Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva in his prime was probably the most talented striker the UFC ever had.
This man could do it all: insanely high striking accuracy, pinpoint punches, devastating knees, unreal timing, an amazing ability to bob and weave. When he was on fire he didn’t just beat opponents: he broke them and systematically dismantled them, and left them slumped unconscious on the canvas.
He was the Roy Jones Jr, the Michael Jordan, the Wayne Gretzky of MMA.
So I was very interested when a video appeared on Youtube a few days showing The Spider training with one of my teachers, mentors and inspirations Dan Inosanto (I hope I move half as smoothly as he does when I’m 78 years old…).
When you watch the video you might notice a funny thing. Despite being one of the highest level strikers in the world Anderson looks a bit tentative. He’s not super-crisp as he’s working his way through the techniques. He occasionally screws things up.
I’m not bringing this up to tear Anderson down. In fact it’s the opposite: good on him for trying to learn something new from someone new!!
And if he’s willing to do this and look a bit clumsy in the process then it should be super-inspiring for the rest of us!
In a lifetime spent in the combat sports and martial arts I’ve only run into a couple people who could look at a new technique, do it a couple of times, look great at it and then immediately pull it off in sparring.
These kinaesthetic freaks are the exception, not the rule. They represent a tiny percentage of the population, and we shouldn’t judge ourselves against them.
It’s not like Anderson is learning ballet, gymnastics, or the butterfly stroke in the swimming pool. In the video he’s a striker learning new striking combinations. So in some sense this should already be semi-familiar territory for him.
Now if someone this good at punching, kicking and kneeing has to practice, repeat, and struggle with new striking combinations then what does that mean for the rest of us?
It means that we’re all going to look stupid when we try something new.
It means that when we try to add a new strategy to our game then things are usually going to get worse before they get better.
It means that if you try a new technique on someone your own level it’s probably NOT going to work, and you’re probably gonna to get tapped out.
This is normal and to be expected. It’s OK.
Most of us – including many of the world champions we hold in such high regard – look clumsy and uncoordinated when we’re trying something new. The difference between winners and losers, champions and also-rans is whether they continue on through that initial period of awkwardness, discomfort and self-consciousness and come out the other side.
One of the clumsiest people I ever saw walk into a dojo when I was training Kajukenbo became a certified coordinated bad-ass after a couple of years of hard training. It was amazing to watch his transformation.
It can take years to develop an effective guard pass. At first your only measure of success might be that you got tapped out a few less times trying it than in the previous session.
Bernardo Faria talks about how he can’t learn techniques quickly – yet this year he won the gold medal in both his own 99 kg weight division and the absolute at the Mundials. Not bad for someone who says ‘I’m not talented at all in jiu-jitsu’.
Here’s a little trick to lessen the amount of failure you have to endure when integrating a new technique…
First learn the mechanics of the move and get some repetitions in (just like Anderson is doing in the above video).
But then, when it comes to trying this new technique out in sparring, start out at the BOTTOM of the food chain. Try it on the lightest white belt in the club. When it works consistently on him or her, then move up to the next-heaviest white belt and so on. And when you run out of white belts then go to the lightest blue belt and work your way up from there.
Small successes lead to big successes, so if at technique doesn’t work for you at first then change your expectations. Just try to get a little bit better with it every day. See if you can get go a little further with it before you get shut down. Who knows – it may be become one of your bread and butter moves in a few months.
But the main point is to keep your mind open, and don’t be so self-conscious about screwing up that you never try anything new. Don’t take your initial forays into unfamiliar territory so seriously. Experiment with it. Play with it. Accept the awkward learning stage.
If Anderson Silva can struggle with new striking combinations then it’s OK if you’re having problems with a new Judo takedown or Butterfly Guard into X Guard sweeping combo. Just roll with it.
One of my very favourite quotes of all time comes from the one of the greatest basketball players of all time…
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan
Embrace failure and keep going. It’s just that simple.
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