Discipline: Staying the Course

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

When you write daily, everything you do informs your writing, everything becomes material, everything becomes research. And so, when I was watching UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk defend her title against Jessica Andrade, it was no longer a fight but a lesson in discipline.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk, regardless of weight, gender, or style, is one of the best strikers in MMA. It's not that she knows things other fighters don't know, what's unique is she stays disciplined to those fundamentals throughout the entire duration of the fight. That's what makes her special. Most fighters have learned the same techniques, most fighters know the same strategies, most fighters can demonstrate a fine jab and a powerful kick. But discipline, in this case, is the ability to do all those things consistently, and not to go buck wild just because your opponent and your circumstances have gone wild.

This sequence with Jedrzejczyk and Andrade is to me as powerful as an aphorism in a philosophical text. It is just as rich with truth and life observations. Jessica Andrade was Joanna Jedrzejczyk's most dangerous opponent to date, with all the tools to defeat Jedrzejczyk. Many believed it would either be a tough test or Jedrzejczyk's uncrowning. It was a tricky stylistic matchup for Jedrzejczyk but what happened instead was a masterclass in discipline by the champion.

Moment-by-moment

Jedrzejczyk backs up, allowing Andrade to chase her, at which point Jedrzejczyk stops to create a collision where, as Andrade is walking forward, Jedrzejczyk throws a jab, cross. (Conor McGregor also throws a similar backstepping strike.) Andrade partially blocks the jab, but with her forward momentum, Andrade can't escape Jedrzejczyk's right cross. Notice how Jedrzejczyk pauses between the first and second punch — to see Andrade's reaction and then aim before firing (whereas Andrade punches blind). That's what I mean by discipline. Not as we use it colloquially, as a strict enforcement of rules through punishment, but as a commitment to the course in spite of our wants to do otherwise.

In the Oscar-winning film Unforgiven, the character of Little Bill Daggett explains these concepts to novelist W.W. Beauchamp:

Look, son, being a good shot, being quick with a pistol, that don’t do no harm, but it don’t mean much next to being cool-headed. A man who will keep his head and not get rattled under fire, like as not, he’ll kill ya.

W.W. Beauchamp: “But if the other fella is quicker, and fires first...”

Little Bill Daggett: “Then he’ll be hurrying, and he’ll miss. Look here...”

[Stands and draws his gun]

Little Bill Daggett: “That’s about as fast as I can draw, and aim, and hit anything more than ten feet away... ‘less it’s a barn.”

W.W. Beauchamp: “But if he doesn’t miss?”

Little Bill Daggett: “Then he’ll kill ya.”

[Chuckles]

Little Bill Daggett: “Yeah, that’s why there’s so few dangerous men around like old Bob, like me. It ain’t so easy to shoot a man anyhow, especially if the son-of-a-bitch is shootin’ back at you. I mean, that’ll just flat rattle some folks.

As soon as Jedrzejczyk completes her combo, she stiff-arms the side of Andrade's head to steer Andrade's attack away while also using her as a pivot point to circle herself away in the opposite direction. This is why Jedrzejczyk is the champion; she is a general in the ring, where, not only does she control her own movement, but also the movement of her opponent. This much wherewithal in a very short amount of time is what makes Jedrzejczyk one of the best. Like a good sharpshooter, it's not about the fastest but the most disciplined.

Transcending Human Flaws

I think of the likes of Warren Buffet who is legendary for his remarkable patience. Other investors know the same fundamentals as Buffet, but they cannot commit to it like he does, especially when the market is volatile. "That'll just flat rattle some folks." They are human; discipline is that ability to deny the human weakness to succumb. There is a famous saying by Mike Tyson which he got from his trainer Cus D'Amato, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." That statement, though it seems related, is about fear and panic, but the enemy of discipline is much more mundane and omnipresent than that. It's distraction, it's boredom, it's the inability to wait, it's the failing to keep repeating the same fundamentals over and over. Why do diets not work? Because people have to stick to them indefinitely.

It would be understandable to break routine because you were scared, but someone without discipline will fall out of a focused state not out of fear but because it is more normal to be out of that state than it is to be in it. Rather than something unusual breaking them out of their concentration, undisciplined people need something unusual to make them concentrate. (The high demand for smart drugs and mind hacks speaks to that need.) What is unusual for most folks, sticktoitiveness, is what is consistent for those rare disciplined individuals. But discipline, like a muscle, can be strengthened. Just keep doing it. That's why it's so hard, because it's not exciting.

When we think of discipline, I think we mistakenly think of toughness. Jessica Andrade is tough, she took a thousand of Jedrzejczyk's punches and kept coming forward. But that's not what discipline is — trust me, it's not that hard to get hit a lot while you brawl with your eyes closed. In fact, it's all you can think to do. It's easy to be tough, but it's tough to be consistent.

Every day, doing it right, over and over again, to be flawless. That's what makes some transcendent, to transcend what it means to be human, it's not their talent, though that don't do no harm, but it is the ability to transcend our moments of human weakness. Humans realized long ago that we can't be perfect, however, we did learn to cultivate discipline, which is pretty darn close.