5 Cage-Fighting Tips For The Self-Employed


The business world has always venerated warriors and studied their strategies. The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings can be found in many business management libraries.

Now a new breed of warrior has arrived. Mixed Martial Arts (the proper term for cage fighting) has exploded out of the underground to emerge as the hottest sport in the world. What might be learned from these modern warriors?

My Training As An Amateur Fighter

Yes. Computer geeks can learn to fight.

I’ve learned a lot while training with some of the toughest athletes in the world. I’m not talking about choking your opponent unconscious or splitting open foreheads with well-placed elbow strikes (although they are fun techniques to learn). We’re talking about tools for success that can apply to any aspect of life, especially business.

Here are the top 5 things I’ve learned while fight training:

1. Competing in the Information Age

The question of “which martial art is most effective?” is no longer relevant.

When the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) started over 14 years ago, it was like something out of an old Bruce Lee flick. Each contestant represented a country and a fighting style. Sumo wrestlers, kickboxers, jiu-jitsu black-belts, and savate artists all wanted to prove that their style was most effective.

Now it’s completely different. Every top fighter in the UFC cross-trains in the 3 Pillars of Mixed Martial Arts: Striking, Submissions, & Wrestling. Fighters may specialize in one discipline, but will train in all of them. The question of “which martial art is most effective?” is no longer relevant.

Cross-training helps you compete. The need for additional training to remain competitive is not unique to martial arts. Take a trade like Graphic Design.

Nowadays in addition to design skills, designers need to understand how to use image editing software like Illustrator and Photoshop. Designing for web and Flash require an understanding of user-interface theory and many designers have learned HTML and CSS. To compete at a high level, designers need ongoing training to keep up with the latest software, theory and design trends.

Cross-training is critical for the self-employed. When you’re self-employed you wear a lot of hats. You need to handle marketing, accounting, and other aspects of business while juggling multiple projects. Inc Magazine reports that cross-training is especially helpful for start-ups and continues to be of value as the company grows.

2. Globalization Changes Everything

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a good example of the effects of Globalization. For many centuries it was enough to train in the same discipline that your fellow countrymen trained in. But as fighters traveled the world learning new styles and sharing their knowledge, eventually all fighters needed to train in other disciplines to remain competitive.

As this requirement for more knowledge grew, it also became easier to travel to other countries to learn new fighting styles. Now most athletes can train in MMA or any martial arts style without having to travel out of their city.

You are no longer limited by geography. Just as you no longer have to go to Brazil to learn or teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you no longer have to be anywhere specific to provide your services. With the Internet, you can work from anywhere and have clients from anywhere.

During the past 7 years of being self employed I’ve spent a lot of time working while traveling. I’ve outsourced to India and have several clients that I’ve never met in “real life”.

For additional information on working from anywhere, check out this well-written article.

3. It Takes A Team

Behind every great fighter is a great training camp. Watch any “UFC All Access” program on Spike TV and it becomes obvious that it takes a team to prepare for a fight.

…it’s too easy to get lost in the vacuum of your own little world.

I’ve heard horror stories from other fighters who were so nervous before their first fight that they were choking back vomit as they walked into the cage.

I’m not a great fighter, just a guy with a huge passion for MMA. Fortunately, my instructors and training partners at the Mushin MMA gym prepared me so well for my first fight that I experienced an incredible sense of confidence and energy as I walked towards the cage. I could never have done it without them.

One of the drawbacks to being self-employed is that it’s too easy to get lost in the vacuum of your own little world. As a developer I felt I could learn anything I wanted by researching on the web. To some extent, it’s true.

But it was only after working with jiu-jitsu instructors David Heaps & Darius Andrews that I realized how much more effective it was to learn from a hands-on teacher than by trying to learn from instructional videos or books.

When I joined the Mushin gym to learn Muay Thai & Combat Submission Wrestling, that appreciation for teachers was reinforced. I also realized that each training partner brought something different to the table. The more good partners I had, the more my MMA game evolved.

These realizations prompted me to reflect on my business life. I had been blessed with wonderful mentors back when I worked in the corporate world. But after several years of being self-employed my career was starting to stagnate. With guidance from my Professional Development Coach (and Zen Master), I started reconnecting with former mentors and asking for business advice from some of my more successful clients.

I also started connecting with other developers and designers to bounce ideas off each other and share new discoveries.

