“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” asked Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club. The question implies that to truly know yourself, you have to get into a few scuffles. If that’s true, then Frank Shamrock knows a heck of a lot about Frank Shamrock.
In case you don’t know, Frank is a professional fighter, and we aren’t talking about that “sissy” boxing stuff either. Ultimate Fighting, no-holds barred, mixed martial arts, whatever you choose to call it, Shamrock excels at it. In addition to being a former King of Pancrase, he was a five time UFC Middleweight champion. The 5’10”, 195-pounder was also named Full Contact Fighter of the Year in 1998 by Black Belt magazine.
Although ferocious in a match, Frank is known as a generous and humble guy. Despite a rough childhood growing up in an orphanage, Frank was able to turn his life around with the help of his adopted father and his step-brother, the “world’s most dangerous man,” Ken Shamrock. T-mag had a chance to chat with Frank recently about training, nutrition, philosophy, and what the future holds for a man who beats people up for a living.
Testosterone: What were you doing before you started fighting professionally? What motivated you to take that leap and jump into MMA (mixed martial arts)?
Frank Shamrock: Well, I wasn’t really doing anything. I was working odd jobs and I tried college for a while and that was boring. (laughing) I just didn’t see the value at the time and I wanted to get out. I didn’t have a plan. Then my brother Ken Shamrock started doing MMA and my father, Bob Shamrock, encouraged me to try it.
I went down to Ken’s gym and checked it out and it looked really exciting. I gave it a shot and they just kicked the crap out of me. It was terrible! I couldn’t walk and I crawled up the stairs after the first day and realized that was a mistake. The next day when I woke up my legs were so beat up and bruised that I couldn’t get down the stairs. Even though they beat the crap out of me, I got some damage in as well and realized I could make a career out of this and really got into it.
T: So the experience allowed you to tap into something deep that you didn’t realize was there previously?
FS: Right, plus it was a challenge! I enjoy competition and I really enjoy a challenge. I love puzzles and mechanical things and I viewed MMA as that. I’d look at these guys that beat me up and they weren’t even breathing hard! It was a huge challenge for me.
T: You sound like someone who can’t get motivated to push really hard unless he’s being challenged.
FS: Right, that’s how I am with fighting unfortunately. You can’t put a chump in there and expect me to get excited because I’ll know right away what it takes to beat him. However, if you put a guy in there like Tito Ortiz, the current UFC Light Heavyweight Champ, who could legitimately kick my ass, I’ll be motivated to train like a madman.
T: Speaking of fighting Tito Ortiz, were you scared at all after watching some of Tito’s previous fights?
FS: For me it wasn’t fear; for me it was exhilaration – the thought that I could show up at 100% and this guy could kick my ass. When I fight, it’s 100% of my spirit, energy, and life. I’ll just as soon die out there. The thought that Tito could do that to me drove me to reinvent my training so I could beat him.
T: Was there any point in the fight where you thought you weren’t going to win?
T: You don’t have thoughts like that in any of your fights?
FS: I’ve had those thoughts in fights before, but not in this one. I knew exactly how to beat Tito; I knew how much damage my body would have to take. Tito is just so big. I was 192 pounds going into the fight and he was 216. Every time the lights turned on and off in the ring, I was like, holy crap! (laughing) I tried holds on him and he was as strong as my brother Ken and I was thinking, this is ridiculous! I had to go around all that energy and power and wait for it to dissipate, or just knock him out. The bigger they are, the harder they hit, so you have to get out of the way or you’ll take damage, and damage isn’t equal. It’s like a big dog fighting a little dog.
T: Did you train with some bigger training partners in preparation for that fight?
FS: I trained with my team as well as the Stanford wrestling team and had some larger wrestlers come in, but only with what I thought Tito was going to do. Basically Tito is a good wrestler with a lot of size that’s willing to throw down until someone drops. That’s what made him so dangerous. I knew how to beat him and just had to get the right guys to work with.
