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Archive for the 'Combat Sports' Category

Mongolia’s Success In Judo

If you have followed this blog for any amount of time, you know that I am a fan of simplicity. I firmly believe that an athlete’s strength and conditioning needs can be fulfilled without an elaborate facility or routine. I also believe it is important to observe and learn from other successful athletes. With that in mind, I was happy to watch the videos below.

The two videos analyze the success of judo in Mongolia. Plenty can be learned from these clips whether you are interested in judo or not.

At first glance, you may be wondering what’s the big deal about Mongolian athletes excelling in judo? Before you close this entry, let me explain…

For starters, the entire country of Mongolia has a population of less than 3 million. To put that number in perspective, the small state of Massachusetts has more than twice the amount of people. In other words, the Mongolian athletes must be doing something right if so many are excelling from such a small population. These athletes have also managed to succeed without the elaborate facilities that are common in more densely populated areas.

What Is The Secret To Their Success?

Fortunately, there are no secrets. For starters, these athletes work extremely hard practicing their sport. They do not get sidetracked by too much supplemental work. The bulk of their time and energy is expended on the mats. That is where they master their techniques and also develop the ability to execute those techniques in the face of fatigue.

Many of these athletes have also developed strength from their surroundings. For example, in the second video, you will hear from one of the Mongolian champions (Khashbaataryn Tsagaanbaatar). At approximately the 4:30 mark, he states the following:

My muscle was developed in everyday life…

The narration continues by stating that many of the Mongolians have developed their legs by living in nature.  They are regularly on the move and quite active outdoors. The Mongolians are hard working people who live the opposite of a sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity and work is part of their lives.

As for conditioning, these athletes work hard with the basics. If you refer to the 6:50 mark of the second video, you will see them about to begin a challenging mountain run. The air is both thin and cold but it does not deter them. These are not soft athletes who have been spoiled with lavish amenities. On the contrary, these Mongolians are hardened athletes who are physically and mentally strong.

In many ways, their training reminds me of another judo legend. Long time readers of the site may recall seeing a short documentary about the legendary Masahiko Kimura (see here). Kimura is considered by many to be the greatest judoka of all time. His training approach was also rooted heavily in sport training and low-tech conditioning. He did not just train the body, but also the mind. He pushed his athletes to levels that most people would struggle to comprehend.

Such an approach is certainly not required or suggested for general fitness, but is often necessary for high level combat athletes. Developing mental toughness is just as important as any physical quality. The body is only as strong as the mind that controls it. Once your mind starts to break, it is only a matter of time before the body does too. Training in harsh elements such as the cold allows one to develop the body and mind. It is impossible to separate the two when you are battling fatigue and the harsh elements around you. Speaking from experience, some of my most challenging conditioning sessions take place in the winter. I do not need any fancy exercises to create an extremely challenging session (ex. see here).

In summary, plenty can be learned by studying successful athletes who have thrived in rudimentary environments. Once all the gadgets and gizmos have been stripped away, you can see what really works and what is ultimately responsible for the success of such athletes. Hard work with the basics will always be a recipe that produces results.


I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. – Lao Tzu


He’s a Fighter

Throughout this blog’s history, I have featured athletes from all corners of the world who have thrived despite living and training amidst poverty. I have highlighted athletes from countries such as Myanmar, Russia, Ghana, Brazil, Uganda, Cuba, and Thailand. Many of these athletes know nothing of each other, yet share in their quest to fight for survival and hopes of a better life.

And while not every fighter is fortunate enough to escape the harsh reality that surrounds them, there have been countless world champions who have risen from poverty. They have thrived despite growing up poor and training with little or nothing. These fighters never had access to fancy equipment, seminars, quality foods, or any of the other so-called necessities that are hyped by the industry today. All that they’ve ever had was the desire to someday escape the world around them.

Such harsh environments are not always located on the other side of the world however. It is one thing to read about fighters in distant lands such as Myanmar, but often times there are others struggling in the city or town next door to you. You do not need to live in a poor country to live in a harsh environment. One such example can be seen in the video below. Antoine Douglas has been fighting since day one despite being born in our nation’s capital of Washington D.C.

As for his harsh upbringing, Antoine wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked about his childhood, here is how he responded in a recent interview:

I don’t regret any of it because it made me into the person that I am today. Actually, I appreciate it more than anything. If it wasn’t for all of that,I don’t know where my mind would be at right now. Because of that I am so grateful to be where I am now… That’s why I am pushing so hard to be as successful as I can.

Antoine is not the only Douglas fighting hard for a better life though. His sister Tyrieshia is also an unbeaten professional boxer. She recently improved to 5-0 while Antoine will put his unbeaten record (14-0) on the line on July 25th. His upcoming bout will be broadcast on Showtime’s ShoBox series.

