Frank Shamrock was an early pioneer of mixed martial arts training with a unique approach to cross-training and fight strategy that enabled him to become the first UFC light heavyweight champion before vacating it after an all-time classic match against Tito Ortiz. He formed an alliance and cross-trained his shoot wrestling style with the kickboxing skills of Maurice Smith and the guard work of Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and successfully blended them together to form a well-rounded skill set. Each member of the alliance was able to help each other improve in a different area and in many ways exemplifies his plus, minus and equals training system which we will discuss in this article.
Perhaps due to its inclusion in the book “Ego is the Enemy” by author Ryan Holiday one of the most notable aspects of Frank Shamrock’s training is his system of plus, equals and minus. The plus, equals and minus formula is as simple as have a training partner that is better than you, at the same level and of lesser skill than you, which will enable you to always continue learning and growing. Author Ryan Holiday explains the benefit of the system as follows:
“The purpose of Shamrock’s formula is simple, to get real and continuous feedback about what they know and what they don’t know, from every angle.” – Ryan Holiday
Let’s now go more in-depth about how the three parts of the plus, minus and equals system will connect.
The plus will be a martial artist who is more skilled than you who you can learn from and will expose your gaps. In many cases, this will be your coach who will have more expertise on the subject than you but also sparring partners who can put that knowledge into action. The coach can provide the role of mentoring, training guidance and knowledge of techniques that can help develop your martial arts skills. But martial artists will always have a coach who should fill this role except in the rare case that someone was self-training and if so they should go find a coach to become “the plus” immediately.
Sparring partners who are also a step above you will fill this role as you need someone to be exposing the weak areas in your game to help you become aware of them and give you the incentive to work on them. Without a partner who can best you in training, then you are merely giving yourself delusional confidence that may be exposed by in a real fight or confrontation. These mini losses in practice will help you grow, and you want to have these experiences in the gym in an environment where your partner is helping you to learn rather than for it to occur in a public competition setting.
The minus will be a martial artist who is of lesser skill than you who you can teach and help grow. It is someone that you can help along the way to improve their skill set, and in the process, it will help you gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of your skills. It many ways the best way to understand is to figure out how to teach it to another person, and these people will provide an opportunity to do so, ensuring they are willing. Simply giving unsolicited to people can be very frustrating, and some peoples pet peeves in the gym when it is considered the primary responsibility of the coach.
Another practical way that you need to have someone who is a minus is you need someone who can help you put implement skills you have just learned before you can get them to work at a higher level. When you learn a new technique, the chances of you being able to execute it flawlessly at first will be very slim. But you might be able to make it work on someone less skilled than you while you refine the application of the technique over repetitions. Whereas if you immediately try to apply a new technique on someone who is of more considerable skill, it might be stopped immediately before it, you can see it develop into being usable. Ideally, you can take a new ability and troubleshoot it on a minus to a point where it starts working on equals and further and then get a chance to show that technique and any possible counters to your training partner to help them also benefit from the process.
The will be a martial artist who is roughly at the same skill level and can match you in sparring. It can be someone who started training at the same time as you or someone who you happen to be matching skill levels with but overall these are people who are the same point in their development as you. Now we can consider every one of our training partners as our equals as everyone trains together with the same goal of improving and solving the same problems. It can be everyone in your gym being on the same team and all trying to strengthen each other on the same journey. But at a more individual level, you want to have people who are matching you in training with neither person able to get a clear advantage.
These sessions with people who have been your equals should be fun and enjoyable and will also give you a guide to know if you or they have improved. It would help if you were motivating each other by knowing that you are on the same course together and that you are helping each other grow and develop in a way that can be more team building than being bested by someone better than you. A practical example is having a group of people preparing for a competition on the same day. Everyone can help push each other and raise the overall level of the group as everyone works towards the same goal.
The Plus, Minus and Equals training system
The plus, minus or equals system will be there if you look for after training for a short period of time. Even if it’s just having the plus being your coach and the equal being your training partners. Once identified, you can use the system to provide you with continuous real-time feedback on your progress throughout training. Getting that constant feedback will help keep you grounded and honest about your skill level and in the book “The Ego is the Enemy” the chapter that discusses this focuses on always remaining a student throughout life. Frank Shamrock describes the benefit of doing so as follows:
“False ideas about yourself destroy you. For me, I always stay a student, that’s what martial arts are about, and you have to use the humility as a tool”. – Frank Shamrock
The system of plus, minus and equals training will simplify the process of remaining a student by giving you a readily identifiable way to learn new skills, collaborate as a team and share what you know with others while continuing to grow, improve and strengthen yourself as a martial artist.