T: Is there any one person that you’d say was your toughest opponent?
FS: Well, I have a toughest fight and a toughest opponent. I think that Tito was my toughest opponent, but I knew how to beat him, thus I didn’t feel a lot of stress about potentially losing. My toughest fight is when I fought Enson Inoue. He knocked me silly, he mounted me, he traumatized me, and there was a time during that fight where I thought I might lose and actually die in the ring. That was definitely my toughest fight, but my toughest opponent had to be Tito. The guy was just a monster! It was like wrestling a horse!
T: I want to get into your exercise and nutrition regimen and how you train your fighters. I know you practice a great deal of techniques such as visualization, meditation, breathing, and flexibility, but how do you manage all of this stuff and does one technique take precedence at any given time?
FS: One thing does take precedence over other things. It’s just a natural progression as you’re going and whatever you’re focusing on. For the new guys, we have to condition their bodies so they can withstand the trauma of MMA, so we have them doing high repetition calisthenics. We build their tendons and their bodies up to the point where they can use their bodyweight a lot of times.
In training a professional athlete, we do three to four days of weights a week. We work the entire body in one week. We do two days of plyometrics, five days of cardio, two days of sparring, two days of wrestling, and two days of technique.
T: How does the weight training program breakdown?
FS: We cycle on and off different schedules and routines for weight training. However, there’s one basic program that we follow and that’s the “three and three” method. We’ll work the whole body in three days during a one-week period. We do a push-pull system. This breaks down to chest, triceps, neck, and forearms on Monday. Then we take a day off and do legs and shoulders on Wednesday. On Friday, we do back, biceps, and abdominals. This one seems to work best for me and I’ve tried everything. For my athletes, we experiment to find what works best for them.
Weight training for us becomes about fourth on the list of priorities when preparing for a fight. Strength is comparative when you’re doing this stuff. Strength and speed in certain areas is what you really need.
T: Is muscular endurance more important than brute strength for fighters?
FS: It is, but you still need brute strength. If you’re thinking mechanics, you still need a nice, fully developed muscle that’ll expand and contract very quickly so you can blast and explode through whatever you’re doing. If your muscle is full and healthy it’ll also contract quickly.
T: Do you ever do heavy weight training with low reps or is it mainly higher reps?
FS: We do more in the middle, three sets with three exercises, eight to twelve reps per muscle.
T: How about explosive exercises such as clean and jerks, power cleans, and snatches? Is that stuff beneficial for MMA training?
FS: I think power cleans are great. I also do dumbbell cleans. What that does is it builds explosiveness from your toes up and that’s really where we’re starting from in MMA. Everything starts from the toes and extends to the point of the hands. It’s more of a continuity thing; if you can get your body to go rip and blow that energy up, you can focus that energy in other places. Your body will remember that and be strong through that motion. It’s very similar to punching.
T: What about deadlifts and weighted squats?
FS: Unfortunately, I’ve broken my back in two different places, so I can’t do deadlifts or weighted squats anymore. Even so, I don’t recommend that my guys do deadlifts and squats because of the structural trauma that it puts on you.
T: Too much wear and tear?
FS: Yes, and when you combine it with calisthenics, cardio, boxing, and wrestling, it’s just too much at the end of the day.
T: Sounds like you and your students stay within your limits when training rather than training to muscular failure?
FS: Yes, I look at the muscle as a machine that you have to upkeep, so we stress perfect technique and good explosive breathing. I’m very fanatical about the breathing. For example, if you ever watch a boxer fight, every time he punches he breathes. Every time you move or explode you have to breathe. We teach the weight lifting the same way. It can be mundane since we don’t get to go heavy or do anything exciting and so we use a lot of breathing to work on power and energy.
Learning how to breathe properly in anything that you do is huge! We just take it for granted. When you’re not breathing properly, you’re constricted and consuming energy without doing anything, which isn’t efficient at all.
