You’d think a champion in mixed martial arts would have some difficulty reflecting on his success and that he’d be reluctant to share his secrets. The demanding training schedule, the blows to the head, and his training camp’s requirements for secrecy would normally prohibit him from being frank and honest about what makes him great.
Grappling ace Marcelo Garcia is one champion that defies this logic. His site, MGinAction, grants access to all of his lessons and sparring sessions. Garcia’s logic? Nobody knows his game better than he does, and teaching his techniques will force him to refine and perfect them in training when he sees them in competition. Sure, the site makes him a lot of money, but it stands to reason that Garcia is mostly trying to expand his art. The following video proves the effectiveness of his methods. Just look at how he handles fellow ADCC champ and UFC contender Damian Maia!
St. Pierre is another such champion. In The Way of the Fight, he explains many of the things that have led to his success in the UFC. One part autobiography, one part MMA instructional book, one part inspiring self-help manual, GSP reaches out to fans, martial artists, and competitors alike, aspiring to raise his own game.
I knew I would like this book because I’m a big fan, and I always like learning about the lives of my favorite fighters. Much of GSP’s biography is covered by excerpts from interviews with his family and his coaches. He includes his own anecdotes as well, telling about some of the health and confidence issues he had as a kid that drew in the bullies.
He delves into the life of the fighter too, and the rigid routine that dictates when he trains, what he eats, his media appearances, and it reminds us that being a champion certainly isn’t easy! But the book isn’t whiny. It’s clear the St. Pierre loves the niche and lifestyle he has carved for himself, and that being a champion is a natural outgrowth of his evolution as a martial artist. It’s like the difference between being a one-hit wonder and an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; one band wants to get famous and make a few bucks, the other spends decades dedicated to the music.
GSP’s insight as a philosopher and martial artist is what sold me on this book, though. He explains how his style has evolved and how each martial discipline he’s practiced improves his work in The Octagon. What are his favorite things to train right now? Gymnastics workouts and exercises for his feet. Unorthodox or the natural progression for a talented athlete looking to maximize his potential? I think the latter.
He also address critiques of his increasingly conservative fighting style. He explains that some fans are uneducated about MMA and that they only want to see knockouts, but he would like to show off how technical footwork, shooting for takedowns, and exciting the overall ground game can be. He also credits his karate training with teaching him to close distance, feint, and to explode into action.
Actually, he praises karate throughout the book, so you know I enjoyed that!
Maybe my favorite parts of this book include GSP’s reflections on learning. He explains that knowledge is essential to anyone looking to be their best. Unlike how we are taught to learn in school, an active learner–an autodidact–constantly seeks knowledge from different sources, tests that knowledge, and then keeps what works and discards what does not. He extends a metaphor in this regard, depicting himself in a hardware store shopping for items that will make him a better martial artist. It effectively echoes the famous Bruce Lee quote: “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own”, and serves as a good reminder that we are responsible for our own motivation and growth.
He further elaborates on the most important qualities in a mixed martial artist, including his penchant to wax about paleontology:
That’s why “innovate or die” rings true for me. My whole life, I’ve been fascinated by the natural world and how animals survive or become extinct. The study of dinosaurs is especially interesting because those creatures aren’t here anymore, and they were the biggest, fiercest living things on the planet. Meanwhile, rats and cockroaches survive.
How is that? A cockroach can’t defeat a dinosaur. But the cockroach is better at one thing, and it has ensured its survival through the ages: adaptation. One could adapt to the environment and the other one couldn’t.
Most people don’t realize this basic, fundamental and crucial thing, and it’s key for mixed martial arts–and all sports, in fact. Your opponent constantly changes too. In the mixed martial arts world you fight wrestlers, leg lockers, punchers. Every time you fight, your opponent doesn’t look anything like the previous opponent. Taking it a step further, if it’s the second time you fight an opponent, he often doesn’t look like the previous version.
I fight knockout artists, grapplers, kickers, wrestlers, punchers–the whole gamut. I have to keep adapting to new hostile environments because what happens in the octagon is ever-changing. This is ingrained in my mind, and I’ve adapted my training to accept and prepare for it.
I’ve learned that my innovative capacities seem to rise up when there’s a crisis, a conflict. Like losing my title, for example, or hurting my knee badly. Those situations told me I needed to continue my innovation to recapture my title, my place in martial arts. The way I see it, innovation is a discipline, not a lottery. It’s got nothing to do with luck, or even eureka moments, because those are unplanned, unscripted. For me, it comes from the combination of two elements within my control: hard work and open-mindedness.
My one critique of the book is it’s organization: St. Pierre structures the narrative in five parts, each centered on how different people have contributed to his development as a fighter and thinker. However, their contributions often collide with GSP’s own musings; he even completes their sentences, a jarring transition at best. The book also warps back and forth chronologically and can be a little difficult to follow.
And how long will St. Pierre perseverate on the first Matt Serra fight? I guess there’s a reason why I personally don’t compete. I know I couldn’t handle the mental and emotional stress of losing a big match in front of lots of people. Although some of his tales repeat, the honesty about his failures and shortcomings earn even more of my respect for GSP as a martial artist, if not as a author.
All in all, The Way of the Fight is a good read well worth your time. St. Pierre is a marque name for fight fans, but his book serves all curious martial artists well, and those with a passing interest in his life may enjoy his lessons on self improvement and how to succeed in the pursuits of your choosing.
Need to find something to read as we slide into summer? Check out this book and let us know what you think!
PS – Here’s a bonus interview with GSP on the Joe Rogan Experience. There’s some more insight into his life and book, plus some weirdness that you need to see to truly appreciate. Enjoy!