I had a long talk with some friends, my husband, and myself last night about quitting.
No, not that I want to quit fighting, because I don’t. No, we were talking about it because I’ve been at the Lab for four years now and I’ve seen a lot of people quit training on the fight team there. Usually men, but sometimes women, too, all at varying stages of their fight career.
It’s occurred to me in that time that fighting isn’t just about getting knocked down and getting back up. I mean, yes, that is definitely a big part of it. Get knocked down seven times, get back up eight, or something like that. But the truth is, if you don’t face the reasons you got knocked down in the first place, standing back up is almost pointless.
I think now, after having been in the game for eight years, fighting is very much about honestly facing your weaknesses and fears, and addressing them aggressively.
I’ve seen people have terrible weight cuts, and awful fights from the weight cut, but not admit that their problem is their diet. Or, more accurately, their discipline about their diet. They continue to eat the same way, feel the same way, and fight the same way, all the while blaming the venue, their coaches, their team mates, or their own bodies, rather than get help with what they put in their mouths.
I’ve seen people gas out in fights and insist that they were sick, rather than address the fact that they hate doing cardio.
I’ve seen people get worked at practice and find fault in their team mates, rather than address the fact that they can’t wrestle well or don’t have great kickboxing skills yet.
I’ve seen people come on the fight team at the Lab and think they are pretty good (myself included). Many are very good. But, usually everyone that comes on the team gets the shit kicked out of them for at least a few weeks (or years), no matter how good they are (myself included). It begins to dawn on them that maybe they aren’t going to be leading the pack, or maybe they aren’t as good as they thought, or maybe they have some holes in their game that they were unaware of.
This is a tough realization for most.
Some will work through it. But many don’t.
Some, instead of admitting they have weak areas in their game, will simply become too busy with work all of a sudden to make practice. Some find problems with their team mates or coaches and decide they don’t like the team and therefore don’t want to go anymore. Some fake, or over-exaggerate injuries, and they use their “injury” as an excuse to not practice, or to not practice the thing they are having a hard time with (I actually saw that several times on The Ultimate Fighter).
Peter won’t be going to practice for the next 35 years, he sprained his shin.
I don’t think anyone out there is immune to this type of behavior. We all avoid things we don’t like or don’t want to look at about ourselves, and sometimes we have defects we’re not even aware of. No one is perfect, nor does anyone like doing that shit. It is humbling, and even humiliating at times.
But that is what makes fighting (and sports in general, probably) so amazing. It gives us the ability to face ourselves over and over again. It exposes our weaknesses daily. The opportunity to address them doesn’t go away unless you quit completely, and even then they will pop up in some other facet of your life, just dressed up a little differently.
Hi, remember me? I’m that thing you never dealt with. Yeah, I’m back.
So to me, honesty is a huge part of fighting. If you can’t honestly address why you are having a hard time, or even admit that you are having a hard time, it’s going to be difficult to be a successful. And, once having admitted to whatever the weakness is, addressing it through hard work and repetition is the next step. Also not easy, and also very necessary. I’m going to talk now about how this concept has affected my life, so if you don’t want to hear me talk about myself, now is a good time to stop reading. But, if you want some examples of quitting and not quitting, go on with your bad self and keep scrolling.
I’ve quit lots of things in my life. I’ve quit and started and quit playing the guitar about 60 times. I have two guitars in my home and cannot play either one. I love yoga but have quit going to yoga every time it gets too busy, too expensive, or I get too lazy. I’ve started this blog with the intention of writing in it every week. You can see how that’s gone. I got kicked out of nursing school, and even though I could have gone back and completed my degree, I did not. I quit, and am currently degree-less, in a world where a college degree is an asset.
Like most people, I’ve quit lots of stuff. And, like most people, there are other areas in life where I didn’t quit. And those are some of the things I am most proud of.
When I started fighting, I went to a gym that had a small fight team of only men.
They did not want me there. They hated me, in fact. Looking back, I get it. I had zero skills, I mean like ZERO skills, and the guys on the team were all pretty good by Alaskan standards. I got beat up a few times pretty badly, but tried hard and kept showing up.
I’ll never forget one day, early into my training, everyone was partnered up drilling a jiu jitsu technique. The guys were all partnered up and I was the odd one out. I hung out awkwardly on the edge of the mat, waiting for them to switch so I could jump in. When it came time to switch partners, they all switched with each other. No one wanted to work with me.
