8 life lessons we can learn from Mixed Martial Arts

If you haven’t already noticed, I have been pretty involved in mixed martial arts (MMA) lately, mainly following Asia’s largest MMA promotion ONE Fighting Championship (ONE FC) on its multi-city tour to places like Malaysia, Cambodia, Dubai, Taiwan and Indonesia. I have the absolute privilege of being their official photographer and watching some of the finest action in Asian MMA. Through my observations, I discovered I could relate some life lessons to the sport. Here they are:

1) You never know what’s going to hit you.

The beauty (and the challenge) of MMA lies in how you can use any martial art discipline in the cage, be it wrestling, karate, Muay Thai, judo, boxing or more. It can be a Muay Thai champion versus a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioner, or a Kung Fu master versus a wrestling pro. And that is where, the unpredictability increases greatly. Will he throw a kick next? Will he try to do a takedown? It’s harder in MMA – just think about it, in boxing for example, your opponent will only be using the hands.

As Matt Hume, ONE FC Vice President of Operations and founder of AMC Pankration, said, “The strikes that knock people out are those you don’t see coming.” Hence, you never know what’s going to hit you, just like how in life, who knows what’s happening next? Your wife might suddenly be pregnant, you get a promotion at work, your boyfriend proposes to you – life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get!

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2) A split second is all it takes to determine success or failure.

All you need is just one second – “BAM!” you land a punch and knock your opponent out. Take a look at this video of the Top 5 KOs for 2013 and you will see how that one crucial moment can change anything. Likewise in life it only takes one second to make a decision – yes or no – and that choice you made in that split second can potentially change your life forever. You know when you go, “Ok, let’s do it.” or “You know what? Forget it.” – that’s the moment I’m referring to. For example, traders need to make split-second decisions to buy or sell, drivers need to react quickly to sudden situations on the road, or you decide to quit your job or break up with your girlfriend.

3) It’s not about who’s better, but who can perform at the right time.

ONE FC featherweight Major Overall once said in a pre-fight interview, “It’s not about who’s the better fighter, but who fights better that night.” You can prepare all you want, train as hard as you do, but once you get into the cage, it boils down to how well you perform in there – like how athletes have their on- or off-form days. Similarly, you may have prepared for a major presentation at work or school, or prepared to do a huge pitch to a potential client, but however good the presentation deck is, if you can’t deliver it properly and fail to get the point across, you might just lose the opportunity.

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4) No one can help you except yourself.

Fighters have their coaches and team-mates to train with them in the lead-up to the fight, and on the night itself, they have their cornermen to help them by pointing out things they can’t see. In short, the cornermen are the eyes and ears that the fighter is too busy to use. But ultimately, no matter how loud the cornermen shout at you or how well they advise you, it still depends on the fighter to make the action. We have seen situations of fighters refusing to listen to their cornermen and losing the fight as a result. It goes the same for all of us too. We can get advice from various sources, we can look for different people to talk to, but end of the day nobody can help you except yourself.

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5) Someone close to you can become your challenger one day.

It is unlikely that two fighters from the same team go up against each other in the cage, but there is the possibility that one might meet his/her former team-mate, your former coach or a former training partner. For example, at ONE FC: ROAR OF TIGERS in Kuala Lumpur on 17 October, Bashir Ahmad and Tanaphong Khunhankaew, who trained together at the same camp for a couple of months, fought each other. It’s just like how a close friend at work can suddenly be in contention for a position you want, your best friend applied for the same job as you, or you fall for the same girl as your buddy. So, don’t get shocked when it happens and be prepared that someone you once thought you knew might turn out to be a monster. Or, if the relationship is really strong, deal with it without hurting each other. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

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6) Regardless of how much you detest someone, you still have to be professional about it.

Sometimes, the tension between two fighters can become quite thick as things hype up in the lead up to the fight. They may say sh*t things about each other or have an aggressive face-off (not so much the case in Asia though), but once the fight is over, mixed martial artists (especially those in Asia) hold the respect for one another. For example, I often see fighters in ONE FC hug or shake hands after the fight. The defeated one may be feeling sore or upset, but he/she remains professional about it.

You might have a colleague at work that you absolutely detest – one who gets away with everything despite being the most inefficient and most annoying, or one who has the biggest ego ever and refuses to cooperate. You wish he/she will be fired, but that may never happen because they know how to suck up to the boss the right way, or simply does a good job in his role but has the sh*ttiest personality ever. What can you do about it? Complain about him/her? You just have to suck it up and be professional, especially if you work with him/her on the same project(s).

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7) Let your action do the talking.

Some fighters like to thrash talk – they think highly of themselves, they are full of confidence (and themselves), and they seek pleasure in putting down their opponents. Whenever I come across such fighters, I really hope they fight as good as they talk, otherwise it will look really bad on them. Simply put, let the action do the talking. They can talk all they want, but make sure they back them up with their skills. Doesn’t that apply to life too? Don’t over-promise and under-deliver – say what you mean and do it.

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8) Your true colours will show eventually.

MMA veteran Roger Huerta said, “When you are in the cage, it will show who you are. Will you cower and run away or will you give all you got? Are you willing to die in there, go that extra mile, sacrifice yourself and do whatever it takes to get that victory? It’s the place to find out your true self and that’s why I’m in love with it.” Exactly – you can try to fake it till you make it, but there will come a day (or a moment) when you let the façade slip.

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