The effects were remarkable. I became more excited about my career and received new and bigger opportunities.

4. Flow with the Go

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee

When I first started jiu-jitsu training, my instructor Darius would often tell me to stop using my muscles and use technique instead. He’d tell me to act as if my opponent was a tree and to move myself around him, but not to muscle my opponent around.

When you “flow with the go” in business, you’re operating in that productivity sweet spot.

I experienced a similar lesson when I started Muay Thai training. After many years of working on a heavy punching bag by myself, I knew I could hit hard. One of my training partners told me I “hit like a train”.

So when my instructor Brian told me my striking technique was all wrong, it was hard to take. He said I was using too much muscle and was too tense. I needed to loosen up and let my arm whip out more.

Over many months Brian helped me drop some of my bad habits in punching, and learn to be more fluid while striking. Now my punches are quicker and I can throw many more of them before tiring out.

During one training session, an instructor introduced the idea of “Flow with the go”. It’s that balancing act of not trying to force everything around you, but also not being completely at the mercy of everything else.

It’s very similar to “going with the flow” but the subtle difference is instead of bobbing along being carried by the flow, you are flowing and mixing your energy with what’s going on around you.

When you “flow with the go” in business, you’re operating in that productivity sweet spot. You’re neither forcing things to happen nor waiting for things to happen. You’re simply facilitating things happening.

An example of flowing could be in a sales meeting with a prospective client. Perhaps the potential client is expressing doubt that you’re the right one for the job. If you follow along with his current negative flow you could lose the sale. If you try to impose your will and force the sale, you’ll probably offend the client and lose the sale. But, if you mix your flow into what’s going on, address his concerns and make the effort to understand the needs of this person, you have a better chance of saving the sale.

Will-power is wonderful. It can accomplish a lot. But will-power with flow will accomplish even more.

For a good example of kinetic flowing, check out this video clip. It’s of one of my favorite mixed martial artists, Genki Sudo, competing in a submission grappling tournament.

5. It’s All In Your Mind

“There are two types of people in this world. Those who believe they can and those who believe they can’t. They’re both right.” –Khru Brian Yamasaki

The most important thing I learned while fight training was how to develop the muscle of your mind. During brutal conditioning drills, instructor Khru Brian would bark “You’re not working your muscles…you’re training your mind not to give up.” Somehow we’d find a way to squeeze out a few more push-ups or run another lap even when our bodies were telling us to stop.

At one point during training, I was puking in the bathroom and the one-minute rest period was almost over. I couldn’t go on. Coach Brandon Kiser made all of the other students do push-ups until I came back out. As soon as I realized what was going on I came running out and found the strength to go another round rather than make my teammates suffer.

I hated training. But after each completed session the sense of accomplishment was so great, I couldn’t help but love it.

Slowly I learned to believe in myself and my abilities. After graduating from the Mushin Fighter Corp training program, I felt like could do anything. Many things now seem easy in comparison. Even the actual fight was easy compared to the training.

This mental training to never give up and fear nothing has drastically changed my attitude about work. Staying up all night to make a deadline now seems easier. When a client is slow to pay or a project falls through, I never even consider going back to a full-time job as an employee for someone else.

I saw Donald Trump on TV a few months ago. Someone asked him what the secret to success is. He said “Never, never, never give up”. I felt thankful for that reminder, thankful for the experience of living that message while fight training, and thankful for the opportunity to learn how to apply it to other aspects of my life.


  1. Competing in the Information Age. Self-employed business owners can benefit from cross-training and ongoing education.
  2. Globalization Changes Everything. There are no geographical limitations; you can work from anywhere and have clients anywhere.
  3. It Takes A Team. If you work for yourself, it pays to cultivate mentors and a community of peers.
  4. Flow With the Go. Will power is effective. Will power while flowing is even more effective.
  5. It’s All In Your Mind. Believe in yourself and never give up.

As this has been an unusual topic for a business development blog, I would love to hear your thoughts on it. All questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Please leave a comment below.

Comments (40)

  1. hi! that was a nice blog. i really liked the way you put up different points which otherwise an individual don’t even consider. i hope i’ll benefit from all the above points in growing my business. thank you. bye…

  2. Truly exceptional blog. As a fan of MMA and also a business owner, I am inspired by this message. You can feel the “flowing” backing up your words. Thanks for the cross-training opportunity!

