in: Fitness, Health & Fitness, Podcast

• Last updated: September 25, 2021

The Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #30: A Fighter’s Heart & Mind with Sam Sheridan

Welcome back to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast! In this week’s episode I talk to Sam Sheridan, author of the book A Fighter’s Heart and his new book, The Fighter’s Mind. We discuss why kicking ass requires humility, how failure leads to success, what fighting has to do with manliness, and much, much more.

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Well, you’ve seen them on TVs Ultimate Fighter, MMA Fighters who pound each other that bloody pulls all for the taste of glorious victory. But what sort of mindset does it take to step into a ring and face down another man whose only goal is to either knock you out or put you in some painful submission hold until you tap out.

Well, our guess today has written two books on this topic, his name is Sam Sheridan, and he’s the author of two books on fighting, The Fighter’s Heart and The Fighter’s Mind. In addition to writing the fighting, Sam has worked as merchant marine, sailed around the world, became a smoke jumper and has worked in Antarctica sounds like earnest to me why you are here. Well, Sam, welcome to the show.

Sam Sheridan: Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me as I appreciate it.

Brett McKay: All right. Well, the first thing I want to talk about is to kind of ask you about your background, you have a really interesting resume, you are merchant marine, right after high school you went to Harvard, you sailed around the world, you study Muay Thai in Bangkok, you are also a smoke jumper, and then you worked in Antarctica as well. I mean, what drives you to take on these different challenges and adventure, I mean, you sound like a really man’s man type of or earnest why you care for them?

Sam Sheridan: You know, I never will plan it’s sort of all that way and let me clarify I was never smoke jumper, I was a hotshot and then I’ve got offered a smoke jumping job, but I never was able to it because I started writing. But, you know, it’s a tough question why these things happened, I think a lot of it is, it’s just in a way my life evolved a sort of I like the options that came up and I took some and said no to others and, you know, the merchant marine, I wasn’t ready to go to college, I want to do something else and the opportunity came up, it’s more when you look at my resume makes people laugh because it’s a little ridiculous, but that was never the plan, that was never a goal to sort of set out to do a lot of crazy things, it’s always been just, you know, day-to-day, option-to-option, what looks good in the future, and what seems like a good tone, and part of it is, you know, I’m going to go work in Antarctica that doesn’t sound like a good time, but if you can say, I’m going to go work in Antarctica next year, yeah, what the hell it’s next year, so then, you know, just gets closer, all the sudden you signed up and bought the tickets, and you are going, so you might as well go at that point. So, nothing special just willingness is all.

Brett McKay: Well, so you’ve written two books on fighting and I’ve read both and they are very interesting, kind of their memoirs/kind of sports writing. You know the first one was called The Fighter’s Heart, in that book you called fighting an anti-videogame, what do you mean by that?

Sam Sheridan: You know when I started sporting and starting fighting it was just, it was the revelation in terms of how exciting it was and how present you had to be. I think a lot of that has to do with consequences, you know, videogames, and a lot in the modern world, but there’s not a lot of consequence for what we do, there is not a lot of, you are never at risk, you are never really putting yourself physically at risk.

And, the thrill and the excitement of doing that, you know, but it’s still very safe and prescribed and civilized manner, I mean, you are wearing a mouth guard and you are wearing headgear, you are wearing big gloves using your boxing. And, more importantly your opponent has agreed to do the same and by the same rule, so you know, it’s a very civilized and endeavor really, I mean, it sort of had some appearances of brutality, but it’s actually extremely fun and it can sort of make you feel alive, I think what really drew me to in the beginning, it shock me kind of maybe out of my stupor a little bit. And, I do think that the videogame world and, you know, is a place that allows you to sleep a little bit.

Brett McKay: Absolutely. So, Sam, how do you think fighting relates to manliness, and do you think most men have this desire to fight?

Sam Sheridan: Of course, you know, I think, you know, you are dealing with evolution and your reptilian brain and your genetic, you know, desire to set high, so you are going to have reasons and urges to fight in you, no matter how they manifest themselves, whether it’s ping pong, whether it’s chess, whether it’s in conversation – I mean to some extent, you know, they are going to seek to dominate and you want to try the express for ideas and control things.

One of the fun things about actual fighting is you are getting back to your much more primal fighter fight responses and an interior kind of and you are getting down into your reptilian brain or whatever, you are getting to the back to the basics on that stuff.

Brett McKay: And, do you think, I mean, why do you think it’s…?

