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9/18/09 11:57 AM - Quitting

“What can I do to get better?”

Every trainer hears that question like Dan Quinn hears voices. The usual answers are “use less strength when you roll.” Or “do some road work.”  Or “keep your hands up.” All that stuff really doesn’t matter though. Half the people that ask the question are looking for a short cut; what they are really saying is “You don’t have to remember my name as I not going to be here next month.”

The real answer to the question is don’t quit. It is a cliché, but a black belt really is a white belt who never quit.

When a fight gets tough, one of the things I look hardest for as a ref is the moment a guy breaks. It isn’t math, but some aspect of the body or face lets you know the fighter no longer wants to be in the cage; he is not a fighter any more. So I get him out as early as I can thereafter.

I have never been able to define exactly what is it you see. Is it a turning away from the opponent? Some loss of muscle tension? A change of facial expression? I don’t know. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of defining hard core pornography “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”

These days hard core porn would have to involve a horse, and death (thanks for posting that Joe Rogan). But a fighter quitting doesn’t just go back to MMA and boxing, it doesn’t just go back to the Roman Gladiators, it goes back to the first time one living cell tried to destroy  another over some choice molecule  in the primordial soup.

Most fighters fight hard to the bitter end, but maybe 20% or so mentally quit – they want to be somewhere else. Some fighters have never quit. Sakuraba’s clavicle is sticking out like an Aliens facehugger got lost on the way to the stomach, Renzo Gracie’s arm is out of socket like Mr Fantastic, Forrest Griffin cannot remember his own name, and they don’t tap.

I am not blogging this as, to quote Eazy E, a mother f****** role model. I was doing light MMA last week with a kid who has a fight next week and I got tired. My muscles were heavy and getting worse, chest was starting to hurt. I thought of the green kid, thirty pounds less than me, taking me down and punching me in the melon, and that it would be embarrassing. So I quit.

I didn’t stop and go sit down. Instead I fed him an underhook, whizzered, held onto his other glove fingers inside illegally as hard as I have since someone tried to take my favorite Tonka truck at age five. Then I threw cheap shots. What I was supposed to do was keep pummeling, fight to get each other to the wall, throw knees, etc. But instead I quit and held on.

I quit because I was tired, and didn’t want to be embarrassed by a little guy. Vince Lombardi said some stupid things, like “No one is ever hurt.” But he also told the truth and never so much as when he said “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

And that holds the key.

Gameness is one of the prized qualities in fighting. The will to win greater than the will to live. Many qualities in fighting are innate. Punching power is innate. Reach is innate. But gameness is earned, through the degree you push during physical training.

You are going to be doing PT or running or rolling hard in the next week. You will have the choice to ease back or push. If you push, you will get better faster stronger, but much more importantly, you will become just a little more determined, a little gamer. There is nothing more important.

Your success is determined not by the quality of the facility, the level of competitors produced there, or by the knowledge of your trainer. Your success is determined by how hard you work for how long. You may be training in a garage with some wrestling team buddies, and someone else may be at Ultimate Couture in a room with seven UFC fighters, but if you never quit, and he does, you will win.

If it was easy to never quit, everyone would do it. It is not a goal, it is part of a process. It is the process.