This entire post might seem blatantly obvious to some, redundant to others, or perhaps both. But I wanted to elaborate on a comment MMAmania.com resident Ulf Murphy made about Ben Henderson having "inner peace" which allowed him to persevere through submission attempts and eye-crossing punches. The use of that word really made me stop and think. I have always been in awe of how fighters can stay so composed in the face of adversity.
A lot of people would chalk this up to "experience."
While experience certainly helps with staying calm before, during, and after a fight, this cannot always be credited with the "how" of staying composed. A close friend and training partner of mine, during his third fight ever (remember, no amateur circuit in my state, so your first fight is your first pro fight) got hit with a punch so hard his contact flew out and he dropped to the mat. Just as quick as he fell, he bounced back up and took his opponent down, mounted, worked some nice ground strikes and submitted him with a beautiful armbar.
While this friend of mine had extensive training prior to this fight, it was still only his third pro fight. And the guy he fought was much, much better and more experienced than his first two opponents. He was the main event on that card, being a hometown kid. What I’m trying to get at here is he was under a lot of pressure and there were a lot of people there just for him. He could easily have turtled up and let the fight get stopped after he took that shot. But he didn’t. And here’s why: He knew, inside himself, that he was okay and that he had the ability to win. He was at peace with the situation and himself. There was no struggle there, he was "flowing with the go" as opposed to "going with the flow."
Being at peace with whatever situation you’re in makes it much less frightening.
Personally, during my first fight, I had no inner peace. I was injured, one of my corner men had an issue and called me the day of the fight to tell me he couldn’t make it, I had some family problems going on, etc. I was not content with the situation I was in.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t concerned about all the people there in the venue, nor was I concerned with how I would look to anyone (besides my training partners and coaches) if I lost, none of that. I just did not have the ability, within myself, to slow everything down and be at peace with it. I had not given the whole mental aspect of fighting enough consideration at that time and as a result, I got submitted.
This could have been a result of a physical inferiority on my part, but if I was more calm, I very well may have been able to work out of the choke.
Inner peace is one of the intangible aspects of our sport that not everyone has. Look at the recent fight between Efrain Escudero and Charles Oliveira. Escudero tapped to a choke that did not appear to be completely sunk in and was still on the chin. While these are painful, we have seen fighters get out of tighter submissions, or endure submissions for longer before conceding defeat.
Perhaps Efrain (who missed weight for that fight) was not able to be at peace with himself during that fight and when he reached down inside to find the strength to fight off that choke, found nothing. Efrain has made a decent hammer in the past, but as a nail, he has come up short.
Yes, I just used that over-used metaphor.
I’ll do it again: It is easy to be the hammer, it is not easy to be the nail. The hammer is seldom a peaceful tool, yet its job is easy. You will find many people more willing to swing the hammer than hold the nail. However, the nail’s role is much more difficult and important. While the nail takes the abuse, it must remain stationary before, during, and after the work of the hammer is done. The nail is also what holds the structure in place, making sure it is stable and useful for many years to come. The nail must be at peace in order to do its job.
Take Ben Henderson.
During his second WEC fight against Shane Roller, he got rocked early, but was able to maintain his composure and KO Roller. This was his tenth professional fight, which puts him far away from a "noob," but also far away from a "seasoned vet."
Donald Cerrone threw every submission except a flying gogoplota at him and he was able to maintain his state of mind, his sense of peace. He did not panic, he knew what he could withstand, and he did just that. Withstood. "Smooth" played both the Hammer and the Nail in that fight and he played them both extremely well. I feel quite sure he was forced to reach deep down inside, find his comfort zone and float in a void of calm.
When he got out of those submissions, he did not have a huge adrenaline dump afterward, that rush of excitement that goes along with "Hey, I just got out of a real tight submission! I’m invincible! I'm gonna throw caution to the wind since I can’t be stopped!"
Instead, he maintained his state of peace and calmly continued to work his game plan.
Dan Hardy is another good example. Anyone that doesn’t think the arm bar and Kimura that GSP had on him wasn’t deep and painful is crazy. Hardy surviving those submissions is likely due to the training he's done with shaolin monks. I’d be willing to bet he was doing some mental relaxation exercises while his arm was approaching the breaking point. While Hardy is much more experienced than Benson, I have seen more experienced people than him panic during less dangerous situations.
Again, I’ll tie in some of my personal experiences.
During one fight, I was stuck in a standing guillotine for a long period of time. The thought of "Man, this is tight, I’m gonna have to tap or I’m going to pass out" never crossed my mind. Yes, the choke was very tight a few times. I felt the rushing in my ears, saw the lights go dim, but somehow I knew I would be able to get out of the choke.
I wasn’t panicking and gasping for air, flailing my arms. I tried to work a couple of escapes I knew, but was unable to use them effectively for the most part. I remember actually clearing my mind, focusing on trying to draw breath slowly when the choke would periodically loosen up and compared it to being underwater.
I knew I would be able to make it to the surface, I just wasn’t quite sure how far above me the surface was.
It should be noted that I'm not saying people who get submitted or stopped via strikes have no inner peace and don’t know how to handle adversity. Sometimes, you have no choice but to tap and tapping can actually be a result of having strong inner peace, admitting to yourself that you are caught beyond escape and conceding defeat before damage is done to limb or brain.
Of course, good technique and general toughness come into play when talking about getting out of submissions or working through a powerful strike that landed on you. This was more of my own thoughts scribbled down on paper because I've always wanted to put a label on the intangible quality that some of these relative newbies have that allows them to maintain such composure.
Now, I have one: Inner peace.