Author Sam Sheridan has done a lot of living. He has sailed around the world, put out forest fires in Americaâ€™s southwest, and been part of a work-crew in Antarctica. Thatâ€™s a lot of adventure for someone so young. Oh, and heâ€™s still found time to travel around the world to train with Olympic boxers, Mixed Martial Artist (MMA) superstars, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champions, and Muay Thai fighters. From the moment he first put on boxing gloves as a student at Harvard Sheridan discovered a love for fighting. This fascination eventually led him to wonder â€œWhy?â€ Why would an otherwise sane individual choose to get into a ring or cage and stand toe-to-toe with someone who wants nothing more than to beat the living crap out of you? This is the basic question put forth in Sheridanâ€™s book
A Fighter’s Heart, one that he and the reader explore as we follow the author around the globe.
After spending a little time in Australia studying kickboxing Sheridan decides to travel to Thailand to study Muay Thai kickboxing in depth. Sheridanâ€™s descriptive detail of the training village, the people he meets there and the pre-fight Muay Thai rituals are wonderful and an example of the books strengths. Thailand is one place I have never really considered visiting, but after reading the account of his time there I am putting it on my list of 100 places to see before I die.
All pictures in this article are for illustrative purposes only
We feel the authorâ€™s aches and pains as he trains daily for his debut match against a Japanese Karate fighter. The buildup to the fight doesnâ€™t disappoint as we feel like weâ€™re right there with him preparing for the big day. After the fight (sorry, youâ€™ll have to read the book to see who wins) the author eventually returns to the states and goes on with his life only to realize that he hasnâ€™t gotten fighting out of his system yet.
This desire to fight leads him to Iowa where he trains under MMA pioneer, Pat Miletich the Croatian Sensation. Here he falls once again into the daily routine of constant training and easy camaraderie with many of todayâ€™s top MMA superstars. Among them are Matt Hughes and Tim Sylvia.
Training MMA Sheridan compares and contrasts its differences with Muay Thai and boxing. We learn to appreciate all the knowledge that a good MMA fighter must possess as he can be beat in any of a number of ways. Sheridanâ€™s training eventually leads to a fight where he is injured and forced to quit. This starts an unfortunate trend where each time Sheridan trains in a new style he can never devote 100% of himself to the endeavor because of his nagging injuries. This makes many of the chapters a little anti-climatic.
His time training MMA helps him realize that his â€œground-gameâ€ is weak. So Sheridan travels to Brazil to study Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I got a real kick out of reading his struggles getting used to wearing a Gi while training. Anyone who practices Judo or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will relate to this and share a knowing grin.
Sheridan does a great job describing the history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and how the local surfer culture has influenced the evolution of the sport. His depiction of poverty in Brazil is gripping and a real eye-opener. Here we get a clear picture as to why some people fight. It can provide a way out of the poverty they live with everyday. Again though, due to his injuries, Sheridan is not able to train fully and so his ground-game does not improve as much as he or the reader would have liked.
After leaving Brazil he spends some time studying Tai Chi from the venerable Master Chen and learns that this â€œsoftâ€ art has its roots in real fighting. Itâ€™s goal of slowing everything down as much as possible helps focus and refine your technique.
One of the biggest sections of the book covers his time training with Olympic caliber boxers. Sheridan provides great insight into the history and importance of the â€œsweet scienceâ€ to American history. As with the other chapters we follow his training as he works to develop into a sound boxer and we are once again disappointed when he is injured in a sparring match and unable to have his debut boxing match.
I found the section on dog-fighting uncomfortable and awkward to read. The author is using it as a way to describe the idea of â€œGamenessâ€. Where a fighter is always ready to throw down no matter how tired or outgunned he is. While I understand the intent, as a westerner, I have trouble relating to the idea of training animals to fight for sport.
In the final chapter the author sums up his theories on fighting and provides some sound insight into manâ€™s desire for competition and to â€œproveâ€ himself. Iâ€™d like to add that the difference between a fighter and a martial artist is that a fighter sees his opponent as the guy standing across from him in the ring while a martial artist recognizes that his opponent is within him. Eventually speed and strength vanish and a fighter must recognize that the challenge has always been to improve himself. Hence the “DO” (way) in the name of so many traditional martial arts.
A Fighter’s Heart suffers from feeling like a collection of magazine articles loosely tied together to create a book. This is unfortunate as each chapter could serve as the basis for a book of its own. Just as the author jumps from one fighting style to another, never mastering any, so too are we, the readers, never given time to fully immerse ourselves in the culture, and techniques of any one style.
The book’s greatest strength is the author’s gift for fantastic descriptive writing. We truly feel like we are there with him, covered in blood and gasping for air. His first hand experience training in these sports provides a legitimate snapshot of the skills and dedication needed to successfully pursue them. Are you game?
3 bloodied fighters out of 5
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