A Fighter’s Heart

A Fighter’s Heart Book Review


There are books that you wish you had written, coveting the skill of the author. Then there are those you wish you had written just to have lead the life that the author lived. A Fighter’s Heart: One Man’s Journey Through the World of Fighting is both for me.The writing style is so engaging that I when I went to flip through and take notes, I re-read the whole thing in a day.

I’d been training in Martial Arts for a few years, through most of my twenties, when I found this book. I thought about fighting often and wondered how I would go. The arts I trained in were just that, arty. They were beautiful and they felt good and they had a long history, but I didn’t  think I could kick anyone’s arse.

At the end of it all, alongside better health, fitness and self-esteem, it would be good to know that it worked.

So I trained in my Kung-fu. It wasn’t completely posed, we did spar with small gloves, light contact. Sometimes you would get a bloody nose or black eye. Once I broke a rib from a kick but it was more due to me walking into it than the kicker landing a powerful blow. But I would be out at a bar, or walking home from one, and I would wonder, like most soft, middle-class white guys… What would happen if I got in a fight? I’d run through a sequence… If he did this, I’d do that. When he threw that, I’d throw this. And then I’d use my Tiger Claw technique… But I always had doubts, I always feared I’d run. Pussy out. (Actually the smarter move, running fast is the original and best Martial Art).

And then I read this book. And Sam is a lot like me. Me, if I was braver and smarter and a far better writer and Martial Artist. It gripped me from the first page. By the halfway point I knew I needed to change my training. By the end I knew I had to start learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Sure, this is a book about fighting. And if you have no interest in the combat then it would be easy to disregard. But this is also a book about fear and work and improvement and training. Martial Arts, mixed or otherwise, are about training. As Sheridan says in the book, the best part of kung-fu moves are never the fights; it’s always the training sequences.

How do they get to be that good?

And that’s the draw of martial arts. You learn, you get better. I always think that the goal of my training is to be able to beat any previous version of myself. I’m not training to beat other people but to better my abilities.

After getting a taste of boxing while at university and then travelling the world as a deckhand on a yacht, Sam starts to train Muay Thai in Thailand. Writing about it leads to travelling to other far-flung places and training with some of the best in the world. Rio for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Iowa for MMA, San Francisco for Boxing, New York to learn Tai Chi.

The chapters on training with Miletich Fighting Systems in Iowa are a highlight. In the mid-2000s, the UFC was recovering from its early troubles and still an underground phenomenon. The book was written before the UFC sparked in 2005, before the first season of the Ultimate Fighter pushed into America’s mainstream.

The sport was no longer a freakshow of style vs style. It had become a contest with codified rules and weight classes. The training was becoming smarter and the athletes much more skillful. Many former UFC fighters and champions like Pat Miletich, Tim Sylvia and Matt Hughes feature. As does current welterweight champ Robbie Lawler.

Sheridan writes of the democracy of jiu-jitsu and MMA training. It’s technique that matters, not titles or rank as in other Martial Arts. There is a great quote from Brazilian black belt Olavo Abreu.

“Jiu-jitsu is like being a Jedi Knight…the knowledge is with you all the time. You go out alone but you are not alone because you have Jiu-Jitsu.”

He gives great history lessons on each art he encounters. The talent he associates with is world class; hanging with Big Nog when he fights Fedor in Japan, complete with Anderson Silva cameo. Training with Andre Ward as he started his pro boxing career after Olympic Gold.
He also delves into thoughts on the role of fighting in culture and society. Is it a rite of manhood? Do we need it anymore? Can we ever be rid of it? He ends with his thoughts that fighters at the end train to get better. Fighting is more about you than the opponent, a truth that rings loud and clear to this poor Martial Artist. I train to get better.

I love this book. It changed my life and lead me to Jiu-Jitsu. It made me concentrate on my training in a new way. Training better has lead to clearer thinking around fighting. I haven’t run a fight scenario in my head on the way home from the pub for years.

If you don’t understand why someone you love enjoys Martial Arts and Combat Sports (hi Mum) then this is a great place to start. If you train in Martial Arts, or you are thinking about starting, then A Fighter’s Heart is a must read.

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