T: Kind of like when people get nervous, they have a tendency to hold their breath.
FS: It’s a natural reaction. If you can learn to breathe properly in any given situation, you’ll be much more efficient. If you just take some deep breaths you’ll completely relax and you’ll be able to focus again.
T: How did you pick up these breathing techniques?
FS: I learned them through trial and error. When you’re exposed to so much and you’re teaching and developing at a beginning stage, you start analyzing techniques and wondering why they aren’t efficient. How come this isn’t working? When you get down to the source, maybe it’s your breathing. Then you realize the importance of breathing. Also, breathing goes hand in hand with cardiovascular training. If your cardiovascular system is strong you can become like a machine and just keep going. Since the first Lober fight, I’ve stressed the importance of cardiovascular training, because when the heart and the system goes, you’re done.
T: Do you also teach your fighters visualization and meditation?
FS: I do teach my fighters visualization and I leave meditation up to them. Everything is just a matter of mechanics, so I’ll have people visualize things and then do it right away and their brain will make a strong association. You can get a lot of moves in your brain and just roll through them and have a visualization workout. Then when your body goes to do it, your mind has already seen it and knows what’s going on. The more you visualize, the more your body will quickly respond. Just relax and be comfortable, look into your mind and the things will just pop out.
T: Is flexibility training important?
FS: It’s very important. I stretch before and after my workouts. If you don’t, you get slow. Stretching is really important in MMA and any explosive sport. In order for a muscle to explode as quickly as it can, it has got to be relaxed, fluid and pliable. You have to stretch. I always overemphasize stretching. I didn’t stretch for years and never understood how important it was.
T: I think as you get older you realize how important it is.
FS: Yes, everything gets tighter. I started training track and field for my second fight with John Lober. I got a track and field coach, the same guy that was training Jerry Rice. After about two weeks of training, my whole body was jacked up and my coach told me it was because I wasn’t stretching. I never had that experience before. I realized that if I’m going to work at a high level, I really need to stretch.
T: Is sprinting something that you still have your fighters do?
FS: We consider sprinting plyometrics training and we do short sprints. The maximum I’ll do is 100 yards.
T: What about cardio?
FS: I do my cardio on a Precor elliptical machine. What I like about it is there’s no impact. So the great thing about this is you can work your body as hard as you want without any impact. You can work at a very hard pace without taking any damage. That’s why I took out running stairs and running hills. I’d feel the damage after each and every one and I knew what I was trying to do for my system. I’m just looking for a more efficient way to do it. Plus, I don’t like doing cardio anyway; it’s not the most exciting thing in the world. On the elliptical machine I can punch and elbow and do all kinds of fun stuff to keep me occupied.
T: Let’s talk nutrition. Does someone work with you on that or do you design it yourself?
FS: I do it myself and I used to be pretty strict about dieting and measuring everything. What I’ve settled on is eating good, healthy food, five or six times a day. I have two fruit meals a day and then three to four, sometimes five, small healthy meals. An example would be some chicken, rice and vegetables or a turkey sandwich and an apple.
T: Do you take any supplements or protein shakes?
FS: No, I’m not taking any supplements at this time. The only thing I take is a daily multivitamin. I think that some supplements have value, however, I don’t think you can beat the value of good food, and good food administered regularly can’t be beat. Just by eating healthy food, I feel good. Sometimes when I’m on the road I have something unhealthy and I really feel it.
In the beginning I was dieting all the time and finally I asked myself, what was I dieting for? Where was I going with that? Do I need to be 5% body fat when I’m trying to kick someone’s butt? I don’t think so. And I found that my injuries decreased when I started getting a little bit more fat on my body.
T: Interesting stuff. What’s going on with you business-wise? Don’t you have a book coming out soon?
