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I ask every athlete and coach these two questions, and I am now going to ask you. First, “In competition, how much of an athlete’s success is attributed to their physical ability and how much is based on the mental aspects that an individual possesses and utilizes?” My question has been confirmed with a variety of statements, 50/50, 30% physical and 70% mental are the usual, yet all will admit that the mental component is critical to a the outcome. I have trained amateur and high-level Pro fighters for decades and I know the kind of ass-busting physical commitment that is required during a training camp to get in “fighting shape”. You work hard to be in peak condition, you work your standup and work your grappling game.
Now here’s my second question. “So, what do you do to train your Mind Game?” At this point most people just stare off searching for an answer. I have the answer! If you aren’t training the mental aspects needed to be the best in competition, you’re at most training at 50% of your potential.
As a teacher and coach of martial arts and martial athletics for over 30 years it is obvious to me that prior to, and during competition the mental aspects that are used by the performer are absolutely as crucial as are the physical qualities.
A Mental Toolbox
In this column I will give you some valuable keys utilized by many of the top athletes in the world and formulated by some of the leading coaches. Let’s start by building a Mental Toolbox, filled with the basic tools necessary to become the fighter or coach that you want to be. Here are the first five tools.
#1 A Belief in Yourself and Your Team– Your beliefs are based on the references you focus on, which in turn support that belief. These references (experiences) can be first hand (personal), second hand (you were told, you read, you saw), or imagined references and can substantiate your empowerment, giving you confidence or create the opposite effect, depending on your mindset. Our mind works by moving us in the direction of what we focus on. Focusing on our losses (what we don’t want) supports the belief that we will lose again and directs us toward all the possibilities surrounding our losses. In contrast, when we focus on our wins, we create a sense of strength through the possibility of continued victory. Our mind always leads us in the direction of our dominant thoughts.
“If you believe, then you have already taken the first step towards your achievement.”
#2 Visualize To Win– See it, then achieve it. Athletes have long used mental imagery prior to an event, just as warriors have before engaging in battle. Did you know that your subconscious mind can‘t really tell the difference between experiencing something vividly in your mind and actually doing it? In fact, the neuro-receptors in your brain respond almost identically. Your thoughts, self-talk and inner visions (visualizations) are electrochemical events that affect your performance on every level. Visualizing is a skill that needs to be honed, just like footwork, throws, positioning, locking and striking. When visualizing, focus on these four keys- Vividness, Frequency, Consistency, and Duration. When using the four strategies for visual success of vividness, frequency, consistency, and duration, you will see amazing results in your overall performance. This may just be the missing key that will unlock your potential and take you to a level you’ve never achieved. When you see yourself performing with intensity and emotion over and over, focused on the outcome you expect, your subconscious accepts that as real. It will be convincingly apparent by your outward confidence that you are completely committed toward your directive, and you will perform as though it were another victory. See it first in your mind’s eye and then achieve it in your LIFE.
#3 There Are Voices In My Head– Did you know that research has found that we talk to ourselves over 50,000 times a day, everyday? That’s nearly 375,000 times a week, 1,500,000 times a month, and 19,500,000 a year. In fact, you’re talking to yourself right now. You’re probably saying something like, “That’s amazing! I didn’t know that ” or “How’s that possible?” Just as you talk to yourself, so does everyone and this “self talk” is many times what directs you in your actions. And despite all the media stimulus shouting out at us constantly, conversations with our coaches, friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances, etc… Guess who we listen to the most attentively? Ourselves! Not only that but, most of what the majority of people say to themselves is negative in context. “This sucks, why’s this always gotta happen to me? God, I hope I don’t get injured before the fight. What’s this knucklehead’s problem? Why can’t I just once get a break?” Sound familiar? This internal dialog goes on both on a cognitive level, as well as subconsciously. So, pay particular attention to your internal voice. Always state things in the Positive, Personal and Present tense. Tell yourself exactly what you want…never what you don’t want! Example: I don’t want to blow this fight. Better Example: I always do the very best I can. I got this one in the bag. I’m in the best shape. I’ve beat this guy!
#4 Never, Never, Ever Give Up– There is a defined procedure to developing what we know as Mental Toughness. Here are four of many, of the mental qualities necessary to be the fighter you want to be. Each of the four qualities will support each other, strengthening your behavior and mindset synergistically.
Emotional Flexibility- Going with what comes. This quality is the ability to make the very best out of every experience and outcome. Being flexible is remaining balanced and resourceful, accepting responsibility for your outcome, rather than being defensive, blaming and rigid. These latter behaviors are a sign of weakness, and are the result of fear-based emotions. Much of this pertains to how you process the experience, your internal dialog and your ability to manage your emotional state.