  3. What a wonderful post–thank you for tying MMA and business development together in such a clear and interesting way! I’m helping a friend with a non-profit startup and will be sending this to all the members of the board . . . and in the meantime I’m going to explore the rest of your site, because I would *love* to be self-employed. Thanks again for sharing, and best wishes.

  4. Nice posting. An interesting take on business ownership. The part about the importance of training and hands on experience was an important part for me. Before I became self employed I had done free lance work on the side for a long time, but I wasn’t ready to do it full time. During those years I was learning from some very talented people and was able to gain an invaluable amount experience and knowledge. When I was presented with the opportunity to start my own software development company I was a little nervous, but I was confident too. Again, nice posting.

  5. @$100Millionbyage60 – I love your nickname..says a lot about your positive mindset. Keep flowing…

    @Tawni – Welcome to the blog Tawni. I really appreciate your help in spreading the word. Thank you. Best of luck on your path towards self-employment.

    @jglazner – Thanks for dropping a note. Good for you taking the leap. Hope to see you back so you can share your experiences.

  6. @Tittleo – The best way to train for Chuck is through reviewing his fight footage. I recommend studying his Mountain Dew commercials where he beats on 2 computer nerds. πŸ™‚

    @CatherineL – Hi Catherine. I like your blog. It contains a lot of information that would be useful to the visitors here.

    @Amir Ahmad – Thank you for stopping by and for the encouraging words. Are you a UFC fan?

  7. This is a great blog entry. It’s more of an article than blog, which I like. It reminds me of how I think about my love of the Jazz. When I write my blog, I always think of how the things I write about my favorite team apply to my job.

  8. @Keith- I love reading your passionate posts on the Utah Jazz site. The one chastising fans for booing Derek Fisher is my favorite.

    @Shamelle – Welcome to the blog Shamelle. The image is of one of my training partners Dustin on his way to another a state championship victory. He looks so intense and focused in the photo. I felt it was perfect for the article.

  9. Sterling,

    These are fantastic analogies and comparisons. I agree with not giving up and persisting. But sometimes, if you prune the flowers to speak, one dies for another to replace it. Stronger than the one it replaced.

    Mind you, I’m bound to say that after experiencing success after a failure. Mind you I didn’t get up? I was knocked down, but got up, dusted myself off and started fighting again.

    Thanks for visiting my blog (via cathlawson.com I suspect).

    I like your content, so hope you don’t mind me adding you to my blogroll.



  10. @Ian – Thank you for encouraging words & the blogroll add. I really appreciate it.

    You, my friend, are definitely a warrior.

    Fight training is all about getting beaten down and climbing back up stronger. Day after day, week after week.

    Sounds like you have a solid understanding (and experience) of that.

  11. Sterling,

    What an excellent post. I love the analogies between fighting and business. What you have written is so true. We are business owners and not giving up, is one of the biggest “secrets” to success.

    I’m guessing Khru Brian Yamasaki is Japanese. Years ago I worked for a Japanese corporation and what I learned from them has forever remained with me. And with a last name of Okura, I’m assuming you are too.

    Am I right?

  12. @Barbara – You got it. My Muay Thai instructor is not Thai, he’s Japanese. And yes, I’m 1/2 Japanese. Or as they say in Hawaii: “hapa”.

    Thanks for stopping by and for the encouraging words.

  13. Sterling, I really appreciate this blog as I’m a big fan of MMA and starting a small business. I especially like the “flow with the go” priciple.

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  15. ah and I thought I was the only MMA/Computer Geek. It’s great to see your passion for MMA and being self employed. I envy what you’re doing.

    I would recommend swimming to your conditioning if you haven’t already. I’ve implemented in into my conditioning program, you can also do some good plyometrics workouts by going under water and jumping to be explosive.

    I also picked up a boxing (“western” boxing) which totally improved my striking on top of muay thai. I really learned how to weave and slip punches.

    I’m glad to see you have the right outlook on MMA because a lot of guys who join my gym are getting mad when they’re getting tapped out or they go all out. They fail to realize the sense of community of a MMA gym. They fail to realize that a lot of jiu jitsu involves being tapped out and learning from your mistakes. I’m sure you’ve seen the same.

    Anyway, hope your business AND training continues to go well.

  16. @Aaron, thanks for stopping by. Thanks for training over the years, and I look forward to your fight in a few months.

