What's On My Mind
by Kenneth Tuttle Wilhelm

MMA and Squash: Is there a connection?

March 4, 2014

Having lived in Asia for nearly two decades, I’ve had quite a bit of exposure to various martial arts. And living in proximity to the origins of so many different martial disciplines, what has always attracted me as a spectator is the more esoteric approach to combat, that still exists here.

Probably the most important lesson in martial arts comes from a book called “The Book of Five Rings” written by Miyamoto Musashi, in 1645. Musashi was a Samurai during the feudal period in Japan, and he ‘retired’ from fighting duels with other Samurai, having never suffered a loss. In fact as he neared the end of his fighting career he changed to fighting with wooden sticks against opponents who were still using the forged steel swords, and he still defeated all who offered a challenge.

Musashi identified one ‘principal’ of competition that was the true path to success in a life or death situation: Musashi said that the warrior must go into battle having already accepted death as an outcome. In doing so, the warrior may focus solely upon winning.

In squash terms (or any other sport for that matter), this would translate to mean that for a competitor to optimise their performance, he or she must accept that losing, and thus it becomes a non-issue. The competitor should focus only on what they can, and should do in order to win.

Yes, a player does need to consider what the opponent is trying tactically, and have some thought towards countering. But to allow one’s self to worry or get caught up with the possibility of losing just ends up detracting from a focus on the path to winning.

In squash, to be successful, a player needs to be able to counter (defend) the opponent’s strategy and tactics, and always working towards imposing their ‘own game’ upon the opponent.

Back to the martial arts:

There was a recent MMA championship fight that took place, and after the fight was over, the defending champion, and winner on this day, revealed that they had studied video of the opponent and had discovered that there was a particular attacking tactic, that they had never used before, that would likely be effective against this challenger. So the champion devoted a significant amount of time training on the use of this specific tactic. In the actual fight, the champion put this tactic to use and defeated the opponent in the first round by technical knockout.

In squash, every player has strengths and weaknesses. Aspiring players wanting to improve their performance need to study their opponents. Find either the position(s) on the court that your opponent struggles with, or a specific movement (such as moving from the forecourt into the deep forehand corner) that elicits a consistent and predictable response.

Then the player needs to figure out several specific tactics that will reliably put the ball on a trajectory to where the opponent struggles. And once deciding on these tactics, the player must put in the practice time, and sweat, to establish these skills for use in the upcoming match.

The more reliably that one can predict an opponent’s shot coming from a particular position, the more prepared one is to gain control over a rally, the game, the match.

Some readers will be saying….. ‘What’s the big deal, nothing new”. That may be true for some and not for others….

What is important to understand, is that players can learn about squash from observing how others go about winning in the arenas of other sports and competition.

Kenneth Tuttle Wilhelm is an accredited squash coach and educator based in Asia, and writes the squash coaching blogsquashstepbystep.blogspot.com. He’s been coaching sports and teaching in international schools for many years. In a previous life he was a competitive badminton player reaching the A Grade level, and briefly held a world ranking in Men’s Doubles.

What's On My Mind is a column by rotating authors.
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