Cus D’Amato on Boxing as a Way of Life

Cus D’Amato and a young Mike Tyson

Cus D’Amato and a young Mike Tyson

"You will, in fact, get hit. Most fighters, they get excited. Boom. You drop your hands. When you get hit, that’s when you gotta be calm."

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Constantine "Cus" D'Amato (1908 – 1985) is arguably the most famous American boxing trainer, having trained the likes of Mike Tyson, Floyd Patterson, José Torres, and Rocky Graziano. But what makes him so unique and well-remembered is how he used boxing as an analogy for living.

On How to Carry Yourself

I believe a man is a professional when he can do what needs to be done no matter how he feels within. An amateur is an amateur in his attitude emotionally. A professional is a professional in the way he thinks and feels and in his ability to execute under the most trying conditions.

On Sublimating Fear

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson

Boxing is a sport of self-control. You must understand fear so you can manipulate it. Fear is like a fire. If you control it, as we do when we heat our houses, it is a friend. When you don’t, it consumes you and everything you do and everything around you.

On Mindfulness

A man who’s thinking or worried about getting hit is not gonna have a good sense of anticipation. He will, in fact, get hit.

On Character

Floyd Patterson

Floyd Patterson

It is the mark of a great fighter when he has character plus skill. Because a fighter with character and skill will often rise and beat a better fighter because of this. Character is that quality upon which you can depend under pressure and other conditions.

On Practice

José Torres

José Torres

There is no such thing as a natural puncher. There is a natural aptitude for punching, and that is different. Nobody is born the best. You have to practice and train to become the best.

On Stoicism

I believe nature’s a lot smarter than anyone thinks. During the course of a man’s life, he develops a lot of pleasures and people he cares about. Then nature takes them away one by one. It’s her way of preparing you for death.

Not Emotionless but Wholeness

Every fighter that ever lived had fear. A boy comes to me and tells me that he’s not afraid, if I believed him, I’d say he’s a liar or there’s something wrong with him. I’d send him to a doctor to find out what the hell’s the matter with him because this is not a normal reaction. The fighter that’s gone into the ring and hasn’t experienced fear is either a liar or a psychopath.

On Endurance

With fear, a man becomes emotionally tired, and when he is afraid, he has no faith in himself.

On Accepting Your Emotions and Learning to Manage Them

I should add that at no time does fear disappear. It’s just as bad in the hundredth fight as it was in the first, except by the time he reaches a hundred fights or long before that he’s developed enough discipline where he can learn to live with it, which is the object, to learn to live with it.

On Equanimity

Floyd Patterson

Floyd Patterson

You will, in fact, get hit. And then most important, when you get hit, most fighters, they get excited. Boom. You drop your hands. When you get hit, that’s when you gotta be calm. That’s when you have to be calm. When you get hit.

This particular quote from D'Amato is my favorite and reminds me of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius's words on Equanimity:

When facing whatever happens outside of your control, be calm. When taking actions for which you are responsible, be fair.

Equanimity isn't only about living a life of inner peace, it is also about sound decision making. When you are excited, when you are emotional, is when you are easiest to manipulate for manipulation appeals to your emotions. When you are excited is when you should be the most careful about the decisions you make. When you stay calm is when you become an effective decision maker. Boxing is decision making with immediate and dire consequences.

Be aware of instigators and manipulators (or promoters). Do not be comforted because other excited folks are making the same poor decisions you are (let's all jump off a cliff!); it won't make it any less painful. Because the person riling everyone else up will make a different decision for himself (and watch everyone else jump off the cliff so he can take all their stuff).

On Risk-Management

Remember, it’s always good to throw the punch where you could hit him, and he can’t hit you. That’s what the science of boxing is all about.

On Being Your Own Obstacle

To see a man beaten not by a better opponent but by himself is a tragedy.

On Effort

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

When two men step into the ring, one and only one deserves to win. When you step into the ring, you gotta know you deserve to win. You gotta know destiny owes you victory, ‘cause you trained harder than your opponent. You sparred harder. You ran farther.

On Actions Over Feelings

I tell my kids, what is the difference between a hero and a coward? What is the difference between being yellow and being brave? No difference. Only what you do. They both feel the same. They both fear dying and getting hurt. The man who is yellow refuses to face up to what he’s got to face. The hero is more disciplined, and he fights those feelings off, and he does what he has to do. But they both feel the same, the hero and the coward. People who watch you judge you on what you do, not how you feel.

On the Learning Mindset

A young Mike Tyson

A young Mike Tyson

There are very few new things in this world, very few. That’s why people that are young if they’re smart, try to profit from the experience of an older guy, so they won’t have to go through all the pain and suffering. But a certain amount of pain and suffer is good because it makes a person think they’ve learned.

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