Identifying the keys of what separates a good mixed martial arts (MMA) practitioner from a great one is more than difficult. I’m sure you can identify a plethora of things, as can I, but there four principles that I have found to be evident and four principles that come up time and time again, no matter which sport I am coaching. These are the principles I want to share with you right now.
The toughest thing to do in sports and in research is create a system that is repeatable and as infallible as possible. It’s damn near impossible to do, but you have to try and maintain the constant iterative process that must be invoked if you want to become a champion and stay a champion. One of my former judo coaches from California, Nori Bunasawa, used to say, “Rhadi, in Japan, if you win something one time we count that as luck. If you win it two or three times then we say you’re the better competitor.” That didn’t make sense to me at the time, but it does today. Everyone knows that it is tougher to stay at the top than it is to get to the top. Thus the question is, “How do you stay at the top of your game?”
Well, here are four principles to help you get to the top and, if you are already there, stay at the top.
Maximize before moving on.
One thing competitors have a tendency to do is to start looking for other options and situations before maximizing their current situation. For example, I was coaching an individual who didn’t have a great amount of economic resources, and this person would say, “I need to train somewhere else that has the equipment I need to get better.” As a former competitor, a current coach, and an entrepreneur I could understand where she was coming from. We all want the latest and greatest tools to help us succeed. But I had to confront her on a couple of points. I told her the following:
“Wait a minute. I understand the want to move, but you haven’t maximized everything that is here. This gym has Brazilian jujitsu 6 days a week, which you are already paying for, but you only go 3 times a week. First go to all 6 classes. Then strap on your shoes in the morning and go running. Running or even walking for 40 minutes every morning is more than what you are doing now and will provide an added benefit. There are heavy bags in your gym that you don’t even use. Your footwork could always get better, yet you only jump rope to warm up. Why not jump rope before or after class for 15 to 20 minutes? All I’m saying is that I understand you want to go somewhere else, but the fact of the matter is this: You don’t have the money to go and if you go you have not maximized what you can out of this place before moving on.”
Let’s look at this concept in terms of movement. The good competitors maximize their movements before turning to new ones. I’m a person who believes in mastering a move before going on to the next move (especially at the beginner phase). I don’t give a damn how long it takes to learn a move. You learn it until you own it, and once you own it, it is yours to keep! Maximize the move before moving on to the next one. Squeeze all of the juice out of the fruit before throwing it away. Or, as my parents used to say: “Don’t throw that bone away, there’s still some meat on it!” Get all the meat off the bone before you toss it in the trash. There’s some more nourishment there for you, your game, and your career.
Diversify your training partners (portfolio).
Of course you can see that this principle is a huge business principle. If you are an MMA competitor, you must diversify your training partners-not your training camp! The training camp has to be full of competitors who have been hand picked to mimic a certain style or to fulfill your need to combat a certain style of the opponent you are facing. What I’m speaking about is diversifying your training partners. On the Olympic and elite judo and wrestling level, what we usually do is go to different countries in order to train and compete. The competition is usually why we travel, but the most important part of the trip is the training. It is where we can experience different styles and actually see our game and level improve exponentially over a short time. To mimic this travel scenario locally, I recommend that you visit different schools and clubs in your area. If you are at a school that looks unfavorably at such exchanges between schools, MOVE! This exclusivity has no place in martial arts and is selfish and adverse to your growth and the growth of your school. If you go somewhere and train and then return, not only will you get better but also everyone at your school may get better as well.
Remember your mishaps.
Great competitors remember their mistakes and use them as a platform to grow. Great competitors also use them as a reminder and as foundational stories for others so they don’t repeat the same mistakes. As a competitor you have to be willing to identify your mistakes. The one thing that I could never understand and still cannot to this day is why people who are still competing refuse to watch film of their matches. I mean, they love watching when they win, but they don’t want to watch the matches they lost. YOU HAVE TO! If you don’t watch the losing matches you will not be able to identify your mishaps so that you can remember them and make sure you don’t repeat them or the behavior that caused them. Remember, as the great Dr. Phil says all the time, “You cannot fix that which you don’t acknowledge.” As a competitor, you cannot make the same mistake twice. It is costly. Very costly.
Change, but do so conservatively.
I’m all about changing. I believe in change and I believe in adding tools to your current toolbox. However, these additions should be made conservatively and in harmony with your core competencies. For example, I think that a flying arm bar is a great move, and I used it very successfully when I was a competitor. But just because I think it’s a good move doesn’t mean that I would recommend it to Brock Lesnar or Andrei Arlovski to perform or even spend their time practicing. It’s great to have an open mind, but stay open in a conservative fashion. In my game, the only thing I get really radical about is the basics! I get radical about going back to the gym and solidifying the jab, going to the gym and putting the gi back on for 6 weeks, going back to the gym and returning to the base style that is my strength. I get radical about that. When it comes to making huge changes in the MMA game, it’s not better to lead than to follow. It’s better to look at the most successful practices, look at the current data available, and make an intelligent and conservative decision about what changes should be made in your game. For example, I worked with Brandon Vera and his coach Lloyd Irvin to do all of the things that Brandon should have been doing-not to add anything new. Now Brandon has a renewed outlook on his career that could possibly yield him the financial return that he is looking for. It’s a conservative investment that may pay radical dividends.
Every competitor, coach, and fighter believes that this day is different from the days of yesteryear. The honest to goodness truth is that the game hasn’t really changed-just the players have changed. The same principles that were utilized in warfare in the ancient times are used in business today, and these same principles and practices are the foundation for preparing on a physical and mental level. What we must do is use the information that is available in order to grow as competitors, practitioners, fans, and enthusiasts.