Posted by Tommy Hackett on March 6th, 2010
Sam Sheridan’s first book, A Fighter’s Heart, has become a favorite of MMA enthusiasts since its 2007 release. It chronicled Sheridan’s travels around the world, training and talking with many of the fight games’ biggest names, on a quest for insight on what drives them to win — and to find his own “fighter’s heart.” Along the way were stops with Brazilian Top Team in its heyday, a stint with Fairtex in Thailand, where he fought a Muay Thai bout, and a time in Iowa, including an MMA bout, under the tutelage of Pat Militech.
Last month, Sheridan released his follow-up, A Fighter’s Mind, where he turns his focus on the mental game of the world’s fighters and trainers. He describes it as “a gift back to the fighters who gave me so much in the first book. A book for fighters, and we are all fighting something.”
Sheridan spent a few moments with Total-MMA to talk about the book last week.
Sheridan, a Massachusetts native now living in California, answers my afternoon phone call sounding sleepy. I laugh for a moment that he’s adapting too well to his new West Coast home — but then it strikes me that this “mellow” may be one of his best assets. It’s easy to picture how he walks quietly into one environment after another in his books, relaxed but keeping his determination, and walks out with a good story.
“When I started thinking about this book, when I started talking about it to friends who are fighters, they were all really into it,” he recalls when asked about the creative process behind The Fighter’s Mind. “Who wouldn’t want to know how Randy Couture ‘game plans’? Rory Markham asked me to ask everybody what the last thing they think about, you know, right before the bell rings. Fighters have these questions about other successful fighters; guys they’ve seen perform well. It happened organically to come out of ideas, talking about this book.”
“Because of the success of the first book, a lot of fighters liked it, sort of appreciated it, I had some gravitas,” he continues. “People would return my phone calls, if you know what I mean. I had the opportunity to write the second book - to ask questions about the mental game – which a lot of journalists weren’t in a place to ask. I mean, Randy Couture called me back. I almost fell out of my chair!”
Couture actually provided one of the surprises of the book, at least for for me, as his entire mental approach seemed to be centered on “breaking” his opponent’s will. I expected a more inward focus for the MMA legend, but Sheridan sees it differently.
“It’s always a little hilarious when people talk about some of those top level wrestlers, how they’re fierce competitors – but they don’t want to hurt anybody, they just want to compete,” he says. “You know, ‘they don’t hate anybody.’ But you have to look at the big picture with a lot of these guys. He could be coaching at Oregon or something. There are ways to compete without climbing in the cage and fighting. This is also about personal stuff; and Randy enjoys testing these guys. But he doesn’t have to be mad and he doesn’t have to hate you. He has a very clinical approach, so it’s an interesting thing talking to him.”
As in A Fighter’s Heart, Sheridan offers prespectives on the matter of fighting which are expected to reach beyond professional rings and cages. Time spent with Renzo Gracie and Marcelo Garcia brings several ideas to light. It was Gracie who provided the quote, “everybody’s fighting something,” and his family’s art which provides a different opportunity for growth. Sheridan trains jiu-jitsu and sees it as having much to offer the world.
“Jiu-jitsu is kind of the perfect cure for bullies,” Sheridan says. “You go in there and you think you’re tough and what’s your first experience? You spend six months getting beat up by everybody. It really doesn’t matter how strong you are or how big you are. You get dominated. Then eventually you come out of it, able to survive and last. But, getting dominated is still fresh in your mind and you get strong.”
I’m reminded of Saulo Ribeiro’s description of jiu-jitsu as “a humbling journey” in his Total-MMA interview last year. Sheridan agrees.
“Right, exactly!” he exclaims. “One of the universal themes I get from this book is that, a ‘humbling journey.’ It’s something I heard a lot of guys say, in different ways. To never stop learning: that’s something that was hammered home.”
Another common thread from The Fighter’s Mind is the value of hard work. From the academic MMA approach of Greg Jackson, a memorable chapter with Dan Gable, to a surprise visit from chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, who now competes in jiu-jitsu — all of Sheridan’s subjects worked tirelessly to meet their goals.
“Josh is the real deal,” Sheridan relates. “He’s been training with Marcelo Garcia. He actually started out here in LA with John Machado. I think he ended up getting really close to Marcelo Garcia. Marcelo had to go to Brazil, Josh helped him come back, and now they opened a gym together (in New York). They’ve got a pretty successful gym going, they have a great website where they’re really trying to change the way people think of training online. Thinking about Josh, he’s a chess guy but he’s really brought a lot of these chess ideas. Chess is a tremendous study, been going on for hundreds of years. I think they’re still kind of putting things together but they’re having success.”
“It’s so funny how it became clear, that there’s no short cut,” he continues. “Nobody wants to work hard. Everybody wants a magic button, to take some steroids or whatever, and all of the sudden you can do whatever you want to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist! They have a lot of devotion, and it’s not just showing up either. You have to train intelligently and get something out of each practice. Dan Gable talks about that, to not just survive but to get something out of it.”
Sheridan repeats the maxim from Miyamoto Musashi’s samurai treatise, The Book of Five Rings: “You know, ‘this requires practice’. People want to look past that.”
What about his own practice, then? A Fighter’s Heart saw Sheridan compete in Muay Thai and MMA bouts, but he says those days are behind him.
“I still train when I can… when I get off my butt and do it,” he laughs. “I’m not in fight shape and I don’t spar too much. When I get the headaches now, I think, listen, I’m not going to be a world champ. I’m into writing. I still think about getting into the ring though. I just don’t think I have time to get into that kind of shape. I’m a writer and I have all kinds of projects going on. I have to work every day. You have to give your life energy to something, and I can’t really afford to commit that.”
Still, he admits, “There’s a lot of ways to stay in shape. I still love it. It’s more of an addiction. It’s a hard thing to shake: the camaraderie, the joy of learning… just the dialogue of sparring.”
So we won’t see him in the ring again, and he also implies that his next project won’t be related to the martial arts. But Sheridan has certainly contributed to this dialogue in his own, perhaps more lasting, way. I’d like to thank him for it — and for taking the time to speak to us — about the answers he’s found.