"Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." - Marcus Aurelius
Imagine busting your ass for six weeks, dropping 20lbs of excess fat and muscle, suffering through endless hours on the treadmill, running hill sprints, slamming your bones into others’, getting crushed by teammates who are better and more skilled than you, being weighed down by the pressure of your family and friends eager to support your career in victory, and missing out on precious time with loved ones. Not to mention exhausting your mind trying to promote the fight, all while striking a balance with that thing that earns you money: a job.
Now imagine having that fight ripped away from you on two days’ notice, mid-weight cut. Many would lose their minds, but stoicism has provided me with the mental framework to see the positive and keep a level head. Believe me when I say it, stoicism is a fighter’s best friend.
Stoicism is a practical philosophy in that it preaches action over mere thinking and pondering. I found this one sentence to be the most concise ELI5 definition of stoicism: “Take obstacles in your life and turn them into your advantage, control what you can and accept what you can’t." -Ryan Holiday. Tim Ferriss, the popular life-hacking Silicon Valley entrepreneur, uses this philosophy as his functional “operating system” of life.
I’m gonna repeat that for all my fellow fighters who have been hit in the head one too many times:
“Take obstacles in your life and turn them into your advantage, control what you can and accept what you can’t.” - Ryan Holiday
This should be every fighter’s mantra because if there truly is one sport where an athlete faces a plethora of obstacles, physically AND mentally, it has to be MMA (“cage fighting” for those less familiar).
How I used stoicism to overcome my scrapped title fight
Phase 1: Initial reaction
Reread that first paragraph. I put my mind and body through hell preparing for this fight. I was angry, sad, and shocked when I found out the news that all my hard work was for nothing. Special shout out to my brother and human highlight reel Dmitry Gerasimov who lit a fire under my ass and prepped me better than anyone else could.
Phase 2: Triggering stoic thinking for immediate benefit
Fights get pulled at the last minute all the time, but this was the first time it had happened to me. It was especially frustrating considering that it would have been my first title defense, fighting to keep my belt in California’s top amateur promotion. I had to recognize that the situation was beyond my power to control; it’s an occupational hazard. So I had two options: bitch, whine, complain, OR I could envision this situation as just another obstacle on the path to greatness. What would a stoic do?
“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary…but love it.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
Amor fati is Latin for “love your fate.” I stopped my whining only minutes after the fight was pulled when I remembered this quote. The fight was out of my control, so there was no point in stressing. A negative mindset would put me in a negative space. And why in the world would I choose to put myself in a realm of negativity, when I finally had the opportunity to spend time with friends and family again, when I could write again, when I could eat a goddam PIZZA again??
Phase 3: Implementing stoic philosophy for long term benefit
Getting out of the immediate negative was easier than usual thanks to stoicism. The harder task was to quit rehashing over and over all of the hard work during this training camp as wasted time, energy, and not to mention money (cryotherapy, healthy food, supplements). I re-read the Marcus Aurelius quote, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."
How could I use this obstacle as the way?
I had the best training camp of my life, and altered my mind from thinking negatively (this was a wasted camp) to positively (what did I learn from this camp? And how will I make it better for the next camp?). It comes down to a simple test and re-test. Growth hacking is more than just a catchphrase for Silicon Valley whiz kids, it apparently works for fighters too. Here’s what I came up with:
• I added a new coach to the mix who greatly helped me focus on minor details I was missing > Will use Dima again for the next fight.
• I tried the paleo diet and loved it. It solved a lot of gut issues I was having from the last camp. > Will implement for the next fight and evolve to mix in more carbs for energy.
• I experimented with a lot of plyometrics-based workouts and found massively improved results > Will implement earlier on in camp because of the negative effects I found closer to the fight week.
• I focused a lot on footwork and head movement > Will use new ideas to expand upon what I learned from this fight camp.
• I practiced carb backloading (eating majority of carbs at dinner) > Will try to evenly spread carb intake to see if I can find a greater benefit.
And to cap off this string of positivity, I now have even more time to focus on my next big event, a Nostalgia Night for my non-profit, The Mana Kids Foundation, which helps underprivileged kids in LA train in martial arts and use it as a tool for cultivating success.
Although my hard work won’t be put to the test tomorrow, I learned so much from this fight camp and I can’t wait to experiment and add on to what I now know. Thanks to stoicism, I can overcome this obstacle and use it to my advantage. I believe that with the proper mindset, fighting is an accelerator for human growth. I am on a path of self-actualization. For anyone else out there who is on the same path, fighters, businessmen, and artists alike, I firmly believe that a healthy dose of stoicism will help you along your journey.
For anyone interested in dabbling in stoic thinking, I can’t recommend Ryan Holiday's book enough: