Since I’m from Red Sox Nation, it’s tough for me to start a post with the old Yogi Berra quote, “95% of this game is half mental.” His words typically spark a discussion of the demands sports place on the mind and heart, so here goes my take on the subject.
I recently finished The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game by Sam Sheriden. I wasn’t looking for any particular insight into the topic, but I was drawn to read it thanks to the all-star cast of interviews. Sheriden tracked down some legends of combat sports including, Dan Gable, Freddie Roach, Greg Jackson, Renzo Gracie, Marcelo Garcia, and Randy Couture. I figured if these guys have something to say about martial arts, I should listen.
I am not a competitive person; I’ve never fought in a tournament or entered my katas. If someone wants to sub the hell out of me while rolling, fine–I’ll just watch and learn. Even if you argue with me about something I care about, I’ll likely acquiesce. I’m no fighter, but I still got a lot out of this book.
If you’re not into martial arts, you can still appreciate what’s inside. Sheriden includes lessons about mental toughness, goal-setting and focus, overcoming adversity, and the quest for constant improvement. Successful fighters come from myriad backgrounds and have varying motivations. What they all have in common, however, is the desire to challenge themselves and the will to thrive under intense pressure. Reading this book teaches you that self motivation and grace under fire are keys to living a fulfilling life.
One of the most interesting chapters profiled Josh Waitzkin, the now grown child star from Searching for Bobby Fischer? I liked this interview in particular because of their discussion on strategy. Waitzkin, a chess prodigy, left the game when it was no longer fun, began competitive tai chi, and finally landed in Marcelo Garcia’s New York academy. He is well on his way to receiving a black belt and understands the mental game better than anybody. His insight into analyzing an opponent reads like a treatise on how to combine analysis and intuition to better understand human nature. If you ever wanted to know more about what makes your opponents–and yourself–tick, it’s not to be missed.
One last thing I pulled from this book is how fighter’s deal with losing. It’s always tough, but when Frank Shamrock tells Sheriden, “the ego is garbage,” you realize that elite athletes struggle with the same vanities as you me. Everybody loses–even the most talented among us. So, when licking the wounds your opponent–or life–has dealt you, try remembering his mantra.
Either that, or follow Berra’s: “You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.”