Are You a Fighter?
So you want to be a fighter? What does it mean to be a fighter?
A lot of people equate martial arts with fighting. “Oh, you do martial arts? So you’re a fighter, right?” Being a fighter is not about your ability to throw a kick or take a punch. Being able to fight does not make you a fighter. In my opinion, a fighter is someone who is able to enter the warrior mindset.
So what is the warrior mindset? A look at one of the most iconic warrior cultures may lend some answers.
“Come back with your shield, or on it,” the parting cry of Spartan mothers sending their sons to war. This exemplifies warrior culture. Victory or death. Victors returned from war with their shields, the dead were carried home on their shields, and the cowards who fled from battle would return home without their shields. Mothers whose sons died in battle rejoiced; mothers of the survivors hung their heads in shame. To fall in battle was glorious.
In our modern civilized culture, this literal “victory or death” stance seems pretty barbaric, but this is the kind of warrior mindset you must be able to enter if you really want to be a fighter. For those 3 rounds, the world around you must cease to exist, you must become “the warrior”. Work, religion, friends, family, politics, hobbies, and whatever else your life consists of must fade away for those three rounds. You must embrace the war. The ring or cage is your battlefield, and you have a highly trained fighter across from you who is trying their best to impose their will on you, throw you to the ground, smash your face with their gloved fists, and crush your ribs with kicks. There are obviously referees and rules, but these same techniques applied with the same intensity on an actual battlefield would mean certain death. There are no standing 8 counts in war.
So who in their right minds would ever want to be a fighter? There are a lot of reasons that people choose to fight. Some people want to test their abilities as martial artists, some people just want to get in there and see what happens to see what it feels like, for some people it’s their job, some people just plain love fighting. Regardless of what your reasons are, for those 3 rounds, you must become the warrior. You don’t have to adopt the austere Spartan lifestyle, you don’t have to renounce all your worldly pleasures, but when it comes to fight time, you must be able to become the warrior, and that is not as easy as it sounds.
The warrior, in its purest form, is freed from all other worldly forces. You are not bound by anger or resentment towards the past, you are not weighed down by fear of the future, you are not defined by past mistakes, you are not judged for your appearance. All external pressures fade away. While you are in that ring, you are the personification of combat. You are an artist, expressing your will through the martial techniques you’ve drilled thousands of times. Your opponent responds by expressing their will, trying to impose it on you, and this leads to the dance of combat. Feints, mind games, the cat-and-mouse high-speed chess match that is fighting. Whether your will is to hit and not get hit, to take your opponent down, to chop down their legs, to break their body, or to walk them into a counter-attack, the fight is your countless hours of training come to fruition. But beyond all the moves, techniques, and mind-games, the bottom line is a fight is a clash of wills.
"...you must be able to become the warrior, and that is not as easy as it sounds."
I’ve said it countless times, “Once your cardio goes, your technique goes.” Once you’re exhausted, you can barely put your hands up to defend yourself, let alone engage in a high-speed chess match. Whatever techniques you may have practiced all go out the window the moment your cardio fails you. So this might seem like cardio is the most important aspect of fighting, but the truth is, there is something even more important than your cardio, and that’s your heart. I don’t mean this in the literal sense as in the organ in your chest that plays a large part in your cardio-respiratory system. I mean your will to fight. If fighting is a clash of wills, and you don’t have the heart to fight, you don’t have a will. You don’t have a will to impose. You are no longer in the fight. You are no longer the warrior.
The hard part is: I can’t teach heart. You can’t train heart. You either have it, or you don’t. If you don’t have it, my recommendation is that you shouldn’t fight. You can continue training martial arts, honing your craft, sparring in the gym, expressing yourself through your martial techniques, continue doing all the things you love to do, but you don’t need to fight. You are not a fighter, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.