In the previous part of “Respect in the Mixed Martial Arts“, I focused mainly on the negative side, the lack of respect many MMA fighters show and why it hurts their progress. But there are many more reasons why giving respect, bowing or saluting are important. Here are some of them:
- Safety. When you train full contact, there’s always the chance of something going wrong because fighting is inherently dangerous. In training, you sometimes need to crank up the intensity but the goal is simulating your upcoming fight and not injuring your sparring partners. Bowing or saluting both before and after each round/exercise/whatever is a way to avoid those injuries. It clearly defines when you can both start throwing techniques and when you both agree to stop. This makes it a powerful safety protocol. Think of it like wearing your seat belt in a car or a helmet when you walk around on a construction site: it doesn’t mean nothing can happen to you; it means the odds of you getting seriously messed up go down a bit.
- Keep your ego in check. This relates to the previous bullet: when you train with hard contact, tempers easily flare. You might think the other guy is hitting way too hard for the drill you’re doing or he might think you’re messing it up on purpose and are trying to hurt him. Either way, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, crank it up a notch and turn things into a real fight. Touching gloves or bowing before you begin reminds you why you’re there: to learn and increase your skill. Both goals require you to keep your ego in check. Showing respect helps you do just that and in turn helps you train better.
- Focus. A key component of winning a fight is the mental game, your mindset. Even if you’re the strongest, fastest guy around, you can still lose if your head isn’t screwed on right. Your ability to focus and concentrate is therefor one of the most important things you have to train. A practical and easy way to do that is saluting your training partner at the beginning and end of the round/drill. You can make the physical act of touching gloves, slapping a high five or bowing your head a powerful mental trigger. One that helps you focus entirely on the task at hand and drive out all other thoughts, worries or concerns: as you salute, you narrow the world down to just you and your partner. As with all worthwhile skills, you need to train this hard before it actually works. Saluting or bowing every time gives you plenty of opportunity to practice…
- It keeps you human. I know this sounds weird but bear with me. Non-teamsport athletes are some of the most egocentric people in the world; I know because I used to be one. When you compete, everything is about you: your training, your upcoming fight, your season, your recuperation, you, you, you. Living like that for years on end can easily turn you into a selfish bastard, one who uses his career and fights as an excuse to do as he pleases in all other aspects of his life and therefor treats his loved ones unfairly. I wasn’t as bad as some guys I knew but, once again, I speak from bitter experience. You become so used to everything being organized around your person that you take it for granted. Do that long enough and you turn into an asshole. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a flaming asshole (“Too late!” some people will say. :-)). Showing respect to other fighters and your trainer is a way to stay humble and human. It reminds you you’re not the only one who matters in this world.
There are even more reasons than that but I don’t want to dwell on it. You get the point.
Before I go on, some other thoughts:
- This is always work in progress. We’re all only human. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
- MMA has become so big it pays to be a “bad boy”. Bad boy = media attention = bigger pay day. Tito Ortiz made a career out of it but like Eric said, in person he’s not like that. In other sports, you see this too, competitors making themselves hot property for the media to follow them more than others. The main thing it aims to do is increase their marketability. If you look at the merchandising and marketing contracts they can get that way, you’ll see why some take that route. Not every fighter does so, but it sure does work.
Here are some examples of fighters who do get that you don’t have to be a low-life to be a great fighter:
- Cro Cop tips his hat to Randy Couture. It shows class and respect. Here he stands up for Minotauro after journalists talk shit about the man. You have to watch it on Youtube or the translation won’t work.
- Musashi was never the greatest fighter in the K1 circuit. In fact, he had almost as many losses as he had wins. But he stuck it out for 14 years; even though he got KOed numerous times, including by Lebanner. This was his retirement fight and he did better than he had in a long time. Lebanner shows a ton of respect at 4min30; honoring his opponent for his career and warrior spirit in their last fight ever. You can clearly see Musashi becomes extremely emotional then.
There are many, many more such examples so don’t go thinking all MMA fighters are a bunch of thugs. Some are, some aren’t. The question is, do you want to be known as one or not?