UFC Hall of Famer @forrestgriffin is today’s guest. He’s the author of Got Fight? The 50 Zen Principles of Hand-to-Face Combat.

Forrest is known for winning the very first season of The Ultimate Fighter, a show that chronicled the lives of MMA fighters as they lived, trained, and fought together for a chance to compete in the UFC.

Forrest has since gone on to win the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and was recently inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

In this episode, Forrest shares his thoughts on what it takes to be a fighter, and life after UFC.

Listen in to Forrest Griffin to learn:

  • How to use nervousness to become a better fighter
  • Why fighting isn’t for everyone
  • What it takes to nurture a lasting, loving marriage

How did you first become interested in fighting?

It’s funny, I never even liked boxing as a kid. I tried taekwondo for two weeks but that was it.

But I’m tough. I played football and basketball and I would get into a lot of fights. Not because I was mean or aggressive but because I was kind of big.

“When you’re known as being big and tough as a kid and an argument breaks out, you’re sort of required to get involved in it.”

And fighting is kind of fun. There’s this moment that occurs when you’re in a fight where you’re not thinking about anything else, where all of your other problems are put on mute, at least for a short amount of time.

Anyone who’s ever had to fight somebody at 3:00 pm in the schoolyard knows this; you’re not thinking about any of your other life problems. They become very pale in comparison to somebody punching and kicking you in the face, that immediateness.

Is there a fight from your childhood that really stands out to you?

I was in third grade and I had just lost a fight with a fourth grader—I still have no idea how I lost it so badly—but I remember being in the principal’s office. At the time I was kind of a big goofy kid, a lot like now. I wasn’t mean or malicious or anything, but the principal started lecturing me and I just started giggling. I couldn’t help myself. I guess that’s when I first discovered that fighting could be fun.

But again, I didn’t set out to get in a fight. I didn’t know that was going to happen. It was beyond my control.

At the end of the day, you don’t let people push you around and sometimes it becomes physical, these things happen.

Who was Forrest Griffin before UFC and the fame and celebrity that came with it?

I grew up in Augusta, Georgia. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was younger but my mom remarried and was able to get a decent job, so that helped.

I was very fortunate in a way because I believe you need to be poor when you’re young in order to acquire that hunger to lift yourself out of poverty. It also taught me the importance of having a strong social support group because I honestly would have been homeless without the help of my friends and family.

Then in my twenties, I ended up with no money and no ability to get a decent job, so I applied to some jobs through a temp agency and ended up putting penis pumps in boxes all day.

Not exactly a fun job. They were medical grade ones, not the bright purple ones.

“Medical grade penis pumps, in boxes, all day.”

After that, I worked doing security gigs but I broke my arm in a fight, and you can’t work security in a cast.

At the time I was going to college part-time, and looking back, I don’t know if I would have ever finished college if I hadn’t shattered my right hand. I had nothing else to do so I took out student loans to pay for my medical bills, bought myself a new hand, and then got to work finishing college.

You’re not supposed to use student loan money for anything but tuition and textbooks—things related to your education. Technically what I did was a felony, but I really had no other choice, so I did it.

What was your plan after you finished college?

I wanted to work in law enforcement, specifically for the DEA. I was young and they were the agents that got to kick down the most doors. I basically wanted to be a SWAT guy. That didn’t happen, but I did become a cop.

SWAT officers stand under a hovering SWAT helicopter.

I didn’t really enjoy getting up at 4:15 am every day to get to shifts on time but it was okay. I was still finding my feet and didn’t really know what I was doing.

I lasted a little over three years doing that before I left to be on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. And at that time you had to work a certain amount of time or else you’d owe money for the police academy. I gave them 17 days notice and that was it.

But you have to take chances.

“I’d rather take a chance and regret something I did than regret the things I didn’t do.”

I think back and try to imagine what it would have been like if I didn’t get on that plane. I would never have found out that I had a decent shot at being the first Ultimate Fighter. I’d probably still be at home thinking, “Those guys on that show aren’t that great, I could have probably have beaten most of those guys.”

