Inside Answers to The Fighter’s Mind

Sam Sheridan’s 2007 book, A Fighter’s Heart: One Man’s Journey Through the World of Fighting, is required reading for all MMA fans. His 2010 follow-up, The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game, is another mustread as the Harvard graduate unearths the various mindsets of the world’s best combat athletes.

Sheridan never gets bogged down in psychology, rendering his book accessible even to non-fight fans. The lessons handed down from the book’s subjects are fleshed out on their own and by Sheridan, painting a complete picture of the pain and joy it takes to get to the top, stay there, and eventually surrender the crown.

The Fighter’s Mind is like the mind itself: a bit chaotic, but full of imagination, fear, and hope—the desire to discover what we’re fighting for in this or even the next life. Like learning an armbar for the first time, The Fighter’s Mind excites and implores fighters and non-fighter to dig deeper rather than stay comfortable.

FM: What’s the biggest difference between A Fighter’s Heart and The Fighter’s Mind?

SS: To me, what makes Randy [Couture] great isn’t his wrestling. It’s his mental strength, game plans, and ability to put an opponent where he’s uncomfortable. So that was kind of the genius that led me to write A Fighter’s Mind. Some fighters just seem to have stronger mentalities, why was that? What were they doing differently? It came right out of A Fighter’s Heart, but just further down the line.

FM: You talk to fighters about losing in your book. Why did you feel that was important?

SS: You’re never going to like losing, but you have to embrace it and weave it into the understanding of your own game. As Renzo [Gracie] said, ‘I don’t ever remember my victories, but every loss, I never make that mistake again.’ If you lose on a big stage like he’s done, you let [Kazushi] Sakuraba snatch that standing Kimura or whatever it was, you’re never going to make that mistake again, trying to take someone’s back like that, because you’re going to relive that moment and fix it. I think that’s where there’s a lot of overlap. The kind of need to be always growing, always learning—never being static or content with your game.

FM: The book is called The Fighter’s Mind, not The Trainer’s Mind, yet you talk to a bunch of trainers too. Why?

SS: Most trainers have been in the spot that they take their pupils to. I think you need to understand what it’s like to be there. The trainers who put people in danger are the trainers who’ve never competed at that level and don’t really understand. Maybe they technically understand things and can coach somebody through a lot of things, but they might not understand what deep waters are really all about, and their motivations might not be right. Of course, there are major exceptions to this rule. I always admire trainers who will throw in the towel when their fighter takes too much damage, because they’re thinking about their fighter in a different way. Their ego isn’t connected. They’re not trying to live out their dreams through somebody else while not getting hit in the face.

FM: What’s the main message of this book?

SS: I think the message is twofold: one, you should never accept your own limitations as fixed. Maybe you won’t be champ, but you can always stretch personal limits, and you never know how far you might go. Two, always be growing, always be getting better. You only have yourself to blame if you’re not going to commit to something fully. For me, that was the big personal lesson.

My sort of secret hope for the book is that I think it can be read outside the fighting community because I think there’s a lot of stuff from these guys these great fighters that can help you no matter what you’re doing. Everybody is fighting something.

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