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What I've Learned From Doing Mixed Martial Arts With a Limb Difference

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In a world full of able-bodied alpha males, I come from a different angle in mixed martial arts with a limb difference. People often doubt my abilities and it can be awe-striking when I show what I can do.

I’m Harry Williams, 21 years old from Manchester, England. I’m the founder of and I was born and raised in MMA. My father owns his own MMA gym and my brother used to compete at a very high level.

I have a radial club hand, which means my hand turns inward. Because of my hand, I know I have to work harder than most people. Although most are putting in 100%, I have to adapt on the spot and put in more than 100% just to keep up. This is far from a sympathy plea. It’s just a fact about what it’s like to be in such a physical outlet with a rather surprising condition.

In a fighting sport, the reach of a combatant tends to determine who will control the pace and pressure of the bout. Clearly, reach isn’t often on my side, therefore adaption comes into play. For instance, being left-handed, I should naturally pose a southpaw. However I cannot rely on my club hand to threaten with a strong jab. If I threw such a jab with my right hand, it would render me vulnerable due to its technique. So, I’m an adapted orthodox who uses his left hand as a jab and can switch between stances to deliver fitting combinations. I also concentrate on my footwork. I may have to step in further to throw a right hook with my club hand, but I need to know how to avert danger in the process.

Another example occurs with jiu jitsu. Ground games are just as important, if not more than the striking facets. Just a few adaptations include submissions like keylocks, kimura, hammerlocks and even the standard-yet-vital wrist control. What comes easily to others can require a step-by-step breakdown for me with my limb difference. At the same time, however, it can provide an advantage for people like me.

It’s been almost five years since I began training properly under my father’s tutelage, and I still experiment and adapt on the spot in just about every session. It has given me the ability to quickly think of ways to both attack and defend successfully. Not only that, but a limb difference can stump able-bodied athletes. Some aren’t sure where to grip, and sometimes your limb difference provides a smaller gap of entry for your opponent.

So much of mixed martial arts relies on length of reach and quick reactions. Whether it be the reach of a jab, ability to control a double-leg takedown with one arm shorter than the other, or in submitting the opposition, one must improvise, adapt and overcome. Having to do this throughout my life and in a game like MMA, I see things differently and it has created a stronger mind to go along with a big showing of heart.

I know people look and wonder, especially at shows when warming up backstage with a teammate who’s competing later that night. I get it; it’s not something you see every day and that’s what motivates me to be my best. I’m sure some would give me credit just for trying something completely out of the ordinary, and I’m sure there are some who don’t take guys like me seriously in training, but that’s not what it’s about. This isn’t something I’d be doing if I didn’t truly enjoy it.

People often ask if I have ever fought in competition. Ironically, it’s not my hand that stops me. I have a condition where six of my eight neck discs are fused together, leaving only two to work. If I was to be either slammed really hard or knocked out and my head bounced off the mat, it could shock my remaining discs and paralyze me from the neck down. It sounds scary, but I’m safer than you’d think. I still have my tough sparring sessions and I still leave the gym humbled each and every time.

Sure, I’d love to have that one bout, but it’s not worth risking my life. Until some miraculous procedure can come around, it will always be an itch and I’m fine with that. But then, you may ask, what exactly do I get out of MMA? What I get out of it is learning skills, making the most of my training partners and posing all kinds of challenges to them, as they do to me. I’m happy with that.

Originally published: September 13, 2016
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