Sam Sheridan: So, anyway, we can just go back to manliness, I think top culture in the way we see, you know, the manly man is fighting is a part of that, but I think, you know, the desire is in everyone, it’s a little suppress to modern time sure, but it is definitely part of, it’s an interval part of being a man and human nature, and you can’t completely suppress, because this manifest itself another way, I mean, I’ve had this crazy discussions with psychiatrist, who are trying to, you know, want up me on radio shows that, you know, fighting is this and that, and what I say to them is, oh, you are fighting me right now just in this conversation, you are looking to dominate this conversation and win social points, and it’s just a different mean, you know, so it’s all definitely part parcel for men.

Brett McKay: So, Sam, you’ve just kind of touched on that a little bit, you know, fighting is both celebrate forced discipline encouraged, but also reviled sorts of violence. How do you reconcile the two, how do you reconcile the morality of fighting?

Sam Sheridan: Yeah, you know, I actually don’t see the conflict, I understand where the problem comes with and some of its semantics, some of its fighting, fighting, I mean, to me violence is about, you know, it happens when one party involved is not willing, right? So, if a criminal attack somebody that’s violence, you know, and fighting in a bar often is violence, because somebody is just trying to have a good night, and somebody else wants to fight, you know, that’s not what I’m talking about at all, and that’s not what I’m interested in, and that’s not what I write about, I mean, for two athletes to compete and to meet each other in a ring or cage in this kind of, you know, primitive combat going back to kind of our earliest most evolutionary old memories of fighting.

But yet again like I say it’s civilized, you know, there is a referee there, there is rule, you know, mixed martial arts, they call it no-holds-barred, but there is something like 54 holds you can’t do, you know, but basically there is almost no permanent damage done, at least, you know, that’s the theory, of course that is, you know, the brain damage done in concussion to that we can get into that at different time.

The idea of being that, you know, you are fighting without caring somebody’s eyeballs out, you are not face looking people, you are not doing, if they tap, the fight is over, if they submit to you, so it’s really about, you know, you are enforcing your will, it’s really about choosing and being supreme about your willingness. I think that is actually one of the reasons that people go on to fighting, and especially they are watching it, because it’s a little bit of what you are seeing is kind of like fighters valuing their freewill over everything else, you know, that’s what comes down to me all kind of kicking it behind that, you know, because if you get knocked out or I submit you, you’ve given up your will, right, I get to do whatever I want, I’m a victor. The idea that you are willing to fight me to the death, you know, “to protect that freewill it’s kind of admirable and heroic in a way that fighting means for money is not so interesting”, and that’s actually not what’s it about I don’t think either.

Brett McKay: One thing I’ve noticed, because it’s really interesting about MMA fighters or any fighter boxers, etcetera, you know, I’ve met and interacted with quite a few and they look ominous, they have tattoos, they got, you know, the shaved head, just huge bulking guys, and in the ring they just look angry and violent, but then outside of the ring these are some of the nice most, you know, humblest guys I’ve ever met in my entire life. What do you think it counts for this dichotomy, I mean, what’s going on there?

Sam Sheridan: Well, it’s interesting, you know, I think that was kind of what drew me to fighting in the first place when I was living in Thailand, and I sort of realized that the very best fighters in the camp were also the most divide Buddha’s, and the most humble guys in the camp, which I kind of start with understand at the time. And, usually the third tier fighters were cocky and arrogant, and had something to prove, you know, it goes to a lot of things, it goes to a lot of things, but you know, one of them is – fighting is about identity, you know, you have to know who you are, and when you know who you are, you are more relaxed, you know, you are more comfortable person. You know, Sam, I’m a tall skinny white guy, I don’t fight like Forney weather, you know, I don’t stay into the pocket, I have to know my identity, I have to fight like who I am and make my strengths and weaknesses of strengths.

So, it really forces you to know who you are, and I know that I’m not a world beater, right, I know that I’m not a one punch knockout guy, and I can’t backed that up, because I’ve been with those guys and they smashed me, so you sort of can’t hide in a sense in fighting, you are really exposed. And, I think what’s interesting with professionals and it has success, they are very exposed and you have someone who stands up in front of millions of people essentially in his underwear, his hard, his courage, his ability to think, his character on display and everybody gets to see you can judge it, you know, of course just feeling things, you know, fighting in martial arts is about deception, but he’s hiding in plan inside and a lot of that he can’t hide or she can’t hide.