My life would be really incomplete.

With that said, I cannot tell you how many grown men with children or wives I meet out in Vegas and they say, “Hey Forrest, I saved up three months, I quit my job, I moved to Vegas, I want to become an Ultimate Fighter.” But they’re mediocre at best, they’ll never be great.

The time to get out and live life and make mistakes is in your 20s. I forget who it was but someone said, “You make your story in your 20s, then you talk in your 30s, and then you write about it in your 40s. If you’re in your 20s, you should be out there making those stories.

How do you find the time to be a husband with all your other time commitments?

You have to just keep putting in the work, but it’s tough. I work a lot, and frankly, when I get home I’m tired, so my primary concern is let’s deal with the bills, let’s schedule time with your parents, let’s cook dinner. It’s all stressful stuff, not the fun stuff like when we were dating.

We have a weekly date night, but I don’t know if that’s enough. You have to have rules. For instance, on date nights, we don’t talk about real life. We pretend we’re on the first date again and we talk about ourselves. Not like, “Hey, I’m sorry but did we renew the auto insurance?”

Nobody wants to talk about that.

“My wife and I have a rule that we don’t talk about life or work after 9:00 pm.”

I don’t want to hear about it. If we have something important to tell each other, we literally text it to each other for the next morning, just so we don’t forget.

You have to have a couple of hours to chill and not worry about the fact that life is harsh.

My wife and I also have marriage meetings every Sunday where for at least a couple of hours we talk about life. The harder stressful stuff. It’s nice because we have a list going throughout the week where we write down all the stressful conversations we’re saving for our weekly marriage meeting and then we don’t bring any of this stuff up to each other on the spot. We just add it to the list. Then when Sunday comes around we have a full agenda of all the things that we want to discuss.

We can just lay it all out and deal with it in one go. That way stuff doesn’t pile up, it just gets put out in the open. And a lot of the time issues kind of go away by themselves. That big problem that was going to take up a lot of time at the Sunday meeting has worked itself out. You’d be surprised how often that’s the case.

You’re a father now. What’s your approach to parenting?

I have a five-year-old daughter. She’s naturally active; she’s definitely got my energy. She loves to play and she’s physically very tough but emotionally very sensitive. I do jiu-jitsu with her, and when she can’t do the moves she gets upset, especially when she sees six-year-olds doing them that have been practicing longer than her.

But we really try to mind everything. We did the vaccinations, we did the Dr. Sears method, we try to make sure she gets lots of sleep, and we try to watch what she eats.

The thing you got to remember is that there’s stuff in the food we eat that no one really knows much about. The FDA says it doesn’t kill you but they don’t actually know what it does. So, we try to stay away from those, things like aspartame or other synthetic foods. Plus, I’m a hippie at heart.

We stick to organically raised meat and organic vegetables as much as possible. I’m a big fan of eggs, too.

But it’s hard when other kids are eating McDonald’s and you have to say, “No baby, we bought you this granola for a treat.”

What’s your favorite story from Got Fight?

It’s a story about the world’s toughest nerd and in it, I paint myself as the villain because I am. I’m the bad guy.

So a couple of big football players from the University of Georgia and I decided to take a road trip from Georgia to Stanford. I was about 240 pounds then and I’m the smallest guy there. Anyway, we see this really skinny kid with glasses on and we decide to pick on him.

He walks in front of our Jeep at an intersection but he’s taking his sweet time. So my friend gets out and starts messing with him. I don’t really remember the details, but it ends with my friends throwing him down this hill. We all think, “Well that’s the end of that.”

“But then he gets up and screams, “I’m ready to die!” before charging at my friend flailing.”

He had no idea how to throw a punch but he’s trying. Then my friend throws him against the Jeep before rolling him down the hill again with the help of another one of my buddies.

We drive away as this beat up kid is still walking toward us all Walking Dead style.