In summary, where you start does not matter as much as where you finish. So the next time you panic because you’ve run out of protein powder, remember that it could be worse. There are other athletes in the world who don’t even know when their next meal will come. They aren’t just hungry for food however. They are also hungry to compete and improve. Once you understand and appreciate these athletes, you tend to have a better understanding of what really matters when considering athletic development. At some point, it always comes back to how bad you want it and how hard you are willing to work.


We acquire the strength we have overcome. – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Lethwei Training Footage

Lethwei fighters training

Following my recent entry about lethwei fighters in Myanmar (see here), I was contacted by filmmaker Vincent Giordano. The timing could not have been better as he was recently in Myanmar capturing footage for a new documentary. If you are not familiar with Vincent Giordano, you may wish to visit the link below which includes outtakes from one of his previous documentaries.

Kushti – The Physical Body Outtakes

Fortunately, he is also releasing outtakes from the more recent lethwei documentary. Below you can see one example that highlights the training of the fighters.

Additional footage will eventually be posted to the following page:

Born Warriors – Burmese Boxing Documentary

As you will see, the training footage takes place outdoors in a makeshift gym that was created in an alleyway between two living quarters. Such a gym reminds me of a previous entry where I featured boxers from Kampala, Uganda (see here). The Rhino Boxing Club in Kampala consists of nothing but a space between two buildings in a crowded neighborhood.

Ironically, although the lethwei fighters in Myanmar and the boxers in Uganda know nothing about each other, they both train in a similar fashion. These are fighters who make the most of the hand they have been dealt. You will not find athletes who complain about inadequate facilities. Instead, you will find hard working, humble fighters who have never known any other way.

And as I’ve said before, I do not share these entries to suggest that you must train in poverty to excel. I share these stories to eliminate all excuses that exist regarding training facilities and equipment. The fitness industry is notorious for complicating the training process. Training recommendations are rarely based solely on effectiveness. On the contrary, what is popular is often what carries the greatest revenue potential for those involved. You will be hard pressed to find any fitness guru who markets the potential of training in an alleyway between buildings.

Fortunately, filmmakers such as Vincent Giordano have provided a sneak peek into the real life and training of these high level fighters. Watching an athlete who is literally fighting for his life and well being is naturally free of the marketing nonsense that is more commonly found online. These fighters aren’t training to sell you anything or impress you. They are training solely to prepare for the brutality of their challenging sport.

In summary, when watching these fighters train, it is wise to heed the advice of Bruce Lee. Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own. Plenty can be learned by watching fighters who thrive physically despite living and training amidst poverty. There’s no fancy equipment, designer supplements, or complex programming. All that you will find is hard work, consistency, effort, and eventual success. Fortunately, you don’t need to live in Myanmar to uncover and use these freely available attributes. It is solely up to the individual.

How bad do you want it?


Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well. – Jack London


Forgotten Fighters From Myanmar

Throughout this blog’s history, I’ve featured several athletes who have thrived in rudimentary environments. We have seen fighters in countries such as Thailand, Ghana, Brazil, Cuba, and Uganda. Many of these athletes have excelled at the highest level despite training amidst poverty.

In the documentary below, we can add to the list by looking at a group of fighters from Myanmar (Burma). These fighters compete in the Burmese martial art known as Lethwei. Lethwei is a full contact sport where there are no gloves and head butts are permissible.

Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia. It has been estimated that 70 percent of the population doesn’t even have access to electricity. Fortunately for the fighters, lavish conditions are not necessary to achieve peak fitness. As you can see in the brief clips below, lethwei fighters thrive on the basics.

Much of the training seen above is similar to the approach that was recommended by Jack Dempsey in his 1950 text (see here). There is clearly an emphasis on sport training through sparring, mitt work, and bag work. Such training is also supplemented with rope skipping, running, and calisthenics. You won’t find any extravagant equipment or complex routines. The work is simple yet intense.

And while the non-fighters in the crowd may miss the relevance of this entry, there is actually plenty that can be learned. If these Myanmar fighters can condition themselves in such an environment, the rest of the world can as well. I don’t say this to suggest that you immerse yourself in poverty or bare knuckle fighting, but instead to remind you that fitness does not require high-end equipment or complex programming. Most people need nothing more than consistency and effort. How these attributes are applied is often irrelevant. As long as you consistently apply yourself through some form of physical exertion, you can expect to be well ahead of the average person. It is entirely possible to be healthy and fit without ever stepping foot in a commercial gym.

If you are interested in additional examples, look no further than the links below.

