Science is Everywhere: Including Mixed Martial Arts

Behavior is behavior is behavior…regardless of the job, hobby or any learning endeavor we spend our time and energy on there is a lot we can learn from those that master their own areas of interest. Studying how different practitioners achieve mastery can not only inspire us but also give us ideas on how to optimize our own skill sets. Similarly, as leaders, there is a lot to gain from learning about how coaches in various arenas build fluency with their learners. To that point, the martial arts are one such area that exemplify deep pools of proficiency attainment that we can learn a great deal from. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the hybrid of various fighting disciplines ranging from Muay Thai and Karate to Greco Roman Wrestling, Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

There is no denying that MMA can be viewed as a brutal display of violence (like many other sports like boxing, football and hockey). The general objective after all, is to knock out or submit an opponent. But there is also beauty and elegance in the level of complexity in each of the fighting skills displayed in the cage. The tremendous variability and creativity of choice in defensive or offensive moves, the sensitive “feel” for an opponent’s sense of balance, the psychological gamesmanship intended to influence an opponent’s confidence, the perfectly executed lock or strike refined with thousands of hours of practice and feedback—these all tell stories of two fighters and their coaching teams testing the emerging mastery of their art. In a recent article published on the topic of “fight psychology” the author explains the application of behavioral science in MMA.

The tools used to improve a fighter’s performance are precisely the methodology one could (should) use to improve work performance:

  • encouraging deliberate practice
  • shaping or breaking a complex skill into baby steps
  • observing the learner
  • providing positive and constructive feedback
  • Reinforcing what they do well more than what they don’t
  • Recognizing  progress in the learner

This article is evidence that behavior obeys the same scientific laws regardless of what the activities look like. Whether it’s learning how to successfully defeat an opponent on the mats or learning how to expertly execute on a business strategy, they are ultimately all behaviors that will respond in precisely the same ways to reinforcement, shaping and feedback.  Written as a collaboration between Paulie Gavoni and Dr. Alex Edmonds, the essay shows a series of coaching approaches that are not only world class but are also perfectly applicable to the coaching leaders can utilize to develop an employee’s skill set.

Posted by Francisco Gomez

Francisco is a bilingual performance consultant. In his free time he enjoys cooking with his wife and daughters, practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and playing jazz drums.