Imagine it… You’ve just stepped into the cage for a fight, the crowd is shouting, the ref has just finished his introductions. And there you are, squaring up to your opponent who, despite being in the same weight-class as you, still looks bigger, stronger and better than you! How do you feel? Nervous, overwhelmed? I bet you the adrenaline is pumping something fierce right about now. And all the MMA training you’ve undertaken for this bout has just gone out of the window, because your mind has closed in and you’re suffering from tunnel vision. You can’t remember a damn thing! So, who would you turn your mind to for guidance in this situation? Maybe you’ve got a pretty good coach or training partner who’s helped you through your training. Or maybe there’s a great fighter out there who’s inspired you in the past? Maybe you might leave it to Lady Luck herself. Then again, you could always ask yourself what Sun Tzu would have done?

For those of you wondering who Sun Tzu is, think of Ancient China from which came one of the oldest books known in the world: The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Believed to have been written over 2000 years ago by the great General Sun Tzu (literally meaning Master Sun) the book is the oldest treatise on strategy and, believe it or not, a lot of what was included in it is still highly relevant today, and not just in the fields of warfare or politics. A lot of businesspeople read Sun Tzu, just to get ahead of the competition. Seeing as this book has had a significant influence on the Martial Arts over the years as well, it seems only appropriate to consider what the man himself might have done had he competed in the octagon.

First, as any good general should do, he’d weigh up the options. What are the opportunities, what are the threats? How much internal harmony do I have as a fighter? What are my strengths and weaknesses, what about those of the opponent? What about all the external factors such as the size of the ring, the rules in operation? Even such things as the lighting in the venue and the attitude of the crowd could come into play! All these things would more than likely have been taken into consideration by Sun Tzu had he been in this position.

Secondly, he’d be aiming to plan first, then win – not go in there and just to leave it to pot luck! Planning prior to any engagement is important, and this is no less the case in an MMA fight. One thing Sun Tzu would advise anyone is not just to know your opponent, but also to know yourself as well, that is, your strengths and weaknesses ranged against that of your adversary. And you can bet your bottom dollar, Sun Tzu would have found out everything he could have done about the guy he was squaring up against! With this sort of knowledge, a very effective plan can be put into play.

What about the fighting itself? In all likelihood, Sun Tzu would have aimed to avoid that as much as possible. This may seem nonsensical, after all, isn’t MMA about fighting?! Well, I’m sure it’d be great to defeat your opponent with a single knock-out or grapple, but how often is that likely to happen? Sure, there’s gonna be fighting, but put it in Sun Tzu’s context: what you should aim to do is defeat your opponent by applying as little strength and exertion as possible. Because, at the end of the day, what you want is to out-maneuver your opponent and win, with as little impact as possible to your own energy reserves. Thus lies the basis of mastery in your style.

This brings us to another approach that Sun Tzu would take – the use of deception. Sun Tzu would aim to out-fox the opponent as much as possible, confuse him, wear him out, delude him and outwit him until he slipped up. Then he’d make the ‘disabling’ blow – attacking weakness, not strength. This is how he’d aim to triumph in the ring.

Sun Tzu would say all this is possible, which is why it’s important to treat any mixed martial arts engagement as not just a meeting of strength or a show of technique. All this is meaningless unless you have a strategy of engagement. Just like the meeting of armies on the field of battle centuries ago in Ancient China, cage fighting is a battle of wills. So, who knows, maybe next time you’re in the cage you could consider someone else to look up to as a mentor. Maybe Sun Tzu could help you win too!

If you want to know more about how to develop combat strategies and MMA mindsets such as this, check out the website http://www.warriormind.co.uk

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