing shoe enthusiast, myself, but guys I train with swear by the Hayabusa Pro Boxing shoe for its versatility and style. The high reach adds ankle support, and the textured bottom provides grip without tripping you up.

Best all-purpose training sweatsuit: Adidas Men’s Sportswear Basic 3-stripes Tricot Track Suit

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The Adidas tracksuit is a classic for a reason, and, to this day, the majority of my non-sport-specific workout gear is from their shop. I have multiple, actually, and each has its place—one tracksuit for when I’m going to teach, one tracksuit for when I’m going to train, another for when I’m going for a run, and another for when I’m just getting a bagel and a coffee on a Sunday afternoon.

PERIPHERALS

Carrying around all of that equipment and being able to train on your own is going to require a few more essential items. Ensure you’ve rounded out your checklist with these last few fighter go-tos. 

Best training bag: Superare Carcico Gear Bag

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Superare is one of the best (and last) fight shops in New York City. They hold the best fighting equipment in Manhattan and have great custom equipment, themselves. I just got their gear bag this year, and I love it. It fits my gloves and pads, gi, change of clothes, and converts easily from a duffle to a backpack. Can’t go wrong with it. 

Best pain relief: Tiger Balm Sport Rub Pain Relieving Ointment

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I’ve seen Tiger Balm in dojos and fight gyms for as long as I can remember. To be honest, I don’t know if it works from a clinical perspective, but I do know in the fight community, we all swear by it. 

Best timer app: Boxing iTimer App

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I use this app every single day. It’s simple, it’s easy to use, and it’s effective. So many apps have a ton of unnecessary bells and whistles, but the Boxing iTimer App just cuts right to the chase. It’s one of the few free apps I pay for just because I use it so much.

Best basic fan: Vornado 133 Small Air Circulator

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The more you train, the more you sweat—plain and simple. One of the most effective ways to keep your gear from smelling like hot garbage is to keep it dry. I religiously put my gloves and shin pads in front of a fan until they dry after every training session, and I do the same with my jiu-jitsu gis (after rinsing them) if I can’t get them in the wash right away. This will be more effective than all of those sanitizers and charcoal inserts combined. 

Best jump rope: Twins Muay Thai Rope

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Other fighters will know you’re serious if they see you jumping with the classic blue or green Twins Muay Thai jump rope. It’s heavier than a typical rope and will murder your toes if you get caught, but it will make your cardio inexhaustible and turn your shoulders and forearms into steel.



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