The Philosophy of Flow | MMA and Martial Arts Training Tips

    Overtraining and being stressed out can harm your passion and desire to keep learning martial arts. The problem is that many fighters and athletes don’t know how to utilize the philosophy of flow to their advantage. In this article, I am going to show you why being in the state of flow can dramatically increase your enjoyment while training and help you improve faster at Brazilian jiu-jitsu, MMA or any other combat sport you are pursuing. 

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    Sharks Swimming and Flowing

    The Origins of The Philosophy of Flow

    This feeling of being “In the zone” and utilizing its benefits for productivity and efficiency has been written in many philosophical scripters. The most popular reference can be found in Taoism. 

    "That which offers no resistance,

    overcomes the hardest substances.

    That which offers no resistance

    can enter where there is no space."  - Lao Tzu

    Ancient Japanese martial artists have been known to have been the creators of the term ‘mushin’, originating from the term ‘mushin no shin’. This roughly translates to ‘mind of no-mind’. This mindset is described as achieving peak performance through a heightened state of mind. 



    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist was the first to officially use the term ‘flow state’ in the 1980s and 1990s. He proved that levels of happiness can be changed through more or less ‘flow’. Although he was the first to announce the term ‘flow’ in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, it has been described very similarily in martial arts legends words.

    This philosophy can also be found in ancient Chinese martial arts as ‘wu wei’ meaning effortless action. This thought process has been shown to translate through generations where it helped one martial artist become a global icon. Bruce Lee’s version of ‘wu wei’ was ‘be like water’ and this became an interesting case study of how being in perfect balance can help the progression of a martial artist’s true potential.

    How Professional Mixed Martial Artists Are Already Using This Effective Training Style

    This state of mind and training style has been made popular in the MMA world thanks to world-renowned mixed martial arts coach Firas Zahabi when he spoke about it on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. 

    Elite MMA fighters such as Georges St. Pierre, Rory Mcdonald and Elias Theodorou have given credit for their success to the Tristar Academy’s head coach, Firas Zahabi. As a BJJ black belt under John Danaher, his vast knowledge of improving a martial artist’s fighting ability should not be ignored.

    Examples of Flow For A Few MMA Styles

    Jiu-Jitsu: The term ‘flow rolling’ is a great example of how to utilize this philosophy in a specific sport. This concept is described as controlled technical freestyle rolling or sparring rather than an aggressive ‘kill or be killed’ approach. Technical drills and solo bodyweight exercises can be a great way to train without burning out.   

    Boxing: Shadowboxing is a great way to spark creativity, sharpen techniques and improve cardio while maintaining a state of flow. Utilize your breath by exhaling with your strike to maximize your efficiency and aid in your ability to not go too far into the intensity zone.

    Muay Thai: The clinch is a powerful stand up grappling aspect of this martial art where knees and elbows are highly effective. The battle for a dominant clinch position can have fighters exhausted easily if not conditioned. Having a great training partner that gives just the right amount of resistance can help you develop both muscular endurance and cardiovascular output while improving techniques.

    Wrestling: This gruelling grappling style has been known for its high risk of injuries due to the tough mindset it’s practitioners have. Overtraining and pushing your limits is a consistent theme in this sport but understanding how to control your movements and practice with resistance but not intensity can help develop a consistent schedule for training. 

    Knowing You Are In The Flow State

    Now that you know how important the flow state is for your progression as a martial arts practitioner, you might want to know how it feels to be in this state. Some of you may have already experienced this. Use this guide below to your advantage while training or competing to maximize your performance.



    Csikszentmihalyi described eight core characteristics of being in flow:

    • Heightened concentration on the task

    • Clarity of goals and immediate rewards/feedback

    • Transformation of percieved time (speeding up or slowing down the sense of  time)

    • A feeling of rewarding and satisfaction

    • A strong sense of efficiency and ease

    • A perfect balance between skills and challenges

    • Combined feeling of actions and awareness

    • Control over the task at hand

    How To Maintain The Flow State

    Maintaining a level of flow can be difficult for overachievers. This can also be the same problem for underachievers as not enough intensity can create boredom and too much of it can create stress. 

    Flow State Chart

    Ideally, it is best to be in the middle of these two states throughout your training session. Some ways to ensure you maintain the state of flow would be choosing to train with helpful training partners. Unless there is a specific reason, your training partner should not be trying to make you overtrained after each session. Too little effort on your training partner’s side will also create unrealistic situations when it comes down to the practical application of your learned techniques and abilities. 

    Flow Quote By Rickson Gracie

    Knowing your own fitness levels can help you push to reach your flow state as well as go easier if you realize you are pushing far past exhaustion. This can come from experience and if you train in martial arts, you may have already seen this happen to you. This can be seen as either going all out and throwing your punches and kicks with all your effort within the first 5 minutes of a kickboxing class. Another example would be rolling like your life depends on it in a Brazilian jiu-jitsu seminar.

    Become self-aware of your fitness levels. Push the intensity until you are challenged. Develop new skills that don’t overwhelm you.

    Now that you know the benefits of using this philosophy to your advantage, it would be wise to understand how to structure your training as an athlete as well as learning specific techniques to help you avoid burnout in case you push passed the ‘flow state’ and entered a prolonged level of intensity. 

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    I’d love to see your thoughts on this subject. What have your experiences been being in this state of ‘flow’? Were you aware of this style of training before you read this article? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

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