If you want to succeed as a fighter — or indeed in any creative endeavour, be it a writer, athlete or painter, it is imperative you do this one thing.
You have to study.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
— Stephen King
So many people get only one right.
Some stay in research-limbo. They spend much of their time pouring over books and watching tape for “research purposes”, but they falter when it comes to getting their hands dirty and doing the actual work.
This form of procrastination is common among aspiring artists, particularly writers.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who would show up, clock in the hours, put their heads down and grind, grind and grind — yet not get the results they are looking for.
This “just hustle hard” mindset is very common amongst athletes.
I have deep empathy for both types of people. Mainly because I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. I was an athlete struggling to master his craft, and more recently I’ve been in the shoes of a master procrastinator masquerading as a writer. It sucks.
I only started to find success after putting two and two together.
Athletes Have To Study, Too
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
It blows my mind how many people think that education ends upon graduation.
Fighters, I’ve got bad news for you. Your education has only begun. Merely physically showing up for training is not enough, it is imperative you make a concerted mental effort to learn every single day — on and off the mats.
That means taking notes of the mistakes you’ve made so that you improve upon them. Jon Jones has a secret “Book of Moves” where he jots down techniques after training. That seems to have worked out well for the consensus greatest MMA fighter of all time.
It means that you have to pay attention during practice, not just go through the motions. And above all, that means you have to learn how to become better simply by watching fights.
Passively Watching Vs Actively Observing
Watching vs Observing: When we think of training in jiu jitsu, we typically think in physical terms — drilling, sparring, movement and strength training etc. These are undoubtedly the most important forms of training. Nonetheless I believe that real supplemental progress in your game can be made by observing jiu jitsu as a spectator- provided you approach it in the correct fashion.
It shocks — I mean it genuinely astounds me, how some people claim they want to be high-level fighters but don’t even watch fights.
These people are content to be the big fish in a small pond. They’re not truly interested in improving, in staying ahead of the curve, in peaking out of their comfortable cubby hole and seeing what’s out there. If you don’t evolve with the times, you’re already eliminated. You just don’t know it yet.
The real greats are not just players, they are true fans of the game.
To improve as much as you possibly can, you have to learn how to not merely watch fights but observe them deeply.
The great Jiu-Jitsu coach John Danaher detailed in an Instagram post his admiration of Rafael Mendes, one of the greatest BJJ competitors of all time. In it he noted how Rafael did not just passively watch training sessions, he was an active observer.
(Rafa) sat alongside me as I taught and coached. When the sparring began I noted his intense gaze as he followed the movements of the many advanced students grappling in front of him. He was not merely WATCHING the matches as most do — entertained by the action as a spectator and seeing nothing more than who wins and who loses. He was truly OBSERVING the class — he appeared to be considering second by second what he would be doing if he were in any of the matches that were unfolding in front of him. Unlike most, he was an ACTIVE OBSERVER rather than a PASSIVE OBSERVER.
I was deeply impressed by his powers of focus and concentration as his eyes followed the action and looked into exactly the areas most relevant to deciding the outcome of each match as his mind raced for solutions and answers for whatever problems he saw. This was clearly a man who could learn and grow merely by observing and use observation as a useful supplement to his physical training. What for most people would be an hour of entertainment watching athletes battle each other, was for him a MENTAL WORKOUT that doubtless he could carry with profit into his next PHYSICAL workout. It was an impressive display of the kind of mental acuity and focus that champions carry in addition to their physical skills and attributes.
I know it’s a long quote — Danaher’s famed Instagram lectures usually are, so I have bolded the key bits.
Working Out The Mind
There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
— Bruce Lee
Champions work out their minds. In fact, they work their minds harder than they work their physical bodies.
Our bodies have a limit, you see. There’s a cap on how much you can bench, how long you can hold your breath, how far you can contort. An aspect of martial arts is training to become more athletic, to be sure, but physical limitations are always present. Things are different in the mind though. In the mind, the possibilities are limitless.
There are studies proving that active visualization exercises can aid in improving athletic performance by up to a whopping 70%.
There’s a reason why all-time greats like Rafael Mendes and Conor McGregor practice active visualisation.
There’s a reason why Gordon Ryan, record-breaking ADCC Champion and star pupil of the aforequoted John Danaher, makes it a point to sit down and observe every single practise when he’s injured and unable to train.
He knows how important it is to work out his mind.
The body is unable, but the spirit is willing.
Working Hard But Not Smart Is Just Another Form Of Laziness
In conclusion, to fully optimize your potential as an athlete, showing up to training is the first part of the equation. The second, often neglected part, is to study the game.
So many people just show up in the gym, go through the motions, and go home. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that if you’re doing the sport recreationally. However, if your goal is to be a serious competitor — to be the best that you can be, its a different story.
You have to observe sparring matches. To watch fights, any fights, you can get your hands on. We’re living in an incredible era where we’re lucky enough to be able to click on YouTube and get access to literally more videos than you can watch in 10 lifetimes.
Make use of it.
And when you do so, don’t be a passive observer. Actually put yourself in that situation. Ask yourself: what will you do to counter that technique? How would you diffuse that situation, how can things be done better?
I wrote this article in relations to fighting, but this goes to all artists and people who want to improve themselves.
Actively observe, and take your life to the next level.
Thank you for reading my story :)