- At the press conference following his last fight, The Korean Zombie imprecated the UFC to stage more events in Asia, specifically his home country of Korea, because as he said, there are many better martial artists there than himself.
- Before his last fight, Ivan Menjivar in an interview with Ariel Helwani, averred that the best fighters he normally faced were in his gym, not in the UFC's Octagon.
- At the press conference for his most recent fight, MMA legend Anderson Silva quietly asserted that there were many martial artists better than himself outside the UFC.
These UFC fighters were right, of course. With 7 billion people on the planet, and literally hundreds of millions of martial artists, statistical common sense suggests that only a tiny fraction of the world's best fighters ply their craft under the bright lights of the UFC. Also, while most UFC fighters are young men in their 20s and 30s and still learning the ways of the warrior, much of the UFC's fan base comprises experienced martial artists in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, who have been practicing and teaching longer than many UFC fighters have been alive. This raises a titillating question: what if a fighter could somehow tap all that vast knowledge and make it his own?
Ever since James Surowiecki published his seminal book "The Wisdom of Crowds" in 2004, thinkers and business leaders have been fascinated by the idea of tapping the collective knowledge of large numbers of people. Experiments show that if you ask a large group to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar, or the weight of a farm animal at auction, tallying the responses and taking an average will usually result in a surprisingly accurate number. Individuals may get it very wrong, but the crowd usually gets it very right.
This 'crowdsourcing' approach to gleaning knowledge is the antithesis of the traditional martial arts route to learning. Normally, the callow student fighter finds a seasoned Sensei/Sifu/Kru/Coach, adopts an attitude of open-minded humility, and allows his respected guru to inseminate his impressionable mind with the secrets of his chosen art.
However, what if instead of relying on the tutelage of a single coach, a UFC fighter wanted to crowdsource something like his technical development or fight strategy? Could an Internet crowd that includes many experienced martial artists give the perfect answer to a simple question like "What's the best strategy to defeat my next opponent?"
Not everybody thinks so. A few weeks ago, B.J Penn tweeted irritably that unless somebody is a UFC champ or MMA coach, they shouldn't be telling UFC fighters what to do. This was presumably in exasperated response to receiving unsolicited career or fighting advice from a few keyboard warriors.
By contrast however, Light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones has absolutely embraced tapping the wisdom of his crowd of Twitter followers. He often asks them from advice on things ranging from mundane diet tips to fight strategy:
What cereal has the highest amount of fiber in it?— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) April 19, 2013
For a guy often derided as cocky, Jones displays uncommon humility in asking for advice from total strangers. This open-minded, ego-free willingness to learn from anyone, anywhere, is consistent with his reputation as a technical sponge. It is why he has proudly signed up as a BJJ white belt, and displays a level of striking versatility rarely seen in other fighters with a wrestling background. He is hungry for knowledge, which is why he has improved so much, so fast.
His willingness to tap the wisdom of the crowd was most strikingly (pardon the pun) displayed in the lead-up to his recent fight against Chael Sonnen. Jones crowdsourced his fight strategy by asking his Twitter followers how they think he should defeat Sonnen. Below is his question- and my response:
@jonnybones Element of surprise. Surprise him by taking HIM down. Use your Greco-Roman/Judo. Let him carry your weight. Then elbows & subs.— Motmaitre (@motmaitre) March 8, 2013
My suggestion was based on my insights as a long-time martial arts instructor. But of course, I wasn't the only respondent. A short time later, in response to the responses, Jones tweeted:
Some of you guys advice is so right on I am not even going to retweet you— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) March 8, 2013
Had he received my advice favorably? I wondered. Was this response referring to my suggestion? It seemed so, but his cryptic reply was ambiguous. I hoped he was, but not knowing for sure, I shrugged and moved on with my life.
Fight night arrived. And in light of the above, you can imagine my delight when as soon as the fight began, Jones surprised Sonnen (and many observers) by taking him down three times in the first round, and raining elbows upon him like Jehovah's wrathful vengeance. Decisive victory ensued from this strategy of beating Sonnen at his own game, and I felt smugly vindicated. Jon Jones had just won by following my advice.
But did Jon Jones really adopt that strategy because I suggested it? Naturally, I'm going to continue believing so, because that's what I want to believe, and self-delusion is a fundamental human right. The more important point however, is that it was the perfect strategy against Sonnen the takedown maestro, and by tapping the wisdom of the crowd and its tendency to guess right, Jones had discovered it. I'm absolutely certain that many other experienced martial artists also recognized this was the perfect strategy to defeat Sonnen. Jones' coach Greg Jackson might even have been one of them. I was probably just one of a hundred insightful voices.
And that's the whole point. The Internet has afforded every martial artist the same opportunity to efficiently tap the accumulated knowledge of millions of others. Whether it is the hundreds of Youtube videos teaching the proper way to do a side kick or an armbar, or web forums where one can get advice from hundreds of skilled and helpful fellow fighters, or just an army of knowledgeable Twitter followers offering helpful tips, the guru instructor has been largely supplanted by the guru crowd. So far, Jon Jones is the only UFC fighter to tap into this wonderful new opportunity. Will others follow suit?