Women's MMA

Fighting Burnout

The following post was written by my good friend June Elliot. June and I both train at the same home gym and have watched each other cycle through the inevitable physical and mental ups and downs in our respective sports. June has studied Okinowan karate, taekwondo, hapkido, Wing-Chun, Chin-Na, Mauy Thai, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She’s also a great sparring partner to have in the boxing ring.

We want to believe we are invincible.

As fighters, regardless of style(s), skill, or rank we work incredibly hard toward correcting bad habits and perfecting our skills. At some points during our training the hours of conditioning and drilling techniques wear us down emotionally. Occasionally, the ego is deflated quickly through interactions with others more gifted and skilled, or we succumb to the misguided practitioner who abuses a weight or strength advantage.

I recently admitted to several training partners and coaches that I was essentially worn down. I was feeling pressure to “make water from wine” each training session. I know when people expect good things from me it’s a compliment. But what I do to myself is essentially excessive self-examination.

The good news is that I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one who walks away from training emotionally beaten down, or heading into it as if it’s a job. I’m not the only one who forgets the reasons I train in martial arts. This same process occurs in other areas of life. Nor is the pressure issue unique to women like myself. Often boys and men try to prove their worth to others in an effort to improve their self-esteem as well.

Martial arts is both an individual and communal endeavor. As a mixed martial artist I put hours into strength training, cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility, takedown techniques, footwork and striking, agility, and submissions. I coach myself and I am coached by others. When in the right frame of mind it’s a fun escape from the day-to-day world. Students sweat, punch, pout, complain, choke, and bleed together, hence forming very close bonds.  To some degree we get to know our training partners and trainers better than our own families.

But sometimes we take it too seriously. We think too much and judge too much. This is the dawn of dread.  This is where the fun ends.

The irony is that when we can laugh at ourselves, when we let go a little and admit that perfection is an ideal and not an immediate possibility, we actually excel! I’ve seen this in my own performance as well as in children and adults I have coached in various athletics, including martial arts. I believe that when any type of performer (athlete, actor, musician) adopts a balanced attitude, one of steadfast effort with humor, they get into a zone. They are in the moment. They are not in conflict internally or with the grand order. Progress often happens when you’re not looking for it. When you least expect it, a new level of skill or a new ability arrives as a pleasant surprise.

Don’t risk ending up in the vast wasteland of those who have burned out. Keep connected with your training community, maintain your sense of humor, and press onward.

Image credit: Mike Bitton

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