There’s nothing quite like the sport of mixed martial arts. For those who don’t know what that is, think UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), Georges St-Pierre and Ronda Rousey. Ring a bell now? By definition, mixed martial arts is a full-contact combat sport that combines different forms of martial arts from wrestling to boxing to Muay Thai to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and many more.
For the last two years or so, I’ve been covering MMA. I won’t exactly term myself a “journalist” because I haven’t reached that level where I am going out there to actual events or interviewing fighters in person but I’ve seen my fair share of fights, met media members and spoken to a couple of MMA fighters and personalities. I’ve learned quite a lot these two years.
And now as I transition away from MMA (still covering it but to a lesser extent), it’s time to think back and reflect on the many lessons I learned from this sport. In theory, the idea of watching two grown individuals physically attack each other for money and entertainment may not seem like the best learning experience but you learn a lot. Not only about the business or the sport but about yourself, human nature and the architecture of modern society.
Here are five life lessons I picked up from the covering the sport:
1. Our instincts are in a constant state of conflict. No sport makes you question your character more than MMA. Here we have a highly entertaining sport, which can deliver the utmost exhilaration while simultaneously making you feel like a total turd. You can’t help but enjoy the violence that unfold before you but at the same time remember that the mental and physical well-being of these men and women are being put in jeopardy.
I use the term “instinct” because it’s something that is innate in us. Our instinct to seek pleasure can and will conflict with our instinct to feel pity or sympathy for our neighbours. These are feelings that just happen. And as an MMA fan, you will be dealing with these a lot.
2. The highs are the highest and the lows are the lowest. In MMA, every fight is almost like a championship fight especially considering the money a fighter makes is mostly dependent on how they perform. It’s a stark contrast between winners and losers. The winners not only get extra cash, they also move on with their careers and get the admiration of fans (for the most part). While the losers take a step back and face the jeers of all the Internet tough guys aka the “keyboard warriors”.
Seeing as most MMA fighters are barely just getting by in life, a win or loss affects their careers a lot more significantly than a lost game for a sports team and if you factor in their pride, months of hard work and physical damage, the elation of a victory juxtaposed with the misery of a loss speaks volumes.
3. The mental tends to beat the emotional. The cold calculating individual tends to succeed over the passionate one. This isn’t to suggest that either dichotomy is absent of the opposing factor. The former isn’t a dead husk and the latter isn’t braindead either. But generally speaking, individuals who approach life with a technical perspective tend to accomplish things more successfully than one who is fueled by passion and emotion.
In MMA, this is very evident when we have dominant long-reigning champions like Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva who destroyed their opposition with their cold and exacting approach to fighting. It is rooted to the fundamentals of martial arts. Emotion won’t drive you because it’ll hinder you. In fiction we often see the protagonist overcome the obstacle with sheer force of will. And while that may happen in MMA, it’s mostly the efficient fighter who prevails in the end.
4. Lasting memories are hard to come by in a rapidly moving cycle. At times, life can move so fast it’s like being in a bullet train speeding through everything. All you can make out are glimpses of what appear to be shapes and colours. You can’t really make out what they are.
MMA is a fast-moving sport. It’s a sport for a short attention span generation who were raised on the Internet and are spoiled by the easiness of accumulating information. There is an event every weekend almost from the big promotions. The UFC held more events between 2010 to 2015 than they have between 1993 to 2009. It’s great to have so many events but it comes at the expense of leaving lasting memories. A significant event lasts 24 hours if it’s big enough but it quickly gets buried or shoved to the backseat in favour of a more recent event.
5. There are no immediate truths. If there’s anything that is constant in the world of MMA, it’s the inconsistency. Upsets happen all the time. Just ask 7-1 underdogs, Matt Serra and Holly Holm. All-time greats like Silva fall off the pedestal in shocking fashion. Fabricio Werdum, who just completed a masterful performance to win a UFC championship loses it in amateurish fashion. Fighters look great one fight then completely different the next. Trying to win in gambling here is almost like an exercise in madness because you’re essentially trying to pin down a truth in a sport that has none. Or at least, a truth that is gradually shifting.
Much like in life, you’d like to have the answers to problems but there aren’t any. Yet that won’t stop you from looking for one. You want a solution to solving your relationship problems or to stop yourself from a bad addiction. And there aren’t any. At least not in the short term. You may feel you have things all figured out until something nonsensical happens. Best thing is to just take things and stride and not to consider anything final. Keep an open mind. Immediate results don’t define the truth. At least not in the grand scheme of things.