Meditation and mental training in Combat Sports

 October 17, 2011

To those of your who practice truly traditional martial arts, meditation as part of training is nothing new to you. Most of you either start or end your classes at your dojo with meditation. Those of you on the combat sports side of martial arts may have never even thought about meditating.

Meditation for most of us goes against the grain of who we are as Americans. We go to yoga to stretch and get flexibility, not to achieve enlightenment. While you are off contemplating your navel, I’ll be lifting some weights! Lets see who wins now! heh! Or we feel like we are going to be sucked into some sort of pseudo religious craziness, and that isn’t what we signed on for.

That said, no one seems to have a problem with all the odd mental crutches we use to fight our best. This is something alot of traditional martial artists might not have had to deal with, the stress of fighting. Knowing that there is another human being who has trained and pushed him/herself for the chance to hurt you is difficult on the mind. Now bring in the crowd. Hundreds of yelling people all watching you…judging you. Then there’s your team, they might be your teacher, your friends, your family, the people who’s opinion of you matters most. All of these people are waiting for you to walk out and…screw things up. No stress (tries to control facial tick), so we have our lucky gi, or our shorts, or even that groin cup that we wear every time we win. We’ll be ok if we have it, right?

These crutches are the wierd childish way we have of coping with the stress. No matter how prepared you are, going into a fight with your brain in a knot will make you loose every time. Great fighters like GSP, Rich Franklin, and Keith Jardine hired a sports psychologist (Brian Cain) to help them with their mental training. For those of us who don’t have sponsors paying for things, we have meditation.

The Samurai were admonished to meditate every morning on every possible way they could die that day, that way if they did indeed meet some misfortune, they would already have thought about how to act, what to say, etc. George St Pierre explained his point of view now that he has gotten his head together like this, “…there are so many things out of my control in a fight- where the opponent moves, how the opponent reacts, calls made by a referee, etc. Rather than focus on things out of control, focus on my preparation before the fight which trains him to instinctively respond to as many of the different situations as possible.” Sounds similar, take a few minutes each day and visualize what you will do in different situations. Most of the time in a fight, things happen outside of your control, so prepare yourself mentally for that. Control the only thing you have a handle on, your own response. What will you do if he turns out to be faster than you thought? What if you end up on the ground with your opponent on top? What will you do if you loose? Going to act like an idiot and really shame yourself? Take a few moments each day to close your eyes and give yourself a good going over. You’ll find that you’ll be calmer facing a fight if you got your self doubt out before you step onto the mats or into the ring. GSP summed it up nicely “I’m not the strongest guy in the world. I’m also not the best wrestler. I’m not the best submission specialist or the best striker either. But on the night of the fight because of the way I’ve prepared (he began to point to his head), up here, I am the best in the world.”

So there you go. Its not some crazy hippy new-age dogma disguised as martial arts, its the finishing touch to make sure you get the chance to use what you have been training all this time.