“I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…”
The above quotation needs no introduction. With his pretend-arrogance, Muhammad Ali thrust himself into greatness just by having what every champion must have: confidence.
And not just confidence. Real confidence. And not just “real” confidence. Real confidence that no one else had it. Not just the real confidence that no one had. Real confidence that no one had, and no one dared say they had it…
I could go on.
Ali knew he was a human. He knew he was not unbeatable. He knew other fighters who came to challenge him had confidence as well. They didn’t just have confidence, they had confidence (bordering arrogance) that they were the greatest in the world, and that they believed they could defeat the Great Muhammad Ali. But Ali knew that if he repeated it enough, that if he pretended to not have one ounce of doubt in his body (which almost no man possessed)–he just might convince his confident opponents that perhaps they hadn’t trained hard enough or didn’t have the skills and knowledge to beat him.
Ali was so wise.
He was able to dance right into a man’s soul and shake him up and magnify his doubt–and all men have some doubt–and pull it to the front of his own thoughts. Even when Ali lost, he looked like he was winning. He could take a superior fighter and infuriate him enough to make a mistake. He could take a well-prepared fighter, and take him off his game and fall right into a place where the Champ is more comfortable… like the heavy-hitter George Foreman (who was much stronger) trying to get on his toes to follow the agile and fleet-footed Ali, until he had gassed out and no longer had the strength advantage. He was the clever wascally wabbit who could outsmart a hunter and his gun (showing my age here)…
None of this mental gymnastics would work, however, without some level of physical superiority–the knowledge that he could do something the other guy can’t. Ali knew in the heavyweight division there were few who could move as easily as he did. Few could match his speed and accuracy. Few had his degree of timing. Few were confident enough to stand toe-to-toe and evade punches without blocking them. Few men could make an opponent miss by inches and return fire a split second later with a full-power punch to the jaw. Ali had this ability, and no matter what kind of fighter you were–regardless of what your strengths and advantages were–you would end up chasing a rabbit around the room who looked like he was running, but for some reason you were running into well-planted, rooted hooks, straight rights and upper cuts. Ali worked extra hard at the skills he had, until no one could match them. He didn’t try and learn what the next guy could do. He didn’t try to lift weights and increase his power. He simply found ways to make his preferred way of combat fit the fight and match the fighter he was to fight next month. He was like the ballerina who reinvents herself and blends her ballet skills into something that could be done in Disco in the 70s, Contemporary in the 80s, and Hip Hop in the 90s-2000s.
The modern martial artist has not learned to do this. He is too busy trying to beat Foreman at Foreman’s craft, slug with Joe Fraizer, jab with Larry Holmes, and match wits and speed with the Great Ali. He will never beat a Muay Thai fighter at Muay Thai. Nor will he match an Eskrimador with a stick or knife. Nor will he ever be able to whip a grappler on the ground. He is a man of many basic skills, and he is mediocre at all of them. All he can do is demonstrate on willing partners and novices. If the martial artist is to elevate his art to the next level of himself and represent his generation like his masters before him, he must truly learn to adapt–not add to–what he knows.
He is preoccupied with imitating Bruce, his favorite MMA guys, GMs Gaje and Presas, and more–rather than simply taking what he knows and convincing his opponents that he is still superior to them. There is an art to this, and it has nothing to do with cross training and learning more “complete” arts and ranges. He has a razor sharp knife, and he’ll use that knife to slit your throat whether you are carrying a stick, a nunchuck, a machete, a staff or a gun. This, my friends is true mastery of the art. Other than that, you’re no different than the old guy who can say “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Good-bye” in 15 different languages, but can’t speak any of them well enough to ask the cook to hold the onions.
Be like the ballerina who has take this centuries-old form of dance, and finds ways to keep the public’s interest… and respect… and relevance.
And the next level of this concept, is convincing your opponent that he is in a fight with a superior, dominant fighter–even when you’re not.
But next time. Thanks for visiting my blog.
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