Ghana’s Fighting Spirit

Boxing Their Own Worst Enemy (Brazil)

The Kampala Boxing Club (Uganda)

Buakaw Banchamek Training Footage (Thailand)

The Boys Who Fought For Castro (Cuba)

The Zama Boxing Club (South Africa)


Necessity is not an established fact, but an interpretation. – Friedrich Nietzsche


A Fighter’s Comfort Zone

As an athlete, it is natural to believe that you control your own destiny. We’ve all been told that hard work will allow us to accomplish anything we desire. Hard work is supposed to solve all problems and conquer all obstacles. Unfortunately, the success of an athlete requires more than individual effort. Speaking as a boxing coach, there is only so much that a fighter can do on his own. And while my examples for this entry are related to boxing, the general message is relevant to athletes from all sports.

Comfort zone

A Conditioning Example

One of the most common questions that I receive from young fighters is how to deal with pre-fight anxiety. The specifics are almost always the same. The athlete does not understand why he fatigues prematurely on fight night after working so hard in the gym. Others share frustration over their inability to pull the trigger. In other words, there were opportunities to land punches but the fighter couldn’t let his hands go. He froze under the bright lights.

These athletes write to me desperately seeking solutions to their problems. Many ask what else they can do in the gym or at home on their own. For example, they ask how to run and what other exercises to perform. Many request sample routines. They want precise details in terms of sets and reps. In their eyes, the solution to the problem is to perform more work than they did in the past.

And while such ambition is commendable, the solution to these problems usually has nothing to do with supplemental exercise. Often times, the best training aid for a fighter is not a new routine or tool, but instead another fighter. Young fighters learn by doing. The best way to become a better boxer is by spending more time boxing. This is particularly true for those boxers who are only accustomed to sparring with coaches or friendly training partners.

When sparring a friend or coach, there is a certain level of comfort that exists regardless of how hard you are working. For instance, it is safe to assume that your coach is not going to intentionally hurt you. While he certainly wants to teach you, he is also there to protect you. As a result, you are able to spar hard without the anxiety that exists on fight night.

Everything changes when you are up against another fighter. Chances are that you don’t know anything about your opponent, other than his intent to win. Consequently, you are entering an environment that you have not experienced in the gym. The comfort that you’ve become familiar with is nowhere to be found. The nerves and anxiety that develop from this uncertainty lead to fatigue.

Running more or exercising harder will not solve the problem. What you need instead is to become more comfortable operating outside of your comfort zone. One example for a boxer is to spar against fighters from other gyms. The best sparring you receive usually comes from someone you hardly know. Neither of you know what to expect in terms of style, temperament, and pace. There is no comfort or familiarity. It is also useful to box against more experienced fighters who will not always take it easy on you. When in against such fighters, you aren’t sure what to expect. There is always the chance that the more experienced fighter will open up and catch you with a big shot.

The best fighters in the world certainly earned their share of bumps and bruises on the way up. If it was easy, everyone would do it.


Powerlifting coach Louie Simmons once shared the following words to emphasize the importance of variety,

Think about it, if you read only one book, no matter how many times you read it, you will only learn so much.

The same idea applies to boxing. If you always box the same sparring partners, there is only so much you can learn. The time will come when it is necessary for you to box other fighters with different styles. This means sparring with fighters from other gyms and traveling elsewhere to compete in tournaments where you aren’t always up against the same local athletes.

Unfortunately, not everyone is eager to hear this advice. Whenever I suggest traveling to spar or compete, I am met with resistance. Athletes often tell me that it is inconvenient to spar elsewhere. That’s when I remind them that I did not suggest otherwise. I know firsthand that it is not always convenient to travel. Inconvenience does not change the truth however. There have been many nights when I’ve driven fighters well over an hour each way just to spar. These fighters didn’t need more running. They needed better sparring. We had to travel to find it.

Relevance To Other Sports

Despite the boxing emphasis within this entry, the primary message has relevance far beyond any boxing ring. To become better at a sport, you need to practice the sport. Supplemental exercise is useful, but it should never take precedence over the actual sport. And while such a message may appear obvious, it does not receive nearly as much attention as it should. Most articles that are written about athletic development come from strength and conditioning coaches who are not involved in skill related activities. It’s no surprise that such activities receive secondary attention.

Yet regardless of what is written, improving at exercise does not guarantee that you’ll improve at your sport. Great athletes practice their craft more than anything else. There are elements to almost any sport that cannot be replicated without competing against other skilled athletes. You can’t do everything on your own. Therefore, while exercising harder or better may prove useful, such work will never serve as a replacement for skill.

Unfortunately, I am noting more and more athletes who are highly invested in strength and conditioning , yet perform such work at the expense of their skill development. I urge you to avoid making this mistake. Never allow supplemental exercise to interfere with sport training. It may not always be fun to compete or practice against others who are more talented, but that’s how you learn. You need to become accustomed to performing in environments where you lack comfort and control.

Once again, if it were easy, everyone would do it.


Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. – Neale Donald Walsch


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