As Kathryn Schulz weaves a seemingly mundane story about her tattoo into a lecture on the psychology of regret, she concludes with the single most important truth about regret itself (transcription by Maria Popova): "the point isn't to live without any regrets, the point is to not hate ourselves for having them.... We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create, and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn't remind us that we did badly -- it reminds us that we know we can do better."
I've always had the suspicion that wrestlers in particular, at least when applied to athletic performance, seem to understand this truth better than most: that regret is an unflattering but necessary element of what models character. When Ben Fowlkes opens his supernaturally excellent story on Cormier, we become observers to that particular world.
AKA is having a youth wrestling practice, and Cormier is undeterred by the sobbing child who is being physically broken on the mats. But it's not empty machismo that informs his attitude.
It would have been easy for Cormier to one day find himself 'an old man filled with regret'. Once a promising participant in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, kidney failure brought on by years of not cutting weight properly (as his doctor would argue) destroyed his dreams of representing his country on the world stage. And this after a list of tragedies that included the murder of his father on Thanksgiving Day in 1986, and the loss of his three-month old daughter in a tragic car accident five years prior to his unfortunate experience in Beijing.
Instead Cormier is currently undefeated in his mixed martial arts career. Observers have been skeptical of his chances against the elite. Or they were until he destroyed Antonio Silva at the Strikeforce World Grand Prix: the Brazilian HW whose upset over Fedor Emelianenko was perhaps the most significant because rather than showing us Fedor make a mistake, it showed us how Fedor could get outfought. In addition, any criticisms of Cormier as undersized for HW seemed to fly out the window.
With the addition of the Strikforce HW's into the UFC, it'll be interesting to see how opponents deal with Cormier's style. I don't expect to hear about "octagon jitters", or "octagon anxiety": Cormier has a toughness that transcends such superstitions, real and imagined. A toughness that Fowlkes summarizes:
And maybe that's what you learn after all those years in suffocating wrestling rooms, one long grind after another. Besides the double-legs and the duck unders, maybe you really learn the value of simply refusing to be broken. You find out that even when you're in a terrible position with no clear way out, all you have to do is not give up. You take it. You try and give some back. You keep pushing and you don't quit, and before you know it you're on top. You're winning. The clouds are gone and the sun is shining and the living and the dead are waving you on, telling you to keep going, keep going.