What I want to talk about today is sport research—specifically MMA (Mixed Martial Arts for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym). I recently completed a manuscript (that is making the rounds, so keep your fingers crossed for me) about a hero who is a cage fighter. Number one, I adore this sport anyway so this research quickly fell into the spend-more-time-researching-than-writing category. But not only did my research increase my respect for the sport, it also gave me a whole new understanding of what these men go through. And added to the complexity of my hero, making him well rounded and oh-so-very yummy.
These men are not barbarians who simply jump into a cage and beat the crap out of each other. Yes, they do get paid to fight, but there is a science to entering the octagon. The training is intense (sometimes up to eight hours a day) and painful, the mind games real, the focus crucial, the strategy and studying of their game plan vital. When a fighter is training for a match, their life is consumed with each of these things. I learned so much through writing this story, I now consider MMA extreme fighters some of the top athletes in the world.
Did you know that hitting a bag in speed drills is painful? I should know. As part of my research, I took part in one these “drills.” Now mind you I only did a minute instead of the usual three these guys do. Let me tell you, sixty seconds is a LONG time. By the time my buzzer sounded, my arms were on fire and wet-noodle weak. Then I found myself shocked to learn these men feel this way each time they do a burn out session. How exciting. I was also informed that most fighters dread bag work because it is so painful. I was able to use this in one of my scenes:
In quick short punches, Dante hit the bag, over and over again. In less than a minute, burning seared his arms up into his shoulders.
“Two to go. Faster!”
He increased his speed, pounding in swift repetition. The burning deep in his muscles intensified until he yelled. Pummeling faster, he refused to let the strong sting daunt him. Sweat coated his arms and dripped off his elbows. Still he continued.
A loud buzz rang. “Time.”
Dante bounced back, hopping from foot to foot as he shook out his arms.
Not only did I participate in a drill, I watched a training session. All I can say is wow. Hours of Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and a plethora of other Martial Arts came into play. Now each of these men is not specialized in every aspect of Marital Arts. You have some who are black belts in Jiu Jistsu, some masters of Brazilian boxing, others who are All-American wrestlers, a wide range of different techniques.
Train, train, train. Study, study, study.
Each man will spend hours studying previous fights to watch their opponent for their strengths and weaknesses. Then they will train on how to take advantage of these things. A boxer will have to learn how avoid being taken to the mat by a seasoned ground fighter and if he is how to wiggle out of a triangle hold before a submission occurs while a ground fighter will have to learn how to dodge the punches aimed for his head and look for that opening to take his opponent down. Each have an agenda, and each is trying to keep the other from reaching it. Every move has to be calculated, intentional. One false step and the game plan goes up in smoke.
I could go on and on about the sport that has stolen my heart. The research I did throughout the months I wrote Dante and Cait’s story will stay with me forever. It’s the first time I have been impacted and understood how very important learning what your writing about is crucial to portraying realistic characters. Without immersing myself into the MMA world, I would have written extreme fighting all wrong and the story would have lacked a certain luster. But because I did the opposite and researched my little heart out, I was able to bring a spark to Dante’s conflict that otherwise would not have been there. So the morale of the story is: Research helps enrich your writing, don’t forsake it. :)