Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Turning My Focus Away from the MMA Ring

Ok, it's time to face facts. I've started to turn away from the idea of getting into professional MMA fighting. Part of it has been life getting in the way. In the last 8 months, I've opened my dojo at a new location, I did special abilities extra work for 2 different movies (very time consuming). I sold my apartment and had to move out and live out of suitcases at a friend's place for a month. I bought and moved into a new house. I brought 2 cats into my life. I started a new full-time job in which I have a supervisory role.

Needless to say, these things kept me a little distracted.

Now that the distractions are starting to calm down and I'll soon be able to devote more time to training beyond that which I do in my own dojo. But I find myself wondering if pro MMA is where I want to focus my efforts.

Don't get me wrong. I love the martial arts training aspect. I love hitting pads. I love grappling. I love sparring. I am happy to do martial arts training several hours a day, most days of my week. But there are 3 aspects about professional fighting that make me hesitant to recommit.

First of all, I committed myself to a rigorous MMA training program for nearly 2 years with a coach/manager pushing my development, first Mark, then Louis. I was told of many instances where fights were being negotiated for me, but nothing ever materialized. There were numerous false starts when I was told that a fight would happen, but didn't back when Mark was my coach/manager. And after so many disappointments I found it harder and harder to throw my heart into my training.

Secondly, I found that the huge amount of time that I had to devote to conditioning, both strength and cardio training, was much more than the time I spent training in martial arts techniques. While I do believe that everyone should have a good base level of fitness and should spend some time doing conditioning, I personally would rather spend that time developing my technical abilities in the martial arts. In the ring, you are preparing to fight against someone that is the same size as you, so with conditioning, you are trying to get every advantage you can get. In a real street defense situation, you don't have the luxury of choosing your opponent. Attackers usually choose to attack you because they think they're bigger or stronger than you.

No matter how much you condition yourself, there will always be a bigger, stronger attacker willing to take you on. Particularly so in my case, being a woman of small stature. Furthermore, as one gets older, the body inevitably gets weaker, no matter how much a person trains. Technique is the only thing that can stay with you no matter what. It makes sense to make technical development a top priority.

To me, ultimately, the martial arts are not limited to the context of the ring in which you face only a single, unarmed opponent of a similar size within a set of rules designed for the fighters' protection. In a true street defense situation, there are no rules or limitations other than what you place on yourself, so you have to train for the many possibilities that can put you at a disadvantage.

Lastly, I am first and foremost a martial artist, as opposed to a fighter. For me it's about personal discovery and development, not the desire to inflict violence on another person. I've been told time and time again by various martial arts mentors that when you get into the ring, you cannot hold back, you have to fight with everything you've got. I am no stranger to this mentality, but in my 16 years of training, I've come to fundamentally believe that the only place for this mentality is a true street defense situation.

I see MMA as a sport and wouldn't truly want to injure an opponent in taking part. In a street defense situation, my rights are being violated, I'm likely going against a much bigger, stronger man, and there are no limits to the potential dangers that could arise. It make more sense not to hold back when someone is not holding back with you and has advantages over you to boot. I think that if I won an MMA fight against another woman by knocking her senseless or injuring her in some way, I would feel bad about it afterward. And I'm told you can't really afford to have compassion when you get into the ring.

This is not to say that I see no value in MMA training. I love what I've learned from my experiences and I will keep training in it. There is real practical application in what I've learned and I've found a place for it in what I teach in my own dojo.

As for entering the ring myself, I won't be actively seeking it out. I think it would be an interesting experience and if the opportunity presented itself, I might take it. Despite all my misgivings, part of me is still curious to do it. But I don't want to throw myself into a heavy conditioning program unless I have something specific I'm training for. I will simply train for the love and take things as they come.


John W. Zimmer said...

Hi Lori,

A lot to think about... back in the day I was trying to think of the next step after owning a karate school and started training for full-contact karate.

After 6 months of being a sore (literally, I would warm up to the point I could workout again, just to do it over the next day), I had to shift my focus to making money for my new family.

I just refocused on building a career and raising my family. That I have accomplished and I've never looked back.

You sound like you are thinking things through just fine. One cannot sweat refocusing goals with more data, so the direction makes sense within the context of one's life.

Anonymous said...

