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Life Lessons from the Martial Arts – Part 2: Don’t get there



MMA, Martial Arts, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC, Jose Aldo

I started Martial Arts back in 2001 (Wing Tsun Kung Fu, Boxing, Muay-Thai, BJJ, Wrestling and Krav Maga) and since then I’ve also watched thousands of MMA fights (Bellator, Pride, Strikeforce, UFC), and I’ve come to learn that Martial Arts has a lot to teach us, not only about how to win fights, but about life itself.

In this article I’m going to share with you some of the greatest lessons from the world of Martial Arts, the UFC, and the Greatest Fighters of all time.

Let’s begin:

Don’t get there

I used to get really annoyed with my BJJ instructor in Australia whenever I’d ask him how to escape a bad position, and he’d always give me his favorite bit of advice:

“Don’t get there!” 

At the time this ‘advice’ really used to annoy me, and as a white belt I thought that it was literally the worst and most unhelpful advice ever.

However, I didn’t realise at the time just how brilliant this advice was.

What my instructor was saying was that it’s often much easier to avoid a bad position or submission, then it is to escape it once you’re there and it’s firmly established. In other words: Prevention is better than cure.

This advice applies to your life too:

  • It’s often easier to avoid a bad situation, than it is to escape it once you’re there
  • It’s easier to avoid putting on weight, than it is to lose it once you’ve gained it
  • The easiest way to get out of a bad contract, is not to sign it in the first place

I’m not saying that all problems are preventable – but most are.

If you can prevent problems before they arise, and/or kill the monster whilst it’s small before things get out of hand, you’ll do yourself a huge favor.

“Prevent problems before they arise.” – Lao Tzu

The fight is won or lost before it is ever fought

“Every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought.” – Sun Tsu, The Art of War

Although anything can happen in a fight, and anyone can win with a “lucky punch”, in reality almost every fight is won or lost before it’s ever fought.

The fight is the easy part. The training is the hard part. It’s the countless hours of sparring and training, the early morning wake ups, the strict diets, the extra hours, extra miles and extra reps – and doing it all consistently. That’s the hard part.

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” – Muhammad Ali

This applies to your life too.

How well you do in anything: a competition, a presentation, a test etc. all depends on how much training and preparation you’ve put in behind the scenes in the lead up to that point.

How much training should you do?

As a rule of thumb: If you’re not over prepared – you’re under prepared. You want to make sure that your training is 10X harder than anything you’ll ever have to face in real life when it counts.

In Martial Arts and the US Army there is a saying “You fight how you train” and it’s true. If you train with intensity, you’ll fight with intensity, but if you’re casual and lazy in training, you’ll be casual and lazy when the fight comes and probably get your ass kicked. Therefore if you want to kick ass in Martial Arts or in life, you’re training and preparation needs to be kick ass.

“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.” – US Army

If the worst case scenario isn’t a problem – nothing is

Smart fighters spend a lot of time in training subjecting themselves to the absolute worst case scenarios they could encounter in a fight. For example: If they’re going to fight a world champion in BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), they’ll practice escaping bad positions and submissions hundreds of times so that if the worst case scenario actually happens, it stops being the worse case scenario, and becomes “no big deal”.

This is a great strategy that you can apply to your life. If you can voluntarily expose yourself to your weaknesses and worst case scenarios over and over again, they’ll soon become ‘no big deal’, and your confidence and skills will grow dramatically.

In other words: You want to work on your weaknesses until they’re not so weak.

What is your worst case scenario?

  • Criticism?
  • Fighting?
  • Heights?
  • Public Speaking?
  • Rejection?

How could you voluntarily expose yourself to it so that it becomes no big deal?

Appearances can be deceiving

One of the first things you learn in Martial Arts, is that it doesn’t matter how big, strong or intimidating someone looks – none of these qualities are determining factors in how tough someone is, or how good of a fighter they are.

Some of the toughest fighters in history sure didn’t look like it.

Fedor Emelianenko, the greatest MMA Heavyweight of all time

Daniel Cormier, the current UFC Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight Champion

Georges St Pierre, the greatest MMA Welterweight Champion of all time

Whilst it’s true that size counts and a good big man will generally beat a good little man (we have weight classes for a reason), you cannot tell who is going to win a fight, simply based on height, muscle, size, strength etc.

It’s the same outside of sports. Appearances can be deceiving.

Does Jeff Bezos look like the richest man in the world? ($145 Billion)

Does Bill Gates look like he is worth $95 Billion?

Does Mark Zuckerberg look like he is worth $80 Billion?

If you didn’t know who these men were, could you tell just by looking at them that they were some of the richest and most powerful men on earth?


