I tried not to make this a rant. Twice. I failed.
The rant was born out of a combination of factors, partly reading Joel Jamison's excellent article on the Myths of MMA Conditioning., partly just several conversations with fellow trainers, clients, and students.
Here's the executive summary for the attentionally-challenged: being in good shape does not mean you can fight.
Not clear enough for you? Let's try again: BEING IN GOOD SHAPE DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN FIGHT.
What Brings This Up?
While I suspect that this always been an issue, I've noticed it more and more in the last few years, partly due to the rise in popularity of "hard core" fitness programs and competitions. These programs, which often focus on high intensity circuit training (among other things) are quick to throw around a lot of marketing verbiage about how those who participate in their programs are "warriors" or how their training is so EXTREME that YOU COULD DIE! Combine this with the inane "boxing fitness" classes (sorry ladies, but if you want to "get fit without getting hit", there are lots of exercise modalities that don't require a punch in the face) that sprung up in the wake of Billy Blanks and his Tae Bo, and you have generations of people who have managed to convince themselves that their exercise program has somehow gifted them with the skill and knowledge to be able to fight.
Here's the problem. It's not true.
Fact: Fighting is a SKILL.
Like any other skill, you cannot develop it by not doing it. The suggestion that you can is insulting.
Gymnastics requires skill. So does Olympic lifting (if you think pulling several hundred pounds from the floor to overhead in one smooth motion is just a matter of having big muscles, go try it and get back to me). Hell, running is a skill, which is why you have people who study running techniques, teach clinics, and generally study how people RUN. Hell, Chess is a skill. And fighting? That's a skill too.
I would not dream of showing up at the Olympic training center and thinking that I would outperform the worst lifter there because I have some skill at Muay Thai. So why would you, with your sub-Olympian performance (I know it's sub-Olympian, because if you were an Olympian, you'd be prepping for the Olympics) show up in my gym and expect that you can out-perform me or one of my teammates? Olympic lifting will teach you as much about fighting as fighting will teach you about lifting.
Fact: The battle is not always to the strong.
Old, but true. I have watched, many times, the older, weaker, teacher beat the snot out of the younger, fitter student and leave the latter gasping on the mat for air. I don't care how much an-aerobic conditioning you do, the first time you roll, or the first time someone gloves up and smashes you in the face, you are going to experience a whole new world. It is a world where how fast you row, or how much you can deadlift, will not be enough to save you from staggering around, wondering if there's an oxygen tank nearby, and trying to figure out why the other guy hasn't even broken a sweat yet (answer: the other guy is better than you are).
Fact: Fitness helps.
Okay, let's be fair. Being in good shape is helpful in a fight. It can make the difference in winning or losing in competition. There are benefits to fitness outside of the fighting realm, and fitness should be pursued for numerous reasons that have nothing to do with fighting. Obesity, and its attendant disorders, kills far more people every year than violence does. Being fit is hugely important, and I advocate fitness a great deal.
But please, stop deluding yourself. A hard workout is not a fight. It is a hard workout. Being strong, fast, enduring, or whatever, while all wonderful, do not translate into you being able to fight your way out of a wet paper bag. At best, it will give you an edge up.
So please, workout. Workout hard. Push your limits, physically and mentally. It will make you a better person. But do not believe for one minute that it is somehow translating into you being able to kick ass in the ring or on the mat. If you want to be able to do that, go find a credible coach, shut your yap, and learn something.