So, I think that goes to making them more relaxed person. The other thing is often, you know, if you want to be great at something particularly fighting you have to keep growing, you have to keep learning, you have to be able to put yourself underneath new teachers, and observe their lessons, because then they you start getting comfortable, and say, oh yeah I know everything, you are going to get beat and this is, you know, whatever your professional primarily to get tour to – to all kinds of guys, you know, they say this kind of thing.

So, I used to think all great fighters became humble. And, I think what I realized to was that actually you don’t become great unless you are humble, there’s a little bit of chicken and egg going on there, the guys who can’t suppress their ego – the feeling in terms of how much their national Muay Thai will take them and you’ll see that in every sport, you know, you’ll see really talented basketball players who can’t keep growing, can’t keep learning and they hit a point, and then the guy who can, all the sudden beating him, and I think that’s just more obvious in fighting.

And, finally the fighting is really, you know, still in professional fighting which is what I was interested in writing about was, you know, it is a way for particularly damage people to kind of find the place in society and find something they can excel out and find the place where their fear and anger can be really used in a positive way to make, you know, to generate a career for themselves.

And, one of the things that what happened was that, you know, once these guys who have these chips on their shoulder start fighting professional, they really have nothing to prove outside the ring, they sort of, they know they are tough now, you know, they don’t have to prove they are tough to everybody at this bar, they’ve gotten up in the cage and they fought really tough guys and proved it on a really high level.

So, a lot of the chatter falls away, a lot of the kind of radio interference of the statistic of, you know, a tough guy in the bar giving them a glare that might in the past had led to a fight, you know, now they don’t care and they can’t get, they don’t have time, they are too tired, they have to take care of their bodies, because they’re investment now, you know, they owe to themselves and their trainer not to get hurt, so that’s part of it too.

Brett McKay: In your second book that just recently came out, The Fighter’s Mind. You interviewed, you go across the world interviewing fighters from different discipline and find out how they approach a fight mentally, what do successful fighters have in common when it comes to the psychological aspect of fighting. I imagine I guess humility is one, you just mentioned, are there any other ones?

Sam Sheridan: Yeah, there was a couple of different things, but certainly the ability to learn and keep growing, was just, you know, you hear it from everyone all the time. When I talked to chess players and ultra-marathoners and you always fear kind of things like that, you know, and I guess there are other few things, but that was one of the big ones that were sort of really ubiquitous. And, I kind of, again, you know, it goes to identity and knowledge, and kind of being unwilling to, you know, you may never be Mohammed Ali, right? But you can be the greatest version of Brett there is, you know, the best Brett fighter there is or I could be the best Sam fighter out there, you know, and that’s an interesting thing as you know, taking your strengths and weakness and see how they can be most effective and that’s kind of something that everybody can get behind, you know, self knowledge, and really fully utilizing your own strengths I think it’s an important interesting lessons from these guys.

Brett McKay: And, you think these lessons that you’ve got from these, you’ve taken from these men, are they applicable to other areas of life, like an average Joe, he’s never probably going to fight?

Sam Sheridan: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, my wife for instance is director, and she recommends The Fighter’s Mind on the second book to everyone or her director friends, because you know, there’s just things about like dealing with fear and how you get over fear and how you deal with loss, you know, dealing with early success, you know, you get guys who do really well in the beginning and then they get scared to lose. And, what happens when you get scared to lose you start losing, you know, the fear becomes the problem, and you are not doing your things that made you successful in the first place, so you know, there is a lot of lessons I think.

And, fighting again, you know, it’s just like life and that’s why all, you know, you mentioned Hemingway and everybody has been drawn to fighting in boxing and cross fighting and things like that, it’s just like life only more happiest, you know, it’s just everything is right point and kind of out there to be looked at and thought about, which is why I think a lot of writers and filmmakers and, you know, find drama there.

Brett McKay: What about failure, I mean, how does, is failure an important part of the success of a fighter?

Sam Sheridan: Absolutely, you know, like Hanzel Gracie very first famous Brazilian fighter would say, you know, you don’t learn anything from victory; you’ll learn something from your failures. And, really what defines your failure is whether you do grow from it, whether you do internalize lesson, you know, invest in the defeat, which is, you know, again it’s sort of skits, you know, almost sounds like self health books and, you know, 10 tips to a successful people, but some of that’s very true, you know, you want the guy to get beat and understand what happens and come back stronger and figure out ways to fix that gap.

