About Physical Mastery

How to fight to the death (and win): Life lessons from boxing

Fighting to the death teaches you a lot about life. Violence has a lot to teach us all. I learned from both street fights and boxing matches.

Ed Latimore, author, blogger, and retired pro boxer
Ed Latimore Author, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

Fighting to the death teaches you a lot about life.

I grew up in a poor, dangerous housing project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There I came to understand the value of my fists.

In the street fights I saw people often tried to kill each other. I always appreciated the value of life, but my life was always more important than the person who was trying to hurt me. While I never tried to kill anyone I fought, I knew that death–or at the very least, severe injury–was always a possibility. This meant that every battle carried significant risks.

We’re talking jail time, criminal record, painful injury, permanent disability, and death. Life and death are in the power of the fist and with great power comes great responsibility. If that power is wielded irresponsibly, then there are repercussions. The problem is that people are more afraid of the repercussions of fighting than they are of the consequences of not fighting.  

Most people go through life without ever experiencing a physical altercation.

They have no experience with intentional physical pain, either as the recipient or distributor. Some of this is the result of a safe life that kept them out of dangerous situations.  Many others think they’re better than ever throwing a punch at someone, even if they themselves are under attack.

The reality is that violence is a part of human nature. No matter how much societal progress we make or technical innovation we experience, we’re still animals. Violence will always be both the solution to and cause of most of our problems.

Violence has a lot to teach us all. It simultaneously the teacher, the lesson, the exam, and the penalty. 

A lesson I took from street fights—a lesson that made me avoid them whenever I could—was that the person willing to go the furthest usually wins.

How badly do you want to survive?

It’s the person who swings first. It’s the person who jumps someone not expecting it. The person who risks it all by using a deadly weapon. When someone wants to win a street fight, when they literally want to hurt you, they do whatever it takes.

I may not have been willing to kill another person in a fistfight, but I did bring the street warrior mentality with me to the ring. The drive to win no matter what made me successful even as I learned the fundamentals of boxing.

After I won my first match by brutal knockout, a friend asked me, “What are you gonna do when you fight guys who’ve been doing this a lot longer?” It was a fair question since I didn’t start boxing until I was twenty-three. But I think what he really meant was, How are you gonna beat guys who have more skill and have been boxing longer?

The answer is simple: I will hurt them. Badly. Skill is irrelevant. Because I want to win. No matter what.

Who wants it more?

This applies to anything you want in life. 

No matter what you want, you’re competing against other people, your former self, or some combination of the two. Some goals require that you simply be better than another person or group. Think competition in business, sports, or the military. The only metric for success is the only one that matters, victory.

But when your goal involves a demonstration of your abilities without defeating others, that’s when you’re competing against your former self. You’re seeking to express a new self—the improved version of you. Either way, the fight comes down to who wants victory more: you or your opponent? Your improved, disciplined self or the old self you’re comfortable with?

In many fights, will beats skill.

Who wants it more? Who is willing to take their desire for victory unreasonably far? This is not something that you can learn. It can only be taught by getting taken to school by the hard knocks of life.

Skill can take you pretty far as long as the problems you face look like problems you’ve already learned to solve. But no two street fighters, boxing opponents, or competitors are the same. If you have greater willpower, you will always find a way to win. 

Even if you have fewer abilities and less experience. Even if your opponent beats you on speed, strength, height, power, and stance. Will to win alone allows you to make up for disadvantages, endure powerful punches, and grind down a fighter who is not willing to die.

Why boxing is the best analogy for life 

Boxing is painful, exhausting, and, contrary to popular belief, not rewarding financially. But if you put yourself through the misery and emerge victorious, you come to understand what I learned as a kid street fighting in the ghetto: the one who wants to hurt the other person more wins.

Life hits hard and fast. Most of the punches it throws at you are beyond your current capabilities. At least on the streets I could avoid rough areas where fights often broke out. When they did, I could try to diffuse the situation. But there is no way to outsmart or wait out life. 

