So You Want To Be A F@*&in’ Fighter? Rule 3 – Know Your Place
Son, how is your career going? I heard you’ve got picked up by the competition squad for training, congratulations! A low-key presence and an undying will to learn got you this far. It’s hard, isn’t it? Five nights a week, you come back home and you crash on your pillow, trying to find the will to feed yourself and have a pseudo-life outside the gym.
Face it, these guys are beating you up. They are eating you alive and they enjoy every minutes of it. You feel over your head and you’re wonder if you’re at the right place at all. These guys have too much experience for you. You would progress better with sparring partners of your own level. You’re dying to go to your coach and beg him for more attention. After all, you need it the most right? You’re the small fish in the shark tank. Time for rule number three…
KNOW YOUR PLACE
Every gym has a hierarchy. Not everybody has a belt system or any system to prove it at all, but every gym does. They also all have the same, proven method to get you up to speed. Getting you over your head with partners of a better skill level is going to get you used to what it is to be fighting a guy of their level. Veterans are also less likely to be stupid and knock your teeth out. Fighting guys with a better skill level and more experience is a competitive, but rather safe way to get you into fight shape.
In order to grow a good work relationship with your partners, you have to respect them. By that, I mean to take your place in the ranks. You’re new to the squad. The guys you’ve trained with have grown an intimate relationship with each other and with the coach. A relationship your don’t already have. There are some things that words, efforts and skills can’t buy. Only time can build trust. A partner you can trust is a partner you know won’t try to get over your head.
In every veteran’s head, there’s a big ring of alarm when the new guy goes up to the coach and asks him: “Can I speak to you in private?” You have ambitions, fine. Every other guy in the room, clad in fighting gear and covered with bruises has too. You want to set your goals? Fine. If you want to progress faster, take some privates and don’t pester the coaching staff with your vision. They are going to sit down and patiently go through whatever you have to say, they will say “mmmm..mmmm” and “sure” a lot. Whatever you say won’t make for that guy who shuts up and train like the devil is chasing him down. Don’t suck up for the coaching staff’s attention.
Around 2003, when I was a puny beginner, Angelo Exarhakos (first head coach at Tristar) told me: “Ben, you’re as good as your sparring partners”. God bless Angelo because he was so right. Ultimately, there’s no lie in mixed martial arts. Everything is solved on the mats or in the cage. Your actions speak for you louder than your words ever will.
Case Study. In 2005, maybe 2006, we had a new guy on the squad. He had no wrestling or jiu-jitsu background, but he was one hell of a kickboxer. Taking his rightful place on the squad wasn’t easy because he could beat up some of the advanced veterans on the squad. He had an impressive set of kicks and a natural knack for takedown defense. He sure bruised some egos at first, but the man let his skills and experience talk for him. You know him. His name is John “The Bull” Makdessi.
Since then, John has grown into a successful professional fighter and an amazing partner to have around. I like John. He’s half-nuts. He’s a walking display of intensity. I have never met somebody with the dedication and the hunger to succeed he has. But John never opens his mouth. He never asked for any attention of the coaches. He landed in the training squad and let the likes of Levis Labrie, Thierry Quenneville, Bruno Lurette, Kenny Florian and even GSP take his skill set to the next level.
A tricky situation is to get better than one of your training partners. When you end up beating up somebody who regularly beat you up for the last few years, the power of the relationship if shifting. Looking down on him like he looked down on you when you first came in is the easy road. When you came with the squad, everybody wanted to know what you were made of. Now that they know, there’s no need for anything to change. Keep respecting your partner. Keep looking up to him like nothing had changed. You might have lost a challenge, but you’ve gained a friend. True friends in mixed martial arts are few and far between. Everybody is so self-centered, break the cycle and you won’t regret it.
Your training squad is your most treasured asset. Love these guys for who they are and stick with them, whatever happens. They are the ones that need to give you special attention. Not the coaches. When a part of a training squad, you will have a set place. This is the place you need to be comfortable with. Learn to love your rank. Yes, you will get beat up by the guys with more skills and experience, but you will get up to speed eventually and rise to the challenge. Also there are new guys that will join the squad and have lesser skills than you. Then you will be able to gauge how far you’ve traveled, by measuring yourself to the new kid. But remember to be kind to him, he’s going through the same challenge you’ve just beaten.
Love your partners. In the end, they are the only thing you’ve got.