So You Want to be a F@*&in’ Fighter? – Rule #1 – Shut Up
Here is my tale. I joined Tristar Gym in May of 2003. I was looking for the best possible gym to train for Mixed Martial Arts. Back then, the place was half the size of what it is today and you could easily count the number of people in the classes on the fingers of your hand. Since then, the gym has come a long way and so have I. Over the past seven years, I have done a little bit of everything: I’ve trained, I’ve fought, I’ve given classes and I’ve organized fights. I still do all of this except fighting. Now that Zahabi MMA has set up shop in the gym, there are more than 50 people a class every night and if you are already a part of the gym, you most likely know me.
I will be writing a series of posts for Top MMA News. These articles are not aimed at veteran martial artists. I’m reaching to the people that were in my position seven years ago. If you’re a fan of the UFC, you’re young, full of testosterone and you’re looking for a gym to show the world the extent of your potential, then I’m talking to you. I have seen a lot of big names make their baby steps in amateur onto the pro circuit. Guys like Mike Ricci, John Makdessi, Guillaume Vigneau, Stéphane Pelletier and Daylin Logan all succeeded in their careers so far, not only because of their skills, but also because of their attitude on the mats.
I’m sure you’re strong, athletic and that you have visceral reasons for fighting, but please, read these five articles first. In this series, I’m going to talk about the etiquette of mixed martial arts gyms. How to behave (and survive) as a newcomer to mixed martial arts so that you can benefit from a healthy atmosphere and friendly sparring partners to make your career soar. All in five simple rules. This might save you a world of trouble.
Today’s rule is…
1. Shut Up
Please, do. When you walk into a martial arts gym, you walk into a place where dozens of fighters, pros and amateurs have already fought multiple times and have a good hang of the local scene. If you are from the same city and they do not know you, you are new. No one wants to hear your cool fight stories, how many people you have beaten up in a street fight, what you can bench press, or what your pedigree is in Kung Fu or some other irrelevant martial art. When you join a martial arts gym without a reputation to walk before you, actions will speak louder than words. Instead of telling stories, build them.
For example. In March of 2008, I’m walking into the gym for Wednesday night sparring. Before sparring, there is a beginner Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class focused on technique and conditioning. As I sit by the ring, I see Big Mike, a 280 lbs polar bear, laying horizontally on a smaller man’s shoulders, being buddy-squatted like he was filled with feathers. That mysterious squatter was Patrick Gill, a wrestler from Labrador who’s now 4-0 in amateur. Instead of bragging to me about how strong he was, Pat displayed his athleticism and became stuff of gym stories (legends??). Two years later, he’s one or two fights away from turning professional.
Pat had all the reasons in the world to go up to me and brag. He had a killer wrestling pedigree and athletic abilities that I can only dream of having. Used to the gym mentality, Gill just hit the mats and let his dedication do the talking. Pat shut up and showed us what he was all about. You might have a black belt in Karate or you might be Canadian champion in Tae Kwon Do, but nothing is important as what you show on the mats. Show, don’t tell.
Put yourself in a veteran’s shoes for a second (I know you’re dying to). Every week, they see people getting socked in the face at the gym. They see physical specimens and people push their limits, accomplish amazing feats of strength, courage and determination. Nobody cares about stories that involve people they do not know, places they have never been and a storyteller that seems to have an urge to convince somebody that he is tough. The whole place is tough. Everybody that walks into a gym and does not leave within a few months is tough. Shut up and hit the mats. No one wants to hear about your stories, they don’t know you.
Also, do not spread your personal life in the gym, trying to buddy up with the vets. You are only going to creep them out. You’ve had a difficult life? You’ve overcome heroin addiction? Your girlfriend left you? Half of the people you’re going to tell these stories to have seen worse. Everybody had a difficult life. Like Sam Sheridan said in his book ‘The Fighter’s Mind’, “everybody is fighting something”. If you don’t have anything to fight, you won’t be in the gym training martial arts. It’s not a pissing contest. The guys with the hardest life do not win free private training or free attention from the vets.
Take the latest Ultimate Fighter Court McGee for example. He’s an ex-heroin addict that overcame his dark past to land in an enviable spot within the UFC Middleweight roster. You are very unlikely to hear him tell his tale unless you have asked him a direct question. McGee put the past in a drawer, shut his mouth and hit the mats as hard as he could. How much air time did he get during the show? Almost none when it was not his turn to fight. The man was focused on the sport despite having greater demons crawling in the attic.
So you got the word ladies and gentlemen. Shut up! It is the first thing you should think about when stepping into a gym. I am not telling you to stay in your corner. Go up to the veterans and coaches, introduce yourself, talk about your aspirations and take interest in who you train with. But do not overdo it! Don’t verse into self-congratulating fight stories or tear-jerking drama. You are new. You are there to prove yourself. Shut up and hit the mats!