Dan Faggella is a National Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor, and author of "The Unexpected Champion" – which he authored after lengthy interviews with Ben Askren himself. To get the actual notes from Dan’s Ben Askren interviews – and Ben’s 5 Keys to Training Effectiveness – go to: www.MicroBJJ.com/Askren-Notes
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It’s a common theme in sports for athletes to visualize what they want. Heck, even outside of sports it’s something that highly successful people preach. Sitting in class one day my Junior year of college, a professor of mine preached about the importance of visualization and knowing what you want. He recalled how when he was 20 years old he had picture himself living in California and driving a Red sports car. By 25 years old, he was doing just that.
Seeing is believing. The mental approach to sports is just as, if not more important than the actual physical aspect. Training your body to perform specific acts is one thing, but if your mind, even just a millisecond doesn’t believe you can do it, then your training was for not.
The Theater of The Mind for MMA Skill Development
For an elite MMA fighter such as Bellator Welterweight champion, Ben Askren, this was an aspect of his that he had developed early on, even before he put gloves on. At the University of Missouri, as a member of their wrestling team, Askren had already begun picturing his matches and playing them out in every way possible.
“At a certain point I got so good at visualizing,” Askren recollects, “I would see two guys wrestling in my mind. They didn’t have faces or anything; they were just moving figures playing out a wrestling match.”
This internal loop would give Ben the advantage of knowing his strengths and weaknesses. There is one person you cannot lie to which is the man looking back in the mirror. It’s a known fact you’re only as good as you’re weakest link, and for Ben to see this matches in his mind would allow him to see his own short-comings, allowing him to focus heavily on improvement.
“I’d see them doing moves and I would learn from them, then I’d rewind them and have them start in a slightly different position or change technique.” The way in which Ben would devour these matches, even if they were fictional, created a great advantageous edge.
Mental Training Tip: Go Through Each Scenario, For Better or Worse
In the MMA world there can be a mixed bag of things that can occur in a fight. In preparing for a fight, being able to come to grips with reality is vital. When visualizing the bout, see yourself from start to finish and then start over again. Picture yourself with your hand raised, and even see yourself with your back on the mat in defeat.
Failing to recognize your opponents strengths can only hinder your game. If you don’t picture your opponent relying on his greatest asset in the fight, then you become open to that weapon. Understand their approach, know how to defend it, and better yet, know how to counter act their best move.
Don’t picture yourself as a loser or getting beaten down, but you must put yourself in a tough scenario. If I’m going against a BJJ black belt, what would I do if he gets my back? If this guy is a great Thai fighter, is there a way I can derail his clinch game? These are the questions you must ask yourself.
Before the fight begins the outcome is already determined. Before you start your training camp, the outcome is determined. It all starts with you and your mental approach. Believing and visualizing is half the battle.
Here’s another solid article about Ben’s mindset called "The Mind of a Champion" that I wrote for US Combat sports – Askren fans will get a lot out of this one as well.