Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw on May 25, 1965, in Lewiston, Maine. The bout lasted only one minute into the first round. (source)
Self Defense vs Fighting: Fight, Fighter, Fighting Audio by Jonathan Fader

So you want to be a fighter. Good, start training today! Because remember; there can be only one!

This is the second post in this series about self-defence vs fighting. I will be focusing on fighting basics, concepts, training, and mentalities so you can better understand what it means to train for the ring or competition.

Fighting for sport, or status in the social hierarchy, has been part of human behaviour for as long as we have known. Fighting for status can be seen throughout nature and fighting for sport is depicted on millennia old artefacts from ancient Greece. Humans (Animals) have a need to assert dominance over each other on various levels, whether it’s simply a test of skill and athletic ability to determine who is “the best,” or whether you are trying to show off so you can have the best selection of mates.

This is, in many ways, the foundation of why we fight in non-life-and-death situations in the arena that we call sport.

The ancient Greeks knew that if in training all their warriors always fought as though it was real life-or-death, then there would be no one left to defend everyone else. Thus competitions of strength and athleticism were developed for exercise and to mimic battle, such as wrestling, Pankration, and eventually the Olympic games. The idea behind these contests was that city states could compete for top spots without actually having to kill each other in war whenever tensions got to high. Enter sports as a means to diffuse tension, acting as a semi-peaceful political tool. According to legend the Spartans refused to attend the original games because they were not allowed to poke eyes, fish hook, and probably grab some dicks (they wrestled oiled and naked in those days). That is because for the Spartans if training wasn’t meant to prepare for real battle, employing the same methods, then there was no point. But for everyone else, and for the rest of history, most people agreed that finding non-life-and-death methods to keep training and find out who is “the best” is probably a good way to go.

The logic is simple, “Training should feel like bloodless battle, so that battle feels like bloody training.” The sentiment of “reality-based training” is very appropriate.

Over time, and especially in recent history, modern sports and fighting have become more a source of entertainment for the masses rather than honing skills for “king and country” or real-life battle. This means that the efficacy of styles and what works has shifted to the world of non-lethal combat, which definitely changes the parameters of what is taught and practiced, both tactically and technically. Not to mention all those rules

Training to Fight

The first step in your fighting journey is deciding what style you want to learn or compete in. I would say there are 3 general categories of styles; Stand Up, Grappling, and Mixed Martial Arts.

Within those categories you have styles that are physically competitive and considerably more aggressive (kickboxing, boxing, wrestling, judo, BJJ, mma). These are styles that have done a good job of making sport combat a little more realistic and less constrained by rules.

Then there are styles that are much more about technical prowess or skill, while trying to minimize harm to the other opponent (though it still happens), this is accomplished through the use of forms/kata competitions or point-based sparring, as seen in Taekwondo or Karate. These styles, though they have origins in real combat, have been altered so children and less athletic adults could more easily and safely compete. (Lets be honest here, in modern times, training to do Katas or forms is not actually training to fight anymore… sorry, not sorry.)

Regardless of the style and type of fighting your are preparing for, one thing is for sure; you will be competing for top spot, so you need train, train often, train smart, train hard, and, perhaps most importantly, train consistently. You must understand the ruleset, understand your body, and understand your style. You must become a refined gem, both technically and physically, so that you can compete at the highest skill levels.

Beyond that you will need to engage in some sports-specific training. Some styles require more flexibility, some rely on being more explosive, some place heavy demands on your endurance. Certain styles will employ high kicks, others elbows, a few make regular use of takedowns, and some incorporate all of it. You must train your body physically for the specific needs of your chosen sport and develop your reflexes and techniques to be optimal for that style and ruleset(s). Either way, you must become a proficient specialist. If you do well at a high level of competition, this may also mean you are somewhere in the top 1% (or less) of what humans can do. If not, then it’s still a valuable journey to improve your skills and be the best that you can.

If you do manage to reach the top tiers of your given sport, physically and mentally, then you will likely do well in a street fight or self-defence situation against the average person. So long as you are aware of your surroundings and what is too much for you.

The Fight Mentality

Training to fight competitively is a very different animal than preparing to fight for self-defence. One of the biggest differences is you know that you are going to fight; you set a date, you put together a training plae and you execute it methodically. You also have lots of time in your own head to psyche yourself up or down, either way as needed, as you know the fight coming.

Mentally you must prepare to train and push your body to refine the set of skills you’ve already gathered. You will most likely be working in a fairly structured training program. If you are a professional you are likely training 4-6 hours a day, 4-6 days a week. If you are competing casually, perhaps it looks more like going to class five days a week instead of two. Either way, a considerable amount of energy is going into your preparations, which can drain you mentally. Other areas in your life may suffer as a result, depending on how well you are able to manage and balance your priorities, but you know you need to put in the time to get the iterations in, in order to give yourself the best shot at competing.

Then there is also the diet aspect of preparing for a fight. If you don’t already eat a fairly clean or structured diet then you are likely going to be on a strict diet for a period of 4-8 weeks leading up to the fight. This for many can affect their mood negatively, as who likes to be on a strict caloric intake.

Mentally you need to keep it together leading up to a fight so that on fight day your mind is clear and focused and you are able to execute your plan (against someone who has likely been doing the same thing this whole time).

You are entering into a skill competition, yes, but also a test of whose cardio is best, whose technique is best, and whose mind is the best on that given day.

If you win you will leave feeling great, perhaps preparing for the next one. Lose, and you may be asking yourself “is this worth it?”, or “what can I do better next time?” Regardless of the outcome a large amount of mental energy was expended leading up to and during the fight.


Training to fight regularly, professionally, or casually often means you have built a lifestyle around it. At a minimum you love training and developing your skills, and have decided to compete for status, glory, pride, and, yes, even money. You can approach this as a casual lifestyle or a professional one. There is structure to the training and execution of the fight, and it is essentially jumping from one goal to another (one fight, one competition), and then on to the next. It may, of course, all be for the simple joy of it, in which case it’s wonderful, because you have found your passion and are able to do something that uses mind, body, and spirit. But the fact that it is a journey, with its ups and downs like any other, which in this case means injury, pain, and sacrifice, is also something to consider before you set out. You may be training to be the best or simply to be the best version of yourself. Either goal is noble, but gone are the days that being the best warrior or fighter meant you get to lead the armies, get the land, or simply live another day. Now, fighting for sport or work is a luxury not a necessity.

Funny how time changes things.

Written by Jonathan Fader

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