Emotional Strength- This is all about having a sound belief in yourself and what the outcome will be. To remain emotionally strong means doing so under extreme pressure, to continue to maintain your fighting spirit even under seemingly impossible odds. To harness your greatest strength when the emotional pressure is the utmost, and resist and exert to your full potential in spite of it. Emotional Strength is, in essence, expecting more out of yourself than anyone possibly could.
Emotional Responsiveness- This is the ability to remain engaged and connected with the moment and respond without hesitation. All habits are built through repetition. Your emotional responsiveness will be a product of your habits. Visualizing a successful outcome repeatedly in your mind substantiates your desired result and this familiarizes your subconscious with what you want to achieve over and over. Hesitation often comes from internal conflict in beliefs, emotions and personal values.
Emotional Resiliency- Resiliency is not giving up, bouncing back, staying on track, using that very moment when your actions didn’t give you the results necessary to get the long-term results you desire. Resiliency is the ability to tap into your emotional power, not allowing it to tap you out of your objective. Remember, the key is to not just see your goals, but to feel the emotions connected to achieving your goals and never, never ever give up on your key goal.
“Years ago we hardly had anything to eat. Now I earn more money and I see every opponent as a man that tries to put me back to that poorer period. That man has to be eliminated.”
#5 Take A Personal Inventory– What exactly makes a person perform better? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why one person excels far beyond his or her competitive peers. What winning combination do these “Top Achievers” possess that sets them apart? Why is the margin sometimes so pronounced? Why did Michael Jordan standout? What allowed Gretzsky to dominate on the ice? Why is the name Rickson associated with greatness? What were the qualities that made Ali the seemingly unstoppable champ?
Let’s not stop at sports, there must be one distinct feature that sets the top achievers in every field in a category of excellence that is exponentially unique! I’ve heard some say, it’s genetics. But, is it?
Over 40 years ago, the world famous Martial Arts Master, Bruce Lee studied this same query. Lee was totally obsessed with the question of what made the superior athlete, technician, or warrior. I began reading about Bruce Lee and studying with his protégé Dan Inosanto, over 25 years ago. This is where I first learned about Mixed Martial Arts (Lee was one of the pioneers) and the concept of how to concentrate on improving the defining “Qualities or Attributes” that made someone a top achiever or champion. Really, it is these attributes that create the combination that is superior.
So, what are attributes? Attributes are strengths that attribute to or help make up who you are, sort of like personal assets. In order for us to have a clear distinction of our capability, aptitude and our potential, we need to consider what our areas of strengths and weaknesses may be. So far, I have identified some of our necessary skills in the areas of mental imagery and internal communication. We have also confirmed that our beliefs are in part relevant to our own perception of our strengths and deficiencies. These are some of the elements that contribute to the make up of our identity, of who we are. But, it goes much deeper than that. Our attributes can be both psychological and physical in nature and can be naturally adopted skills and traits, or specifically learned and cultivated. I believe that all attributes can be improved to some degree. It also appears that there are certain attributes that are absolutely crucial, if not critical, for any marked success in given field. When we have that critical combination of attributes, necessary to succeed in our chosen endeavor developed to a level outstanding to that of our competition, we increase our chances for success beyond what we would have ever believed possible!
A study at Harvard University concluded that in every career endeavor there is a set of 5-6 specific skill sets known as Critical Success Factors, that are crucial to the high level success of that challenge. It goes on to say that if one of these CSFs is inefficient, it will bring down the level of the remaining factors. These Critical Success Factors (CSF) are important to recognize in yourself and others, and may hold the key to your personal development potential and a better understanding of your opponent.
So let’s take inventory. First you must identify what qualities the most outstanding people in your chosen field possess that make them outstanding. Now, write these qualities/attributes on a sheet of paper. Identify and write which of these qualities you believe are Critical Success Factors. Next, on a separate sheet draw two columns. At the top of the two columns write Psychological Attributes (focus, perseverance, courage, integrity, clarity, flexibility, confidence, etc.) On one side of the column write Strong, on the other Needs Improvement. Half way down the paper write Physical Attributes (balance, endurance, flow, strength, speed, timing, coordination, etc.) as your second category, with the words Strong and Needs Improvement on either side of the column.
Now investigate your personal qualities and areas of necessary improvement introspectively with absolute honesty. If you have difficulty seeing a clear picture of your list, ask your coach or training partner for input. You are on the way to making some of the most important distinctions for improving your future success and performance that you have ever made in your LIFE!
Now that you know what you possess, strengthen it. Now that you know what needs improvement, change it. The best way to improve something (or strengthen it) is to simply find the activities that most exemplify that skill and do them, as much as possible. Revise the level of intensity and difficulty when necessary as your specific skill evolves. This attribute specific cross training will do more to improve you than you would ever imagine. Don’t believe me! Believe yourself and try it.