Here is one of my little pet peeves is that you watch a lot of fights and you’re all here, fans go, oh, he’s making excuses when a fighter loses, he’s making, oh, his making excuses, and, you know, it’s like what’s to do, this guy is a professional fighter, this is what he does for a living, if he just says, oh, I can’t beat this guy, he’s better than me he’s screwed, you know, I mean, that he can’t do that mentally that’s not a good strategy, he has to have a reason, you know, a reason you’ve lost and a reason you can win the next time, he needs, you know, in his corner men, and his coaches are all giving him reasons even if they are not true, he needs the reason to think he can win the next time or how could he do what he does

So, you know, that’s just a little pet peeve mind that kind of illustrate that, you really, you need to learn from your losses and Hanzel actually has pictures of all his loses on his walls, you know, because like he said, you make a mistake in a big fight or a competition you never make that mistake again, you know, you lose because of that mistake, you learn never like, you know, he let the Sakuraba grab Cameron and when he was checking Sakuraba’s back and Zack Albert broke his arm and he has that picture on his wall and it’s great, because it’s like, he’s not going to take a back like that again, because he learned, you know, he learned a lesson. And, I think, he was in the fight that had 30 after or whatever, you know, internalizing, if you are really understanding and growing from defeat it’s hugely important and I think everybody, you know, has to kind of get on board with that one.

Brett McKay: Has fighting changed you as a man?

Sam Sheridan: You know it’s hard to say, I guess so probably, you know, I think, it’s tough, certainly I’m probably, you know, a lot more athletic and physical than I would be if I hadn’t been doing sports for the last 10 year, you’ll only get out of college and pretty much that’s it for sports, unless you don’t throw. So, for me the key doing things physically was an interesting kind of journey that become much more like, you know, changing as a man, I don’t know it’s hard to say probably, I would say probably I’m a little, you know, more confident and relaxed about concentration than I was. And, part of its mystery is gone, you know, it’s a little bit like sex, you know, before you ever have sex it’s a huge mystery, you know, wonderful and terrifying, oh my god, what’s it going to be like, and then you have sex, oh wow, it’s great. But, it’s not – it’s not that totally different outside of all other experiences you’ve ever had, you know, you are doing state or whatever.

So, I think getting to that with fighting a lot, you know, there is a lot of misunderstandings about what, you know, having someone punch you in the face until you get it done and it’s sort of hard to understand and it’s not, you know, I’m not saying you are out there and let people beat you up, but I think what really important is just to understand the urgency and the speed which violence can happen and kind of intensity that you need to be at that you do to it a little bit and for everyone to get a feel for and to just broaden their understanding. But, you know, I’m not that kind of guy, I think everybody should do everything because I think, you know, understanding is the key to universal, you are going broaden your understanding by doing basically.

Brett McKay: Well, Sam, if there is a man listening to this podcast, he’s like man I want to start fighting, what steps do you recommend that he take to get started?

Sam Sheridan: You know I would say find gym, you know, find a gym that’s close, to me, you know, I’m never going to go more than about 15 minutes to 20 minutes to gym that’s the way I am. So, either I have to go live over the gym or I find something very close to home, but you know, there is a ton of MMA gyms out there now, I would shop around, you know, for instance if you live in a big city, I’m sure there is probably 10 MMA gyms that are in your city, and they should all give you at least one free class, go rule around the floor and wrestle some people and, you know, see how the vibe is if the gym gives you a good vibe, you know great and it’s very personal and it’s very much, you know, way experience you have and listener plenty of gyms won’t give you a good vibe and you won’t have a good time and screw those places, you know, don’t go in there, because it’s not the work that you can waste too much time and money and get injured and all that stuff.

So, you know, I wouldn’t – don’t go in and say, hey, I want to fight, you know, because listen, you know, MMA coaches and trainers they hear that all the time like, oh, I want to fight, I want to be in your seat, you know, it’s who cares, everybody wants to fight, you need to give me six months of getting to the gym everyday and then tell me you want to fight, and then see how you feel and that’ll free you a lot, the first month or two and, you know, some people love it, and some people it’s too tiring and, you know, that’s the way it is, so I would just jump around and try few gyms and get a feel for it and then just sort of goes where it says, go with your intuition on that.

Brett McKay: All right. Well, Sam, thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Sam Sheridan: Absolutely, no problem, my pleasure.

Brett McKay: Our guess today was Sam Sheridan. Sam is the author of two books on fighting, his first is called The Fighter’s Heart and his most recent book is called A Fighter’s Mind, and you can pick up both of those books at major book store in Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at And, until next time stay manly.

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