Two years of serious work-outs and hard training, basically for nothing, is a long time to stay motivated and pumped up. I don’t think you could blame yourself if you gave up the idea permanently: your reasons are very plausible and it’s your decision and your life after all. You have a lot going on at the moment, it makes sense to prioritize and as you said you’re not getting any younger. There’s a time and a place for everything and it’s perfectly possible to be a legitimate, serious martial-artist without participating in competition or actively seeking out fights (legally or otherwise), perhaps even more so since martial-sports and martial-arts are two completely different things and the original goal of the MA has always been survival and self-protection not winning trophies or strengthening the ego. I’ve got nothing against sports-karate or kickboxing or MMA but my goal has always been self-defense and personal/spiritual growth and in my view the two are mutually exclusive to some degree: either you focus on sports and you leave out the majority of truly dangerous techniques (how you train is how you fight and breaking someone’s knee in the ring will make for a very short career) or you prefer self-defense and traditional training (favouring technique over conditioning) and you dispense with the sporting aspect (like jumping a guy and grappling him into submission on the ground or scoring points and retreating) which could be a serious liability on the street. What looks good and works in a regulated sports-context is not necessarily what’ll make you survive a real-life confrontation and a lot of the techniques used in the ring violate the rule of maximum effectiveness, protection and efficiency (the maximum result with the least amount of effort) established in order to defeat the stronger and heavier opponents you’re likely to face in a street-fight.

You made some very sound remarks on conditioning: while it is very necessary for every martial-artist to exercise and condition his body – your body is what you work with and you need to keep it in optimum condition – it’s also a fact conditioning will only get you so far and what you can achieve in terms of development of strength and other attributes is very limited by your body-type, age, genes and general health. Ultimately skill is fundamental in winning fights (Bruce Lee could hit harder than someone twice his weight, conditioned, thought-out responses to attacks will always be more efficient than natural, fear-induced reactions) and while I don’t dispute strength, size and other physical aspects are also important factors skill and technical proficiency, as well as mental toughness, certainly offer the best chance of winning. Skill can be developed and nurtured to a great degree and progress is within your own control (will, motivation, the love for the art), not limited by fixed boundaries impossible to change. With sustained training one gets better with age although strength, health and general fitness will inevitably decline. This is why masters and grandmasters aged 60, 70 or even older are able to beat much younger opponents, even trained ones. I’ve heard a story, an event witnessed by my old sensei while training in Japan, about an old man (close to 90) who challenged a young karateka (then 2e dan, in his early twenties with loads of competition-experience and titles) and consistently threw him around the dojo, seemingly without any effort at all. The guy turned out to be one of Tanemura’s old teachers and it’s a testimony to what a lifetime of dedicated training can achieve: although the guy could barely stand without a cane he could foresee his opponent’s every move and while he was much weaker and slower physically he always managed to beat him to the punch. If invincibility really exists that must be it. …

Anonymous said...

In closing: basic strength-exercises should always be part of training as well as cardio and stretching (both to be able to take damage and dish it out while maintaining constant movement and vigilance) it’s still only supplementary exercise (hojo-undo) and can never take the place of technical and proper MA-training. As to your goals: fame is fleeting but true merit stays forever. Being a good sensei and producing good students is an extremely worthy and worthwhile pursuit and defeating oneself (one’s weaknesses, insecurities, fears and selfishness) has much more value than defeating others: “Those who defeat others are powerful, those who subdue themselves are said to be wise” (Lao-tze). Fighters are easily forgotten but you’ll always remember the guy who taught you what you know and knowledge is an invaluable gift, hence you can never have too much respect for your teachers and the line of masters and grandmasters stretching all the way back to the beginning. In combat you rely on what you know and what is ingrained into your body, not on raw strength or physical ability and in extreme cases the knowledge your instructor gave you could very well be the difference between life and death. In the old chronicles it is said the Way (Bushido) is found in this.

I wish you good luck in your pursuits and I hope you’ll continue to provide us with your insights and petites-histoires regarding the martial-arts, as you know I enjoy reading your blog and I’ve come to appreciate our little discussions. Although we don’t always agree (life would become pretty dull if everyone just agreed with each other) there’s always something to ponder and another’s experience is a great source of learning. Especially if he, or in this case she, happens to be in possession of a keen mind, a sense of humour and expertise on the subject.


Lori O'Connell said...

Thank you all for your support. :) This blog has been very rewarding for me in my development as a martial artist. It constantly reminds me of the things that I love about the martial arts. It has given me a community of like-minded martial artists with whom I can share, discuss and challenge ideas. And I have come to think of you, my readers, as my friends on my path of personal discovery in the martial arts. Thanks for reading and contributing!

markstraining.com said...

It does seem like you have been thinking hard latley. The best advice that I heard when I felt the same was to to train martial arts. Dont concentrate on just one aspect (eg. competition, losing weightg, beating someone is sparring) but just train, always thinking about ways to improve your own game. if pro MMA is the way you are meant to go, then eventually it will happen. Just concentrate on training. I have seen so many people get so hooked on trying to make it as a pro that they actually end up hating all martial arts altogether. I dont think I have been much help here lol. sorry. Good luck though