If you’ve ever taken the time to sit and read a bodybuilding magazine from cover to cover, you’ll likely come to a few interesting conclusions: the first is that advertising often tries really hard to pretend it’s expert analysis, and the second is that supposed experts in the fitness field often contradict one another, and even themselves, when it comes to the “best” workouts, methodologies, nutrition plans and lifts are. To be fair, a large part of these contradictions are tied to marketing endeavors: every new product invariably also needs to be the best one, otherwise people wouldn’t buy it but there’s another, less nefarious element at play here as well:

Different people respond to different things, well … differently.

There are, of course, many scientifically backed constants in the fitness world: burn more calories than you take in, and you’ll find yourself smaller than when you started, emphasize the development of fast twitch muscle in your regimen and you’ll likely end up bigger, and of course, if you try to learn how to use a machine via the guess-and-check method, some asshole is going to record it and share it on Twitter. It’s really not so much the broad strokes of fitness that are subject to interpretation and individual variances, it’s the ground level execution you may find needs adjustment.

I’ve spent most of my life training for one of only three things: football, rugby, or fighting. While I’ve participated in other sports (haven’t we all) those are the only three physical endeavors that broke the plain of adulthood and accompanied me into my higher mileage years — but with years worth of experience behind each, I can personally attest that not everything I’ve been taught has benefited me on the field or in the cage. The fact of the matter is, there are two things to take into account every time you learn a new technique for any of those sports: 1) does this new technique aim to improve my game, or just change it? And 2) how does my body respond to the endeavor?

When it comes to collision sports like football or rugby (dancing is a contact sport), change for the sake of change isn’t worth all that much — though I could make an argument that changing your game when fighting can lead to a better rounded proficiency (and when lifting for better rounded results). So with that element a wash, let’s focus on the second one: how does your body respond to this new thing?

When studying martial arts to demonstrate mastery of a discipline, it’s imperative that you learn to mirror the movements of your instructors, but when training in martial arts for the sake of a fight, it’s far more important that you learn how those movements translate into violence inflicted or violence mitigated — and optimally, you’ll find yourself capable of plenty of each. In the pursuit of that interest, you may find that, although you’ve developed a competency in a new technique, it works better for you if you adjust your wrist position slightly or the positioning of your legs. Sometimes, you may find yourself uncomfortable with a technique in general — and as such, hesitant to use it in force-on-force applications.

When you have to subdue a drunk Marine in a hotel room, you fold him in half the way you’re most accustomed. (Everything and everyone was fine once he woke up)

This is where the modern “mixed martial arts” mindset comes in: you train in multiple disciplines, adopt the techniques that work well for you, and discard the ones that don’t. You may be able to sink a triangle choke perfectly according to instruction, but if you find doing so takes you off your game, you’re better off keeping that technique in the “under development” category of your brain and utilizing what you know you’re capable of, if and when you find yourself in a dangerous situation. There are no points awarded for attempted techniques in competition, and there are no accolades for almost stopping an attacker in real life.

Of course, this mindset involves mental discipline — there’s a significant difference between what doesn’t work and what you just don’t like doing. Just like in writing, you can break rules for effect, but you’ve got to know them and practice them first; otherwise there’s no difference between you and someone that was never taught at all.