Eric Turner with Ovince Saint Preux
Coach Eric Turner gives instruction to his fighter Ovince Saint Preux between rounds in his bout with Benji Radach at “Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu II”. OSP went on to win via unanimous decision. Photo by Jack Bratcher for

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” 
―Winston Churchill

First off, I’d like to apologize for missing a couple of these postings. I got married to a wonderful woman and my best friend, Taylor Miller. So I spent a week in Wisconsin with her and all my great friends leading up to the marriage and then a week in the Caribbean having a wonderful honeymoon. Hope you folks didn’t miss me too much! Anyway, on with the article…

We all know “that guy.” The guy that’s been in a million street fights. The guy that was raised by wolves. The guy that was/is trained by secret CIA ninjas at various covert locations. The guy who is so deadly he has to register his hands with the local police otherwise he gets arrested for concealing weapons just by placing his hands in his pockets.

Hands down one of the best parts of my job is watching guys like that step on the mat… because the mat NEVER lies. If you’ve got skill the mat will show that. If you don’t have any skill, well, the mat will show that too.

However, the mat shows more than skill. It shows heart and determination. It reveals a person’s character. John Holt once said “The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” Which means you can tell a TON about a person as soon as they step on the mat.

It doesn’t matter if it’s their first class or their 10,000th class. How do they treat everyone around them? How do they treat their training partners? How do they spar with people? How do they “roll” with people? How do they drill? What kind of partner are they?

In so many areas of our lives we wear masks to conceal what we really are and how we really feel. At work we’re the concientious worker who doesn’t mind listening to our boss drone on and on about “outside-the-box paradigm-shifting.”

At home, sure we’ve picked up someone else’s socks for the one million-th time, but we’ll do it again – and then we make sure we put up someone else’s toys and dishes. We’ve got the aunt that talks about how awesome it would be if we were all living in communism or the uncle that talks about how awesome it would be if we lived in complete anarchy.

We wear masks because we think it’ll help us keep a calm social setting – we wear masks because it’s what we “have to do.”

However, on the mat, all those masks are gone and a person’s true self is revealed. This is especially true with new people, but is of course true with more veteran students when you place them under some pressure.

New People

New people don’t know what they’re doing so they don’t know what to hide. Do they get frustrated easily and give up? Do they act like they know what they’re doing yet obviously do not? Do they try to do a technique three or four times then pretend like they “got it”?

Or do they keep working at every little detail trying to get it right? Do they drill relentlessly? Do they ask a zillion questions but never listen to your answers? Do they give up when they get tired or do they work even harder as the class goes on?

We take a lot of these things for granted, but we miss the fact that what we’re really seeing is a *real* person. Think of it this way, in a job interview the employer is going to ask “will you work hard for us?” The employee (regardless of their work ethic) is going to say “of course!”

So how can we separate people who say they will work hard from the people who will actually work hard? Put them on the mat and see what comes out!

The same is true of honesty? Will they drill even when the coach isn’t looking or will they drill only when the coach is watching then slack up when he’s not? That says A LOT about a person and will help you know who to trust and who not to trust…

Veteran People

Now that we’ve looked at the new people, let’s look at more seasoned people — the BJJ blues and purples, the amateur and pro fighters in the gym…

What happens to them when they get pushed? Do they fire back or do they start to wilt? When they get rocked do they run away and stop the sparring session or do they work through the difficult period?

When they run into a new, tough grappling partner do they avoid him or do they run right at him knowing that it’ll be a real test (or maybe a real butt-whipping? That’ll tell you a lot about a person right there.

I’ve seen some great fighters really crumple when they get pushed in the gym and I’ve seen some amateurs come out with the heart of a lion. I’ve seen guys get wrecked for three rounds in sparring then beg for a fourth round because “this time I’ll get it”… then beg for a fifth round after scraping themselves off the mat.

All People

I say all of this not to scare anyone away from the mat; sure it’s scary being out there with your true self unveiled. However, there are so few places left in the world that will not only let you be yourself but will also help you develop the type of character, the type of personality, the type of person you have always wanted to be.

The ancient Greek writer Euripides once wrote, “Courage may be taught as a child is taught to speak.” He was very right.

Think of the places that teach practical virtues, virtues like courage, temperance, fortitude, justice – there are very few of them left. However, the mat is still one of the best places in the world to learn them.

So when you show up, come with a humble, open attitude and you can do some truly amazing things – make amazingly loyal friends, fight in the UFC, become a better person.

Show up with anything other than that attitude and you can expect to be humbled and THEN, *if you stick around*, you can do some amazing things. That’s the great thing about the mat. That’s the Truth about the mat.

God bless you boys and girls!

-Coach Eric

Coach Eric Turner is the Head Instructor at Knoxville Martial Arts Academy in Knoxville, Tenn. He is the author of’s “MMA Coach’s Corner,” a bi-weekly blog in which he shares insight and knowledge gleaned from his years training and working with fighters at all levels. You can learn more about Coach Turner and Knoxville Martial Arts Academy at

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