Each issue I will help you add another facet to your Mental Toolbox and guide you to develop your Mind Game. I look forward to hearing your results and feedback.
“When it’s all said and done, there’s a lot more said than done!”
-Lou Holtz-World Class Coach
© Copyright 2009 all rights reserved, Kevin Seaman
Kevin Seaman has been involved in martial arts and martial athletics as a practitioner, competitor and trainer for over 35 years. He currently holds eight instructor rank certifications in seven martial arts systems, is a certified boxing coach and performance specialist, having trained thousands of athletes. Seaman currently assists the training of several Pro MMA fighters. He has contributed to several magazines and authored two books. www.thewinningmindset.com
By Raphael Nogueira and Marcelo Dunlop
1. Exercise your ears
“The first rule to perfect your Jiu-Jitsu is to never be deaf to other people’s knowledge,” says Renzo Gracie. “It’s common to see guys who deem themselves professors decline a new teaching, ignoring a pupil who shows something new. To grow better you must understand how people think and how they got to that position. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s up to you to enhance it.” A clear example was a coup with which Gracie surprised Canadian fighter Carlos Newton in the Pride Bushido 1: “I nearly submitted him on the foot lock, in a position a white-belt had taught me. Starting from the tip I perfected and developed the leg attack, from the knee lock to the foot lock.” To Renzo, it doesn’t matter whether the student is a blue-, white-belt, or someone who’s never fought: the moment they show you something, shut your mouth and pay attention. “Even if the move is not efficient, the concept might help your play. When you don’t allow yourself to accept any other form of knowledge, you become a limited professor,” he teaches.
2. Repeat the moves over and over
Leaders of victorious academies in Jiu-Jitsu and MMA, Andre Pederneiras (Nova Uniao) and Sylvio Behring (Winner-Behring) don’t fear being repetitive when they assure that the motto is to persist and persist and then persist some more when it comes to position-training. “Definitely the key is the positions. In judo, the athlete makes 1,000 takedowns on every session. It’s sad to see that in the Jiu-Jitsu milieu people think it’s a waste of time. We repeat the basic positions in the warm up about 5 times before every practice”, says Pederneiras. Master Sylvio corroborates: “Every title we conquered in the last years with Mario Reis and Fabricio Werdum were due to this philosophy: repeating the basics and go through a training fight under supervision, which is the sparring game. One of the athletes executes every type of attack, arm, triangle, and the other tries to defend from the blitz”, says Marcelo Behring’s brother, who demands 90 seconds or a series of 100 repetitions after training. “Thus the athlete reaches exhaustion and lets the movement flow naturally.” After all, as professor Jean Jacques Machado puts it, it’s better to repeat a position a thousand times, working on it for a month, than learning one a day.
3. Look for the best version of the move for you
Master Osvaldo Alves says that up until the nineteen-seventies one only gave and armbar-in-guard by uncrossing and wide-opening the legs. “I realized this coup was vulnerable, for it enabled the opponent to flee and pass the guard easily. So I invented the climbing-armbar,” recalls the red-and-black-belt. As you can see on the image, this armlock version makes it a lot harder for the adversary to escape. “The thing is to not lock the opponent’s arm, but his/her shoulder,” clears up the master, who uses his own calf against the sparring’s shoulder, stopping him from getting up. Summarizing: if you don’t get along with a certain move, try to perfect it, adapt it to your physical and technical traits, always searching new versions for it. That’s what makes Jiu-Jitsu evolve continuously.
4. The best strategy is the attack
“I always try to attack. While I’m on the offensive, my opponent can think of nothing but defending, that is, I’m protected,” Marcelo Garcia teaches. As an example, the Alliance black-belt recalls the time when he didn’t know to keep an open guard. He would cross the legs on the opponent’s back and pray for the time to elapse. “I was afraid of attacking,” he evaluates. After noticing the deficiency Marcelo started uncrossing the feet and practising sweeps. He realised that, if he went right onto the adversary, he’d run a much smaller risk of being submitted than if he played defending, applying but rare counter-strikes. Garcia also realised that, by being the first to attack, he would make his opponents abandon their former plan. If he prolonged the blitz, Marcelo also prolonged this “untouchable” state. But there are those who say that repeated attacks tend to tire the athlete. “What really tires is to hold the fight back the whole time,” Marcelo argues. Notwithstanding, the black-belt gives some advice on physical preparation for those who agree that the best defense is the attack: “Climbing stairs and ramps is the best option for an amazing guard,” he reveals.
