The Determining Factor

Determination is the root of victory, and for mixed martial artists it is as essential as air. It gets a fighter through the rough times, and keeps him focused on his goal in the good times. Determination leads to mental and physical toughness, skills, and knowledge.

It gives one the ability to execute the correct decisions that lead to accomplishing one’s goal. This single concept is not only the key to athletic competition, but it is also a vital component to anything tackled in life. The specific achievements of each person’s life, and the skills utilized in accomplishing those achievements vary widely, but determination, or the adherence to the process of achieving the goal, is a virtue common to them all.

To many people, determination is seen as a dramatic passion that pulls a person through unbelievable odds. While this is true, and a very important aspect of determination, a lesser known but equally important attribute is this: determination is the chief method for acquiring skills. Before attempting to accomplish anything, a goal is set. The goal can be as ambitious and precise as becoming a world champion, or as simple as committing to learning a new capability in life. The skills that are needed to achieve a goal can be measured in both the tangible (getting physically stronger or quicker) and the intangible (the ability to not quit).

Look at someone committed to being an elite mixed martial artist. In order to fulfill that goal, determination will motivate him to find a school at which to train. When training begins, he will have to master both simple and complex moves. At the same time, a potential fighter must also begin to build mental toughness. This is a grueling process that can only be undertaken with the power of determination as a driving force.

The process of developing mental toughness is undertaken through physical conditioning and psychological coaching which breaks a man down to the fundamental nucleus of his personality. When the rational mind says to stop, there must be a little place inside that will not quit. This is the determination that keeps him going. After repeating this process many times, a fighter gains the mental strength required for elite competition.

Courage and confidence are essential in martial arts competition and many people think that these qualities are something that a successful person is born with. In fact, courage and confidence are created inside, just like technical skills, physical conditioning, and mental toughness are developed. These character traits, which seem as fundamental as determination, are actually the effects of determination.

Another crucial aspect of martial arts training is balance and consistency in the face of ever-changing circumstances. The successes and failures of elite mixed martial artists are witnessed by peers, fans, and detractors worldwide. When times are tough, discouragement does battle with determination. The embarrassment of a loss, of a fighter letting himself and others down, can stifle the fire that drives him to succeed. The determination to succeed allows a fighter to learn from the loss and keep his passion ignited to try again.

When things are going well on the other hand, the adulation of others becomes intoxicating; people are a distraction. Media, fame, and fans are all drains in a fighter’s time. It’s easy to lose the hunger. Determination maintains focus, like the anchor of a boat in a storm. The waves and wind will rock the boat, but it is held in place by the anchor. Staying anchored in the midst of the distractions and pitfalls of success is a conscious and trainable skill. The adherence to the process of achieving a goal, in other words, determination, is the means by which any athlete can stay both anchored and hungry.

To see the power of determination consider the story of Earnest Shackleton. In 1914 Shackleton, along with a 28 man crew, was attempting to be the first to cross the Antarctic Continent on foot. The expedition failed when their ship, the Endurance, was trapped and eventually crushed by the sea ice. Shackleton and his men had to brave the Antarctic elements with whatever they could salvage from the wreckage. They traveled by three small lifeboats in the most dangerous waters in the world, and found a small, barely habitable island. Still, if they were to survive, some of them would have to go and reach civilization to get help. Shackleton and a few of his men took a lifeboat and made one of the most amazing sea voyages in recorded human history. When they finally reached an inhabited island, the only settlement was a whaling station on the other side. They hiked across rugged terrain and mountains with little food or water. Once civilization was reached, it took several attempts and many months to go back for the stranded crew. Finally, after an ordeal that lasted more than two years, Shackleton managed to rescue his entire crew without one loss of life.

Determination was the seed from which Shackleton’s success as a leader, explorer, and survivor grew. Previous to his adventures on the Endurance, Shackleton had been a crew member on another failed polar expedition led by Sir Robert Scott. On this expedition, Shackleton coped with starvation and scurvy, but he also learned to survive. The experience hardened him and prepared him for what he would face later. His mental toughness, leadership, and heroism during these horrific adventures are no less of examples of acquired expertise than the skills of mountaineering, navigating, and steering the lifeboats. Shackleton’s story is an inspiring example.

There are many great examples of determination found in mixed martial arts. One of these is an early match between Dan Severn and Royce Gracie. Royce had to ride out the storm while being dominated by a bigger and stronger opponent. Gracie’s determination kept him mentally tough and agile, and allowed him to make the right decisions at the right time to secure the victory with a triangle choke.

Another more recent example is Keith Jardine vs. Wilson Gouveia. In this match, Keith came in injured, and was outmatched in the first round and took some heavy shots. Keith’s training and determination allowed him to come off of a bad first round, push the pace, and ultimately take the victory over a very tough Wilson Gouveia.

In instances like these, fighters have a crucial moment in a fi ght, the moment when all hope may be lost, and it seems easier to let the beating stop and quit. In that moment, a fighter has an on/off switch. Determination allows the fighter to flip that switch on, turn the tide of the fight and transform hardship and near defeat into victory and success.

Whether facing a martial arts match or another of life’s challenges, determination is fundamental to success. Determination is the choice made, again and again, to do the hard thing. It is what sets one man apart from the rest, and it is what makes ordinary people accomplish great deeds.

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