Fighting as a path for development

26 Jun

To begin with, we must accept two basic fundamental truths. First, very few people practicing martial arts are going to use fighting as a path for their development. But I will also explain that this may not be as important. Second, most people who end up fighting are NOT going to end up using it as a path for development. These are the challenges in understanding the role of fighting in the larger picture of martial arts practice.

The fight game is a dirty business, with an emphasis on the “business”. A very frequent occurrence is that whoever manages a fighter will get them a string of easy matches to “pad their record”. A record of 7-0 or 10-0 may SEEM like a great record. It may set up a “title fight” and/or “big money”. But do you want your first real test of your training to be the “big fight”?

In my school, when I train people to fight, I do it for one reason only: a path for their development. As not only the coach, but the manager, of course I must protect the fighter. But I also can not just “pad” their record. It is (or SHOULD be) a carefully constructed path by which the student is gradually challenged and forced to develop new skills. Particularly when you are talking about amateur vs. professional, you want to see a fighter have at least one “bad match” where things do not go right. You want to see the fighter keep it together and adjust. Not necessarily WIN mind you, but at the very least adjust. That alone is a HUGE task that most amateurs fail.

In my time training fighters, I frequently got push back because this is the path I took; “slow and steady”. By their very nature, fighters are young people, they see nothing but their strengths, they fail to see their weaknesses, and they are impatient. I’ve had fighters with ONE FIGHT ask about “sponsorship”. I’ve had many ask “when am I fighting for a title”.

The fight game is a dirty business, as I have already said. That is precisely why I am never really that concerned with “title fights”, especially where amateurs are concerned. Ready for the “dirty secret” about “title fights”? There is a fighter, they sell a lot of tickets. They are popular, so not only do they sell tickets to their family, friends and classmates, they attract others. The promoter likes them, maybe is even friends with them. At least 7 out of 10 times, a “title fight” is the promoter setting up a big fight for that popular ticket seller. I mean “set up” exactly as you probably think I mean; finding someone that they know will not likely beat the big tickets seller. Sure, sometimes it doesn’t happen that way (I have PERSONALLY ruined that plan at least three times with my fighters), but usually it does work.

I had a fighter named Miki, from Denmark. He was doing very well in American kickboxing matches for a local promotion. One day, we got the call for a “title fight”. Miki was excited, and said we’d have to train hard. I told him we’d train hard, we always train hard, but I told him that under the circumstances, assume it was going to be a pretty done deal he’d win the title. Miki won the title, he loved the belt, but he agreed afterwards it was the easiest of his fights… go figure.

Now, I always train my fighters hard. I train my amateurs like they are professionals. I’ve had many get mad at me for “holding them back” but for me, it’s a development path. I don’t care about wins and loses. I could easily arrange wins, I even helped promote shows. That was NEVER the plan. I’ve had coaches from other teams tell me in amazement that I agreed to certain hard, maybe even “impossible” matches. But I wasn’t looking for “wins”, I was looking for fighter development. I’ve celebrated with fighters who just lost, because they did their best. And I’ve screamed at fighters who just won, because they “coasted”.

However, I also think this approach is why we’ve also gone out of state, fought on other promoter’s shows, against the promoter’s fighter / favorite, and won. We took the fight knowing, and not caring, about the odds against the “win”. We went to fight.

For those who never want to fight, there are advantages to at least training with fighters and/or in a school that has trained fighters. You are going to get real, tested technique. You are also a lot less likely to fall into some sort of “cult” where propaganda has to replace Truth to build up a shaky foundation.

Finally, I am always amused when people confuse “a trainer of fighters” with a “champion fighter”. I know two of the world’s most accomplished Muay Thai champions who have had gyms in the US in excess of ten years and NEVER produced a high level fighter. Being a successful fighter doesn’t mean you know what it takes to be a successful fighter, or know how to teach those skills to others. Several of the most successful coaches in combat sports don’t exactly look like the current UFC champions, most don’t have particularly impressive fight records, and at least one has NO FIGHTS. If you want someone to train you to be good, the question is not how good the teacher is as a fighter but rather how good is the teacher at teaching others to fight.

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