Mental Toughness for Combat Athletes

A famous old-time grappler once said that the true test of a wrestler is not what is between his elbow and shoulder, but what is between his ears. Therefore, while you are pouring your energy into countless reps and rounds, it is important not to discount your mental preparation. Concerning this, many neophytes in competitive combat sports believe that working yourself into a mental frenzy is the best way to prepare for a pending event. However, more often than not, the inverse is true. As the former heavyweight boxing champion, Mike Tyson, said, “There’s nothing more deadly or more proficient then a happy fighter. Everybody believes the mean, and the surly fighter is the tough fighter but that is not true. It’s the guy who is most relaxed, and loves what he does, and is happy to be in there doing what he does.” The first step in achieving this level of emotional balance is to recognize whether you are competing for the ‘right’ reasons. You should be fighting because there is, at least, some part of the process that you enjoy. This must be something that you are doing for yourself. If you are competing to make your coach proud or because you want to impress friends or family, move on and find another way to fill your days. Second, if you want to fight, surround yourself with positive people. Find a camp where you are able to work hard, but not at the expense of being able to share an occasional laugh. Adding humor to a hard working training camp can be a crucial component to success. Third, find a quiet escape from the frenzied pace of fight training. Being able to find meditative moments during training is essential for achieving emotional equilibrium. Meditation can take many forms, so it does not have to include incense and chanting. A short walk/hike in nature can quiet the brewing storm in a fighter’s head. MMA pioneer, Erik Paulson, does his meditative practice during his morning bath. Fourth, picture yourself victorious. Including as many details as possible, see yourself at the event with the referee raising your hand. This mental image should be replayed every day. Start training your mind today and the rewards will be knocking on your door tomorrow. Yet, do not let your mental training become a substitute for physical preparation. Too much time focused, exclusively, on mediation and visualization could lead you to an occult group and a Ouija board, rather than competitive success. About the Adam benShea is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Ricardo “Frajinha” Miller (Paragon Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). Adam has won the World, Pan American, and California State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and holds an MA from Indiana University.