5. Don’t forget to enhance your defense
Despite liking the attacking strategy suggested by Marcelo Garcia, Rillion Gracie stresses the importance of training submission-escapes (remembering that the other guy may attack first). “Look at Roger Gracie’s performances in the last World Championship. He suffered fulminating attacks right in the beginning of the battles but was able to defend like a master to then counter-attack,” Rillion recalls. The Gracie Leblon Master says that, while practising defense, the competitor learns exactly what the opponent feels like in situations of adversity. “Learning defense improves the attack. I f the lion knows how the prey can escape, it’ll capture it in a much more precise way,” he ponders. To practise defense in Jiu-Jitsu, Rillion advises the reader into forgetting s/he is strong. “Exercise your patience. Use the weight and the force of the levers,” he explains. “Start practising defense as soon as possible, to awake just as soon the survival instinct in your fighter’s soul.”
Ever since he was a kid, Antonio Schembri has been used to stretching daily. And he never complained, unlike his opponents, whom, in time and practice, he began to submit in the most varied ways. “I’m very flexible, so I always take a strong session before and after training. Some people are stiffer, they don’t like it, but stretching is essential, especially the bottom half, legs, spine and lumbar,” says the Chute Boxe athlete. According to “Elvis,” stretching is vital even for improving the guard. “What I realize in competitions, even black-belts’, is that everybody gets along well on top, but not everyone can keep a good guard. So besides stretching, which improves the de-passing, the athlete must set up a schedule and program himself and persist in training every single variation, butterfly guard, closed guard, with inside hooks… You can’t let the guy cross the knee line, or else you’ll have to pull something out of your ass to stop the guy from passing,” Schembri teaches.
Jean Jacques Machado likes to awake his students’ creativity. The master organizes “lab sessions” during the trainings in the academy where he teaches in Los Angeles. On these moments he shows the classroom a move, asks the students to study it and to present a defense a week later. “There are many ways to get to a goal. I like my pupils to use their creativity and find out new ways to get there,” he evaluates. In other words, Jean doesn’t make his apprentices “move repeaters.” By disseminating experimentalism in his lessons, the black-bellt gives birth to classrooms full of creative and innovating athletes. Leo Vieira likes Jacques’ methodology, but presents another way of making the students open minded: “Look at the kids fighting. Notice how they’re always laughing and jumping around. That’s how I like to fight. Children invent, use unexpected moves that, if adapted to adult Jiu-Jitsu, can be fruitful. Teaching kids is a great source of knowledge to me.”
8. Regularity, always
Also to 1999 ADCC champion Jean Machado, there’s nothing more important than regularity. Not vanishing from the academy is, therefore, essential for the athlete’s evolution – s/he must avoid substituting wasted weeks with overtraining periods. Nearly every one of the gi-superstars knows that by heart, as Pe de Pano Illustrates: “The secret is regularity: training over and over and over. Twice a day if possible. As I began late, I would make it up by going to the academy in the afternoon and at night.” According to him, training regularly leads to evolving and injury-avoiding. “For the fact that you keep training, the body gets used to the effort you make. It was after I began resuming and quitting that I began to have injuries often,” he completes. A partisan to that idea, Vitor Shaolin exemplifies: “Besides training often, you must divide the trainings, understand that there is a little something called resting. So if in the afternoon the practice is slower, take the chance to rest. If your body doesn’t react all that well in the morning but you know that in the morning the training is profitable, wake up earlier to get your body prepared. Practise more heavily at night, but don’t let it go on till too late, for you might go to bed tense, thinking of training – and end up not resting at all.”
9. Respect and reflect
Respect and dedication are utterly necessary to Ricardo de la Riva. “The idea is to arrive with an open mind and to practise with pleasure, and not to simply want to win in the training. You must respect, above all, not only the dojo and the professor, but also your practice-mate, after all you need him/her,” says the master. According to Martin Rooney, the salutation can afford great benefits that sometimes can go by unnoticed. “In all sports, athletes create rituals that push the negative energy away. However, I realise that many Jiu-Jitsu beginners ignore that fact, maybe for seeing martial arts as just a way of defending, a game of win or lose,” he says. Martin refers to the simple and traditional act of bowing. Associated for centuries to martial arts, the act should not be seen as only a demonstration of respect or a sign that the fight has begun. As the American trainer explains, the time to bow is a great opportunity to concentrate. The bow is the moment when the practice begins, so any negative thought or attitude must be left aside – or out of the academy. “A salutation at the end of the practice enables the athlete to go back to his normal life,” he says. “Develop, therefore, a strong mental connection so that your mind is activated by the bow in the beginning. Just as in any sport, if your head is not ready to practise, it’s impossible to learn anything,” Rooney concludes.