The UFC’s Legendary Din Thomas
Life is Creativity and Growth
Author : Din Thomas
Editor : Jennifer J. Lacelle
Date : September 16, 2021
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they must make a decision. Fight… or flight. Being a small person, coming in at a height of 5’9” and one of his last weigh-ins at 144-lbs, Din Thomas decided that rather than fear his safety he would become one of the fighters he’d watched on television growing up.
“When I saw the first UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championships] in 1993, I was like, ‘I gotta do this,’” Thomas says before adding, “I didn’t wanna get beat up in the street.”
It wasn’t just his own safety that was a concern though, he wanted to be able to protect himself and those around him should the need ever arise.
The UFC was still fairly young when he began training for fights, even if it had been around for a few years at that point, so it wasn’t the colossal corporation it is now.
As such, there weren’t classes available for up and coming (or current) fighters. Although, Thomas believes his first martial art it would be BJJ if he had to pick, saying, “I think I’m a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu person in my core.” However, in the beginning there were no classes to attend. Rather, he would watch videos and learn how to mimic the movements. On top of that, he was attending seminars and clinics to improve his abilities all the while fighting in the ring — which meant training was always about prepping for competition.
“It was so rare at the time that you almost had to be self-taught.” Thomas defines the difference between training and learning because the two are not one and the same. When it comes to training,
he compares it to preparing for battle, and needing to stay in pique physical condition. Learning, on the other hand, is a scholastic process wherein one learns the correct way of doing things.
Instead, he needed to learn what was correct or not based on trial and error. After about five years in the game, there were finally instructors available to fighters. Thomas’ game was already different but this allowed him to understand the reason behind why particular techniques or strikes worked and why they didn’t. The first time he stepped into the ring was “surreal” and Thomas describes the experience as if it wasn’t himself.
Because he had spent his teen years watching the fights, he envisioned himself in the body of the men he watched battle each other. Because it didn’t feel as though it were him, he wasn’t nervous or afraid, it was more like being in a dream.
“It wasn’t until I lost my first fight that it became real for me,” says Thomas as the realizations struck. “Wait, this is actually me and I’m vulnerable and if I’m not careful then I’m going to lose this fight.”
Because it was trial and error as the sport developed, Thomas recalls rules being implemented as they progressed. Despite the difficulty, he says it was actually a blessing looking back at everything.
The transition from fringe sport to a main attraction astonished him. He truly realized what it had become when he was watching a fight from ESPN while on an airplane.
It was that moment of acknowledgement he says they were always striving to obtain. Back in 1998 hardly a soul knew or cared about the sport.
But in today’s world it’s common to see on screens at bars/pubs, to sell out stadiums and see top fighters become celebrities and pull in wads of cash.
“I’m really proud to be involved in the sport and blessed to be involved at the level I’m at now,” Thomas says. “It’s a major blessing and it bring me great joy.” By the time he decided to retire (2014, officially, but his last fight occurred in 2013), he was operating a couple martial arts academies and thought he would simply fall back on those for income. However, it wasn’t enough for him as he needed more creative outlets.
“In my peak, I was still going to school,” he says. “I really thought I was going to be a teacher, teach gym class.” While studying, the opportunity to take an elective theatre class came up and he took it.
This is when he realized the similarities between the two worlds. In both the ring and the stage there was an audience to perform before, the need to stand in the moment, to see his circumstances and decide what to do next.
This outlet prompted him to attend another class (improvisation) and then another acting class and another. Thomas soon found himself immersed in the artistic world of performance.
His retirement from fighting prompted him to pursue more creative outlets because this expressive side still needed to be set loose — and performing is creative.While the entire Hollywood industry of film is a turn off to him, he plans to continue working in movies because the “art of acting” is a passion. “I don’t ever want to get to a point where I feel like I’m overwhelmed by the industry,” he says.
Thomas intends to tell stories and create art on his own terms, up to and including, producing his own movies. His intention is to never “sell out a dollar for Hollywood.” While his background in fighting is beneficial to action movies, there’s a massive difference between the ring and the screen.
Apart from the obvious difference that no one is actually taking a hit on set (or so we hope), in a true fight, all the motions are small because you don’t want your opponent to see what’s happening next. In a movie, the motions are big because the audience needs (and wants) to see what’s happening — even if that’s not realistic. “In a fight, you just wanna see a guy go to sleep but not how he got there,” laughs Thomas.
Even though he stopped coaching in 2019, except a couple of select fighters, there are three main things he looks for as a coach.
Decision making. He wants to see how well someone makes decisions based on the circumstances they find themselves in. Perseverance.
Are they capable of getting through the rough patches, the pain, and the difficulties? How easy does someone give up. If they give up easily, then it’s probably not the right sport for that person.
Fun. It’s important to enjoy what you do (and that goes for everything). So, if someone’s not able to have fun while participating in this sport then it’s likely not the best area for the potential fighter.
He makes a point that not a single thing on that list is a physical attribute, saying he doesn’t much care about it because that can be developed. He wants a more cerebral approach to coaching his fighters over a physical one.
“I like watching people grow,” Thomas says. “I like watching them grow to fill the shoes they want to fit. I like to see them achieve those goals, and set new goals and achieve those. That’s important. That’s what life is about. That’s probably my favourite part.”
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