You CAN teach Heart

#TrueTalkTuesdays 3

One of the sayings that bother me is, “You can’t teach heart.”

In my mind that is total BS.

For one, it’s saying that toughness is essentially a genetic trait. That seems counterintuitive to me based on experience and the fact that it is a behavior not so much a physical trait somebody possesses.

Behaviors are learned. While you can make a case that certain behaviors occur more easily towards certain people based on their ancestry (cough Russians cough), even then the ancestors had to learn the behavior in order to pass it down to their offspring.

An example we can talk about is dog fighting. Let me say loudly that I do not support dog fighting in any way, shape, or fashion. I’m only using it as an example as it is relevant to this topic.

There’s an expression in dog fighting called gamebred, which means it’s a dog that has been bred specifically for fighting – usually descending from champion dogs.

Pit bulls (a loose term to describe varieties of bull terriers) are dogs that have been trained to be highly aggressive. It is often in a cruel fashion that trainers make dogs tough. They house them in hard conditions, beat them, starve them, etc.

Some dogs never make it to there first show as they are tested and judged to see if they would be fit to fight. If they fail that test they’re often abandoned or killed.

Now you can make the argument here that when the dog failed the test, it was proof the dog wasn’t born tough, which is why they let it go.

Having coached and taught over a thousand students, I would argue that everybody responds to stimuli differentlyThis is going to be a mix of genetics and upbringing that make each individual different. You can have a pair of twins raised in the same household, with one twin who will become highly successful, and the other not.

This just shows you that while genetics plays an important role, the upbringing of the individual is far more important.

Coming back to our dog fighting example, I would argue that perhaps the dog needed more time in order to build the toughness or an entirely different approach in it’s training.

Another thing to consider is what if we took a dog that has been proven to be tough and jump back in time and didn’t give it that training in it’s first two years of life. We just let it sit around comfortably and then threw it into a fight with no training. Would it still be tough? I would think probably not.

It’s like the army. They put people through a grueling training regiment in order to build toughness, discipline, obedience, and loyalty. Not everyone makes it through basic training, which once again you can make the argument that they weren’t born for it.

But in my mind it’s because the approach wasn’t proper for that individual. Now an organization like the Army is massive and I doubt they would be able to create many different training programs so that they can catch the entirety of recruits. Instead, they focus on an approach that they know works for the majority of people and scale up the operation.

It is easy to dismiss people who fail the general approach as not being born with the right stuff. But they need a different approach. As an instructor I see it as my job to try to communicate my lesson in as many ways as possible. We are used to learning specific movements, exercises, and techniques in sports, but the harder things to learn are behaviors, ideas, and beliefs.

When we talk about having heart in the fight world, this means being able to ignore physical and mental stress in order to achieve a goal. For example, in my fight with BodogFIGHT Costa Rica, I fought a much larger opponent that broke my nose early in the fight that had me bleeding like a faucet. I continued fighting despite the injury and came back to win by TKO. The commentators describe me as having heart. I’m sure you could think of countless other examples in fighting similar to my situation.

Now let’s analyze what actually happened there. I took a good amount of damage to my nose that ended up breaking it in three places and had me bleeding profusely. Many people would quit right there. But why?


All animals have a fear of injury which is more appropriately labeled a fear of death. Sustaining a severe injury in battle in the animal kingdom is very commonly a death sentence. Even a mere scratch can become an infection that can end up killing you. This is why the vast majority of animals, including people, are cowards.

So when we say someone has heart, what we are really saying is that they’re able to conquer the fear of death, even if that’s just for a brief period of time in a specific circumstance, in order to accomplish their goal.

When we frame having heart in the context of triumph over fear, I think most people will agree that this is something that can be learned. Most people had a fear of rejection when they approached someone they had a romantic interest in, yet people hook up all the time, and there are countless books teaching people how to build confidence to conquer their fears.

Conquering fear is a normal part of human life. So when someone tells me that people are born with heart, I disagree heartily – pun intended. 🙂

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

Comment with your take on this.

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