Remember this the next time you meet someone new.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Don’t carry around any extra weight or baggage

In saying that, as a fighter you want to have every advantage you can. That means getting down to the lowest possible weight class (where you still feel good) and not carrying around any extra weight.

This principle applies to your life too.

If there is anything dragging you down, holding you back, weighing you down unnecessarily – get rid of it.

What needs to go from your life?

  • Excess body fat?
  • Negative people?
  • People who take more than they give?
  • Time and energy wasters?
  • Unnecessary expenses?

Black belts don’t always know best

When I was learning Wing Tsun Kung Fu back in 2001 as a 21-year-old in New Zealand, I had my doubts about many of the techniques that we were learning. They just seemed so impractical and useless. But I decided to give my teacher the benefit of the doubt since I’d never done Martial Arts before, and he was an expert with 30+ years of experience, and he was so confident in himself and the system.

I had lots of questions about fighting that I was laughed at for even suggesting which turned out to be valid:

“What if the fight goes to the ground?”

“What if there are multiple attackers?”

“What if they don’t do that?”

“What if (insert scenario) happens instead?”

It wasn’t until I left Wing Tsun and started practicing other Martial Arts that I could see that my initial gut feel was right. The reason so many of the techniques seemed so ineffective and useless, was because they were ineffective and useless.

And this is an important point: Just because someone is a black belt or a teacher with 30+ years of experience, that doesn’t mean that they’re always right. Yes, I know that they can beat you up and they’re very confident and sure of themselves, but that still doesn’t mean that their advice is right, or that it’s right for you, or your body type.

The same is true in business and in life. Just because someone has been in business for 30+ years that doesn’t mean that they’re right about everything, or that you should blindly believe everything they have to say. A lot of people have 30+ years of experience doing the wrong things. Experience doesn’t necessarily reflect skill, talent, wisdom, or results. Are they rich? Are they successful?

Listen to your teachers but don’t just blindly believe everything they teach you. Think for yourself and do your own homework and research.

Study your opponent

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu, the Art of War

If you want to defeat your opponent, you need to exploit their weaknesses, and the only way to know what they are, is to watch and study them.

This principle applies to Martial Arts, Sports, Business, and to life.

Who are your greatest competitors?

What do they do better than you?

What can you learn from them?

What ideas, strategies, and techniques can you steal from them?

What are their strengths?

Where are their weaknesses?

How can could you exploit them?

What strategies have been successfully used against them in the past?

Exploit your opponents weaknesses

Once you know what your opponents weaknesses are, it’s time to exploit them.

What are your opponents weaknesses?

Where are they most vulnerable?

Where do they definitely not want to get hit?

What is the last thing they would want you to do?

Exploiting the weaknesses of your competitors is how people make a lot of money in business and investing. Some of the greatest investment opportunities come at the expense of other people e.g. on the day of a stock market crash, or when property prices have plummeted, or when someone is near bankruptcy, or desperate to sell during a recession or depression.

PS: Sometimes your opponents weaknesses aren’t very obvious or apparent. It’s not until they’re put under pressure that you’ll see their weaknesses revealed. If you study them long enough however, their weaknesses will become obvious

Never show weakness to your opponent

No matter how badly you are hurt, never show weakness to your opponent.

When you show weakness to your opponent, it’s like showing blood to a shark, and they’ll immediately go in for the kill and attack it and try to finish you off.

Whereas if you keep your weaknesses hidden, your opponent might not even know about them, which makes it a lot less likely that they’ll exploit them.

The only exception to this rule is if you want to trick your opponent into a false sense of security. Some fighters like to pretend to be hurt or weak when really they’re strong in order to trick their opponents into dropping their guard and opening up so they can counter them.

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” – Sun Tzu

This advice applies to life too.

If you are fearful – act as if you were confident.

If you are desperate for a job – act as if you can have your pick of 10 jobs.

If you are desperate for a date – act as if you have women falling all over you.

If you are desperate to make a deal – act as if you couldn’t care less one way or another.

If you show weakness, people are likely to try to exploit it.

In an emergency – don’t panic

The worst thing you can do in Martial Arts, Sports, Business, or in life, is to panic when you’re under pressure and things aren’t going your way.

Panicking doesn’t help anything, no matter how bad the situation, it just wastes energy that could be better spent improving the situation or getting out of it.

The best way to learn to deal with pressure and stress is to slowly condition yourself to the kinds of situations that make you uncomfortable e.g. competition, confrontation, exams, meetings, public speaking, social situations, sparring etc. the more you face your fears and expose yourself to these kinds of situations, the more comfortable you’re going to be whenever they come up.

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