One of the guys, a dude name Jesse “The Puerto Rican Game Cock” Cruz (I’m not making that up, that was really his fight name), glared at me and said, “why don’t you just go hit the bag”, nodding at the row of heavy bags in the corner. I was not welcome to drill with them and it was made clear. I went home crying that day. It was humiliating and disheartening. But even more than that, it really, really pissed me off. I remember thinking, “I’m going to keep coming back and I’m going to get better, and one day, I’m going to whoop your fucking ass.”
I never did whoop Jesse’s ass, and don’t know if I could today. But I do know that I eventually won three championship belts, and made it to the UFC, and he did not. He now follows me on Instagram and watches my life from a distance through it.
I have no desire to follow Mr. Cruz’s life in the slightest.
I could have quit that day. I could have gone to another gym, or stopped altogether because the team was not welcoming, nor were they kind. But I loved MMA too much (and maybe I was a little too dumb) to give up at the first sign of trouble. It wasn’t too long later -just a few weeks- that we got a new coach in that gym, who welcomed me and anyone else that would work hard, and eventually it was Jesse who quit and trained elsewhere and found reasons not to stay.
Eventually, I moved across the country with Joe and found myself training in Houston, at a large gym with some of my old coaches, and some new coaches. It was a new team, a bigger one than I had ever been a part of. When I first got there, one of the instructors made a huge deal about me being a pro fighter. I was ranked in the top ten at featherweight (not a difficult thing since there like 6 of us fighting at that weight at that time lol), had won two belts (one for a defunct promotion) and was nervous as hell.
We had a sparring class that night and I did awful. Everyone was watching to see who this new pro fighter chick was, and I was flinching and backing away and had basically no skills. One guy who was watching even said, “Lauren…. what are you doing?!” He wasn’t being mean, he was just shocked that I was so….not good. Everyone there expected me to be this great martial artist, and I really wasn’t. I was just a beginner who had gotten by on being tough and strong, but hadn’t had great training up to that point, especially in the kickboxing department.
Again, I went home crying. Not because anyone had been particularly mean that time, but because they were all shocked at how bad I was and I knew it. It was humiliating.
Me, after that sparring session… and almost every sparring session after
But I didn’t quit. I didn’t move back home and get a job. I didn’t fake an injury or make an excuse. I went back to the gym the next day, and went through many, many other crying sessions, terrible sparring sessions, hard realizations, and emotional meltdowns.
I also went 4-0 that year, including winning the first Invicta Bantamweight belt.
I’m so glad I didn’t quit.
And finally, recently, one of the hardest things I went through in recent memory was The Ultimate Fighter.
I went on TUF feeling more prepared and confident than I had ever felt in my life. I knew in my heart I was going to win and be the first UFC flyweight champion.
Only, I didn’t.
I failed, and failed pretty hard. I was not mentally strong enough to deal with the loneliness I felt, the resentment I had toward my coaches, and the stress of living with 15 other women in a house for 6 weeks. I thought I would be, but I wasn’t. I lost in the first round of the tournament, upset by a newer fighter. When the show aired, it was edited in such way to portray a storyline that wasn’t real – that I was arrogant and “overlooked” my opponent. A more accurate storyline would have been that I couldn’t handle the stresses put in place around me and freaked out before the fight, causing me to have a real shitty performance.
I don’t know if I would have won, even if I had had a great performance, but I do know that I can say I had a shitty performance because I was mentally weak, too tense, and had underestimated how much all that would affect me. I had not prepared enough mentally, and it showed.
Dealing with the loss, and the ensuing hatred from fans and twitter mouths that followed, was one of the top ten most difficult things I’ve endured in my life.
But again, I didn’t quit. I had to honestly look at the things that made me weak, and where I was at fault, and it wasn’t easy. How I had handled my resentment toward my TUF coaches, and how I had approached TUF in general. How much I cared about what strangers on the internet thought, and how I react in stressful situations. How I approach fights and what really matters to me.
There were a lot of holes to patch up, a lot of adjustments to make. It was a humbling and difficult process, one that is still on going.
It paid off at the Ultimate Fighter Finale. I fought well and won a tough fight, against a tough opponent. In fact, I really fought two tough opponents that night- Barb Honchak, and my own mind. I was able to do that because I looked at where I had been weak and how I had failed, and assessed it as honestly as I could. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start.
I’m grateful today for the lessons MMA has taught me, and the examples of those lesson constantly provided to me. A little honesty and determination can bring amazing things…but not if you quit.