FS: Yes, I do. It’s called The Frank Shamrock Ultimate Fighting Method. I actually wrote it a few years ago and spent some time recently updating it. It’s my system and it covers some of the things that we just spoke about. It covers a lot of techniques, contains a training journal and all of the visualization stuff. It’s your basic how-to book to become a professional athlete and kick everyone’s ass. It’ll be available in October. I’m excited about it and it incorporates a lot of modern training ideas into a good submission fighting manual of sorts.
T: Are you still doing workshops for law enforcement?
FS: The S.O.D.C.S (Science of Office Defense and Criminal Submissions) training program for law enforcement is going really well. We have 28 agencies using our system including Canadian customs and Royal Mounties. They came to me a few years ago and asked me to design a system to address their guidelines. Now it’s going wild!
Other than that, I do a lot of seminars and a lot of appearances. I do a lot of interviews, go to a lot of events, and for some reason, I meet with a lot of people and don’t get paid for it. Not sure how that happened and I’m trying to find a solution to that. (laughing)
Another thing I’m doing is looking to start a fighting league for MMA athletics. I really think that someone needs to look after the athletes and their best interests. I just feel that our sport needs better regulation, otherwise we’re never going to get approved as a real sport. Right now I feel I have some more work to do in this industry and that we need to clean it up and start a league and make this a real sport. That responsibility has fallen on myself and I’m going to go ahead and just do it.
T: Do you think this sport will really take off someday and gain more popularity?
FS: Honestly, I think so. I started in 1994, never played a sport before, and in eight months turned pro. Six months later I won my first world title. This is a new sport and if done properly and regulated, you can be anyone you want to be; you can be as successful as you want because it’s brand new. It’s up to the athletes to make themselves stars and present themselves properly and it’s up to the promoters to let them.
T: Let’s backtrack a bit. You had a hard time growing up before Bob Shamrock adopted you. Can you tell us a little about your childhood and some of the tough things that you went through?
FS: Sure. My dad left when I was three years old. I grew up without a dad until age eight, which is a very critical time. When I was seven, my mom re-married and I got a stepfather who was a real ornery guy. He was ex-military, very strict, and into psychological trauma. He grew up very rough and was twelve years older than my Mom. I went from no dad, wondering who my dad was, to a militant stepfather and it traumatized me.
I started immediately getting into trouble. By the time I was eleven, I was out of my home in juvenile hall and circulating through the state system. I had issues and I was a child and nothing made sense to me no matter what I did. I couldn’t find peace or happiness. My own home was so traumatizing that I didn’t mind leaving when I was eleven. From age eleven to seventeen I was in the juvenile state system.
When I was thirteen, I landed in Shamrock’s Boys Ranch owned by Bob Shamrock. That’s where I first met Ken. Bob was the first guy that wouldn’t take my crap and put his foot down and made me do stuff. He set me straight. However, he was really nice about it and we got along, developed a relationship, and then he eventually adopted me.
T: Looking back on where you’ve been and where you are now, have you developed a deep spiritual philosophy that you believe in?
FS: Well, I don’t know how deep it is, but this is a good side note. During the time I went through several group homes and stuff, there were four or five of them that had different religions. I got exposed to several different religions and got confused even more. As I started applying myself to life, I started believing that if you do good things then good things will happen to you. If you do bad things, bad things will happen to you. You create your own heaven and hell right here on earth and you choose to live it. Anything bad you put out there will come back. That’s my basic philosophy.
T: Do you feel compelled to give back to people considering where you’ve been and where you are now?
FS: I do. I give to the American Cancer Society and Courageous Kids Day and participate in the City of Hope. Also, I give of myself to many people. I have a few bucks and some fame and try to touch a lot of people. I truly believe that if I touch those people in a positive way that those people will also enrich my life and so forth. I have to believe that because where I came from was so bad and so negative that I can’t imagine thinking another way. I could just see myself back in that position if I did.
I appreciate what I have every day and wonder how I got here and how those belts got over there on my wall. I take my life one day at a time and just thank God I’m here.
For more information on Frank Shamrock, visit his site at FrankShamrock.com.