From the zoo to the wild
Every time you push yourself a little harder, every time you make the rounds a little longer and increase the pressure in training, you take yourself from a “familiar zone” to a completely new one, one that requires more attention and more work, one that is unpredictable and a lot less comfortable. It is then that you take yourself from a comfortable zoo, to the wild.
Whatever level you are on right now, whether you are fighting for the most prestigious promotion on the planet or whether you have not yet had your debut fight, you will always need to improve. MMA is a relatively new sport and athletes get better and better with each show. Whether you are climbing the rankings or defending your title, you must continue to improve in order to keep up with this ever-evolving sport. When you train, you will not grow unless you put yourself in positions where you feel uncomfortable, very uncomfortable. If you do not stretch yourself, if you complete your training sessions finding them easy, you are not growing, you are not improving. This is fine at times; for example, you do not want to stretch yourself on fight-week, or after an injury and on many other occasions and that is fine. But know that as you raise the bar, as you go up in ranking, as you aim at bigger goals, your game must change, your skills must improve and your training must get smarter and tougher for you to achieve these goals – both physically and mentally.
So be ready to go through spells of pain, feeling uncomfortable, finding yourself struggling in training. This can make many feel as if they are getting worse, as if the skills are decreasing instead of improving but it is in fact the opposite. Think about lifting weights; out of 10 repetitions with heavy weights doing crawls, which of the 10 reps is the hardest one? The 10th you may say right? Correct! Which is the one that makes you grow more? It is not the 10th but the 11th! When you push yourself out of your comfort zone, be prepared to feel uncomfortable, that’s okay, that’s why they call it “out of your comfort zone”. But that is when you grow!
When I resumed my training after the ACL surgery, I went from being an overweight, rusty and in-pain 36 year-old coming back from a 12 months lay off, to sparring and rolling with pro-fighters of international calibre without being ran over and actually getting some good rounds in. Most of the guys of the intermediate level were no longer as challenging as they used to be for me; I’d raised the bar!!! But to get there I suffered, I pushed and pushed to the point where I felt broken, almost as if I wasn’t really improving but regressing. One day, almost by coincidence, I attended a session with the intermediate level and it was only then that I realised how far I had come.
One of the most indicative evidences that you have taken your skills to a different, higher level, is when you find yourself rolling or sparring with someone who was once at your level and now they simple aren’t challenging enough for you. Unless they come from long time outs, they have not degraded, you have evolved and that is because you pushed yourself and they haven’t – it is that simple. Episodes like this can make us realise how much we have improved and therefore give meaning to all the hard times we had to go through. So, sometimes, stop for a moment and ask yourself: “how far did I progress since I began this process?, How far did I progress since six months ago? And how far did I progress even since last week”. It is important to realise your progress and fuel that desire to do even better.