You have two choices. You can give up, or you can fight with all your might against whatever you face. Do this, and you will emerge victorious from your struggle and become a champion.

Everything else is details, as they say.

But are they?

A lot of times, the details are where we get lost. We miss the forest for the trees. We land a punch but lose the fight. Because it’s not about technique mastery, it’s about drive.

Consider this. If fighting for your life is anything like living it, why do you think so many people are going around unfulfilled?

Going through the motions of life is how you lose

I read recently that 92 percent of people fail to achieve their goals.

On the streets or in the ring, you can’t lose anywhere near that number of fights and survive. People who know what it’s like to fight to the death, the knockout, or whatever physical victory looks like cannot quit. To fail to push yourself past your limits is to lose everything—even your life.

The problem with life is that it’s too easy. Our goals aren’t life or death; they’re healthy food or fast food.

A good friend of mine always says that one of the problems guys have today is that they have no idea what it’s like to be punched in the face. He’s 100 percent correct and in more ways than he probably realizes. 

People have no concept of what danger is, so they think everything hurts. Yeah, it’s hard to quit sugar for a while and get your reps in daily. But if not eating a certain food is one of the most difficult challenges you’ve ever faced, you’ve never really been pushed. But if you’ve taken a punch, you can take just about anything.

What is like being punched in the face by life

If you’ve never been punched in the face, let me describe it for you. Getting punched in the face hurts. Your first reaction is righteous anger. Your first instinct is rapid revenge. But if you lose your discipline and give into those feelings, you will most likely lose–and in a devastating fashion.

When people have a disagreement, this dynamic is also at play. However, when a disagreement gets physical, all parties know they’re beyond solving it with words. If one does not carefully consider the decision to turn a verbal conflict into a physical one, then the decision is usually equally tragic–except you have way more to lose in real life than you do in the ring.

But what if you could channel that fight for survival into your daily objectives and long term plans?

Imagine if you brought that rage to your goal to lose fifteen pounds. What if you were willing to slam sugar in the jaw. Think it would be hard to lose some inches off your middle? Hell, with that motivation, you could probably drop fifty pounds and feel like you are just getting started.

What about an income goal? Well, whether you’re a 9-5 employee, an entrepreneur, or freelancer, you’re in sales–because everyone is in sales. And the thing about selling is that most people hate it.

Whether you’re selling yourself to your boss to get a raise or selling your product to a customer, these are harrowing experiences. But what if you felt like getting paid more (or getting paid, period) was a matter of life and death? What if you were willing to do whatever it took to reach the income level you wanted, no matter how many times your ego got its jaw broken and teeth knocked out?

This works for whatever you want in life or whoever you find yourself competing with, be they a literal competitor or your own fear and ego. Who wants to win more? You or that extra weight? You or the fear that you won’t say the right thing when the customer tries to negotiate price?

What is winning?

Victory is not about words but deeds.

Most people today try to use words to make their point. If that doesn’t work, they complain about how it makes them feel. They have no idea what it’s like to be in a real conflict where the only way to make your point is to silence the opposition.

People are silenced with actions, not words. Violent actions. Fighting to the death is the ultimate expression of acta non verba, a Latin phrase that means “words not deeds.” In a fight, no one cares how you feel unless you feel too good. Then they try to change that.

That brings us back to will versus skill.

You may not have the nutrition knowledge of a diet coach or know your way around every price objection customers will throw at you, but you don’t need to. Not if you’re willing to put on your gloves, step in the ring, and do whatever you have to do to be the last one standing.

Because at the end of the day, everything in life is a street fight and we all know how it ends. Might as well give it your best left hook.


Ed Latimore, author, blogger, and retired pro boxer
Ed Latimore Author, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

Further Reading

Review of the Wim Hof Method: does it work?
What it’s like training for a pro fight
Ed Latimore’s Self-Discipline Quotes
10 simple ways to get more energy