All of us in the Jeep are all thinking the same thing which is, a) what the hell is this kid made of? and b) we’re all huge douche bags.

Then, just as he was about to disappear from view, I turned quietly and see him put his glasses back on and wipe the grass off himself. He tucks his shirt in, picks up his books, and walks off.

“All I remember thinking was, ‘That is the coolest guy in the world.'”

The way he walked off, he was just like, “All right, cool. I should go put my glasses on, fix my hair, brush myself off, and get on with my day.” It was like it hadn’t even happened.

It was obvious that he had never been in a fight in his life. But he fought back, he was ready to do whatever he could to stand up for himself.

What can we learn about human nature from fighting?

What I tell people is that before a fight you should be nervous but never afraid. I’m always nervous before a fight and that nervousness helps me perform at my peak. It forces me to train hard, to not drink, go to bed on time, to not be out and about. I was living a pretty regimented lifestyle because of that nervousness. I wanted to be able to fight.

I was living a pretty regimented lifestyle because of that nervousness. I wanted to be able to fight.

“I would use that nervousness as motivation to train hard.”

What I don’t understand is people that don’t really train hard and work hard and then the day of the fight comes around and they’re nervous. Well, you probably should be nervous because you didn’t do any of the work!

You have to embrace that nervousness and that feeling of fright you get before a fight. That’s your body getting ready to fight. It’s the adrenaline. Not only is your body on the same page as you, but if you don’t feel butterflies, you’re not ready to fight. That adrenaline, that feeling of being scared, is what allows you do extraordinary things that maybe you couldn’t do without that.

But I don’t think everyone is made to fight. Not everybody is going to like fighting.

“I love fighting, I think it’s the epitome of human confrontation. It’s the first sport there ever was, but at the end of the day, there’s a limited demographic of people that like fighting, and I’m fine with that.”

There are a million other ways to prove your own self-worth to yourself. You can certainly find out what makes you, you without fighting. That was just my path.

How has your success in MMA gone on to impact your fans?

People look at guys like me and Jeremy Horn and say, “Man if they can do it, I could do it too,” and then they dedicate themselves to following in our footsteps. But here’s the problem:

“Fighting is unlike dancing or sex, because it’s not fun if you are not good at it.”

If you’re not winning, you’re not having fun.

So no, not everyone is capable of becoming the next Forrest Griffin or the next Jeremy Horn, you have to have natural ability.

Don’t quit your job or leave your family to become a professional fighter.

Who has been your biggest influence as an author?

The most inspirational book and the only book I’ve ever read on writing: Stephen King’s On Writing.

It’s how to write a book for dummies. It’s really a powerful book. Never mind my stupid books, if you’re listening, read that book.

There’s nobody who can beat Stephen King.

I am not a good writer, but I’ve always been a decent storyteller.

“When I first started writing, I tried to find my voice by asking, “What makes me special? Who am I?” and I didn’t have a really good answer for either of those questions.”

I’m not a good athlete, I’m not really that smart, but you know what I am? I’m the every man. I’m the guy next door. I’m the kid that mowed your grass growing up, that’s who I am. I’m every man.I found my persona and I just use that as my writing force as well.

I’m not a good athlete, I’m not really that smart, but you know what I am? I’m the every man. I’m the guy next door. I’m the kid that mowed your grass growing up, that’s who I am. I’m every man.I found my persona and I just use that as my writing force as well.

After that writing become so much easier because I had found my persona, the every man, and that’s the voice I use when I write.

What is Forrest Griffin’s parting advice for aspiring authors?

I’ve said this earlier, but your 20s are for living and reading, your 30s are for reading and writing, and your 40s are for writing and being written about.

But as far as practical writing advice goes, just get your thoughts on paper. It doesn’t matter how horrible your ideas are as long as you get them out of your head.

I’ve actually written two horrible movie scripts. They’re so bad that it’s awful and they will never see the light of day because they are that horrible, but I’m still glad I wrote them down.

My other piece of advice would be to read. Read a lot of different things until you’ve found your own voice.