I always had this philosophy that participating in competition should be a byproduct of good work ethic and a sound fitness based lifestyle. It shouldn't be the sole reason of practicing martial arts and in this case Muay Thai kickboxing. They say success is a habit. And that's what I saw in our team at Combat Fitness' Spring Smoker in Concord last month.
When the announcement came out about the smoker in Concord on March 26, it was business as usual for our Brenden Hart, Cam Beliso, Greg Wegman and AJ Fernandez. These four consistently come to practice and take full advantage of our academy, taking Jiu jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai and Fit Camp to round out their strength and conditioning. It wasn't a "who wants to compete on March 26!?" Rather it was a "who is available on March 26?" There shouldn't be any extra credence for competition I believe. Because if you're training like you're supposed to, staying in good condition like you're supposed to, maintaining your weight like you're supposed to, you should always be ready to go. That's a fighters creed of sorts.
So after the particulars were set, weight, times, physicals etc., it was normal training for the next few weeks. They would come to class regularly, learning fight IQ, sharpening their offenses and defenses, and ramping up their strength and conditioning in fit camp to get ready for the vigor of their bout. They all came to sparring on Fridays, usually a tough night to make it in for any normal teenager or twenty something year old. But that's the culture we want to form within our team. A culture of success, sacrifice and dedication.
In the last week of training, the most tense of weeks leading up to the event, we did not go through specific game planning as I normally do for my amateur fighters. Instead, I let each one of those guys take control of their own ship as we embarked on "mental training". I allowed them to tap into their own minds and visually plan the way they wanted their bout to go. They shadow boxed most of this week, playing out scenario after scenario in their mind. They fixed problems that they thought were going to arise. What's most amazing during this process is that they developed a sound game plan to an opponent that they knew absolutely zero about. This is what winners do. They have a plan. They have the utmost confidence in that plan. They believe in that plan. And they'll do whatever it takes to carry out that plan. It's what I explain to them as Manifest Destiny. A phrase commonly used for thinking and living a vision and making it a reality. When I was 17 years old, after my first amateur bout, which I lost, I hung a heavy bag I bought in my garage. On that heavy bag, I took a sharpie and autographed it "Mark Tabuso United States Lightweight Champion". Two years later I won it. (But that's another story for another time). That was my Manifest Destiny.
March 26 came soon enough and after lunch that day, it was Cam up first. To our surprise, the state commissioner stated that his bout was going to be two rounds instead of three as he is a "junior fighter" at 17 years old. We had planned to go three rounds so there was a bit of urgency and disappointment about not being able to go three rounds going into the bout. From the first bell, Cam took control. He unleashed his speed with his hands and feet and worked his way inside to attack with a barrage of knees alongside a strong clinch game that his opponent could not control. More of the same in the second round and in the final seconds, Cam lands a clean outside knee to his opponent's sternum forcing a stoppage. Turns out we did not need the third round after all.
Next up, AJ. AJ comes into the smoker with 4 losses on his amateur record. Always a great warrior spirit, AJ is always looking for more action. AJ is always calm and collected. Sometimes he's a little bit too calm and collected for my taste. So for this bout and going forward, we wanted to be a bit more aggressive on the offensive AND defensive side. He did just that. His punches were crisp and his defense verses the kicks were almost perfect. He went three rounds against an experienced competitor and performed like he belonged there.
Greg Wegman came into this smoker as a last minute replacement. He originally wasn't scheduled to fight up until two weeks before the bout. He's always game and we agreed to the bout. The problem with being a last minute replacement is that it is a good bet that his opponent has been training and refining hard for a few weeks now. But Greg comes into classes regularly so I wasn't worried, and neither was he. His opponent turned out to be taller than Greg with an obvious reach advantage. He also was from the hosting academy so we had the crowd against us too. It wasn't a problem as Greg shot out the gate with an awesome first round. It was actually "too" awesome as he set up his opponent very well with low body shots that led to clean head shots. As this is a smoker and not an actual amateur bout, safety, as well as fighter development is the number one concern. In between rounds, the commission advised us to lighten up his attacks because of Greg's display of ring generalship and striking IQ. We didn't want a quick finish and valued the work more so I told Greg to "use his brain" for the next round and try different things. I wanted Greg to discover concepts and techniques that he may not be akin to, but is more than ready to use. He and his opponent went three rounds and had a ton of fun.
Brenden went last amongst the team. He is scheduled to make his amateur debut sometime this year. He has been training with our team now for quite sometime and has amassed quite a few smokers under his belt. He is ready to turn to the amateur ranks but first we had to see how his performance was for this smoker. He went up against a strong local team with a great track record so we didn't want to take anything lightly. Brenden did what Brenden does. He came out aggressive with an all around game. Kicks, punches and a great clinch attack. After pitching a shutout in the first round, his opponent did not answer the bell and the bout was called off. Good job Brenden.
The greatest takeaway from this experience was in our preparation for this bout. Our all so important, but often overlooked by most, aspect of mental training. Sometimes people get so caught up in the middle of their physical training that they fail to look at the mental and spiritual side of training. You have to use you mind to imagine your moves and techniques and act them out in your brain as much as we act them out physically. It's not as easy as one might think,and when it's hard, that's where you have to have the discipline to imagine and re-imagine a better outcome. You have to think and act like a winner before you can be one. You have to appreciate the tools that you do have and stop worrying about the tools that your opponent has. These boys did that in our last week of training. They imagined the outcome they wanted for every move and every technique. They shadow boxed that move and technique and made it real. And when it came time to perform, against a real opponent is in front of them, it was like they did this over and over before. No nerves, no second guessing, just great performances that they are, and have been capable of.