    @Jimmy Vo – Thanks so much for the comments. Man, I only did swimming conditioning with my team once, and felt like puking out chlorine for the rest of the day. I was so drained that I accidentally rear-ended another car in a fender-bender on the way home….yikes.

    Sounds like you have a great gym. Good luck with the training!

  17. Hi Stirling, nice blog and nice philosophy on life. I’m doing the same thing with yoga and tai ji (and motorcycling and dancing) applying things I’ve learned from those to life in general.

  18. @RobO – Thanks for the note bro. I know you love MMA, so figured you’d appreciate this article.

    @Neil Keleher – I checked our your blog, and love all of the methods you use to enrich your life. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment.

  19. Great article! I especially like the part about flowing with the go. It crystalized some ideas I had but put them into a clearer perspective than I have seen them before. flowing with the go is definitely different than going with the flow. Going with the flow is more about taking what is going on and using it to your advantage.

    I guess you could say, in business it would be like taking the current economic climate and trend, along with your current assets and doing what is possible to maximize the effect of bringing those forces to bear.

    But flowing with the go is more like taking an active part in manipulating and changing the situation. Lobbying, becoming part of a special interest group, becoming a policy maker, and setting the trends all would be part of this mindset.

    In Jiu-jitsu it’s akin to looking at it like this I suppose; If your opponent moves here, you counter like so (go with the flow). Whereas if you are consistently moving and changing angles of attack and dominant position, you dictate, to an extent, the directions he moves and therefore the counters you will eventually employ (flowing with the go).

    To liken it to your analogy, there are times that we must move around the tree (go with the flow), and there are times we become the Bonsai master and we influence how the tree grows (flow with the go).

  20. @Khru Brian – First, thank you for the incredible training. My life would be very different and this article wouldn’t exist without your influence.

    Second, thank you for sharing some of your MMA wisdom in the comment. The Bonsai Master analogy is priceless. Now when grappling and climbing around an opponent, I’ll make sure to trim a branch here and there.

    much respect,

    @Everyone Else – Visit Khru Brian’s MMA video clips on You Tube.

  21. Hi Sterling,

    It’s taken me too long to get back to reading your blog, but based on my challenges this month, the timing for reading this post was perfect. A week ago it wouldn’t have meant as much.

    #1 – cross-training
    In the not-so-old days, specialization was the key to success, and anyone with a range of skills was considered “jack of all trades, master of none”. I’ve been feel my wide skillset is a disadvantage, but now I see I need to reframe it for myself as you’ve talked about it…as a competitive edge, and something to cultivate.

    #3 – self-teaching vs mentoring
    I discovered this too, once I got a business coach. Tasks got done faster and better with some guidance and accountability. I’ve gone to back to school to strengthen what I now (thanks to you) consider my core skillset, and again, I absorb so much with instructor guidance, a thorough curriculum, and dynamic peers

    #4 – flowing with the go
    This was a relief to read, since I had abandoned trying to force my will on deciding on what to do for a business. Rather than let others tell me, or make another false start, I’m doing work that pleases and challenges, helping others, blogging, school…and slowly being steered to my worklife

    #5 – not quitting
    I am such a quitter πŸ™‚ I am working on it, and this was a good reminder of WHY I’m working on it.

    Whew, sorry for the long comment, but you gave me a lot, and I was dying to tell ya about it!

  22. @Crystal – Thanks for the detailed comment, I really appreciate it.

    You bring up a good point with the cross-training. I still believe you can never really go too narrow. Specialization is important. But being self-employed does require additional skills for running and marketing a business.

    Good for you for hiring a business coach. I’m excited to follow your progress.

  23. Very interesting! I am a fighter as well. I have never really tied the principles I have learned in my fight training to my business life, but perhaps I should be doing just that!

  24. @Jack – Hey thanks for stopping by bro. I need to come up to the U and train with you & Pat again. Let me know next time you compete in Grapplers’ Quest so I can tag along.

    @Eric Hamilton – Sounds like you’ve been training martial arts for a long time, so your life is probably already influenced by your training whether you realize it or not. What do you think?

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  28. so i am doing a physical trainer project and i have chose to do cage fighting..
    so do you think you get kinda tell me about pre-season, in-season and post-season training and life is lie..it would be a great honor to hear back from you..


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