Living for Greatness with Hai Nguyen

Hello, everyone. I hope you all are enjoying the holidays, celebrating the end of 2020 and envisioning a bright future for 2021. This year has been trying and odd for everyone. With the year coming to an end, I asked my wife, Ashley, what she would like me to write for the newsletter. Without hesitation, she said, “Write about how you got good at martial arts.” It is a great compliment because I am so busy teaching and helping others to be great, I rarely reflect on the process that took me to the next level.

I once had a coach who gave the gift of breaking down performance, and it has stuck with me forever. There were five steps ingrained into me by practicing this in different aspects of my life: spiritual, family, friends, educational, financial, mental, and physical. (Elite MMA’s vision statement).


  1. Understand a situation.
  2. Create the picture in your mind of what you want it to look like when you achieve your goal.
  3. What tangible options are there for you to start making steps to the goal?
  4. Just do it.
  5. Complete and recycle.

These five steps ring in my head every time I set my mind on something to accomplish. Let us take an example of how I learn a new technique.

As a white belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, it is a brutal belt where you can only rely on your natural ability until you have equipped yourself with adequate technique. If you are strong and athletic, someone with better technique can manipulate you into a pretzel. If you are fast and methodical, someone can just hold you in uncompromising positions until the point you want Thanos (from the Avenger’s movie series) to snap his finger, so the pain goes away.

My first instructor, Pedro Alberto, showed a great series of arm bars from knee on the belly when I was a white belt around 1997 (it’s the December 2020, Week #2 in our curriculum). There was one armbar that worked surprising well for me. That was the far side spinning arm bar from knee on the belly. My partner for that day was Ed Liem.

Step 1: Understand a situation. This move was really cool to me and I needed to understand it inside and out. I did it slow for 10 reps, and then Ed did 10. Next, we sped it up and I did 10 as fast as I could, and he did it as fast as he could. This is five minutes in, and we are drenched in sweat with 20 reps between us. We kept going. We did both sides — some of the armbars were better than others. Then, I felt the difference of his and implemented the gap of the feel on him when it was my turn. We must have hit 50+ reps each before we moved on to the next part of class. I saw it from my instructor, but it was all conceptual until I got ahold of it myself and tried it on Ed.

Step 2: Create the picture in your mind of what you want it to look like when you achieve your goal. After the physical reps with Ed, my instructor did the move again. Then, like a picture on a Polaroid photo, I can still see the opponent pushing with his left hand on Pedro’s knee, then the perfect pull of Pedro on the opponent’s left triceps with his right hand, and Pedro’s explosion using his legs to pull the arm closer to his body, to his shin/knee sliding across the opponent’s lats, to the top of the foot cradling the opponent’s rear delt. I can tell you what gi Pedro was wearing, what the room looked like, the smell of the room, the lighting of the room and the view from where I was sitting. I saw it all. That picture is ingrained in my head as vivid as like it was yesterday.

Step 3: What tangible options do I have? During that period, I was attending the University of Houston (Go Coogs!!!) for my MIS degree. The only days I had to train were Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. I optimized those days. If for some reason I did not have college classes, I could make it in more, but those three days you could count on me being there. Pedro and my other training partners knew my schedule and knew I was consistent.

Step 4: Just do it. With the mind/body merging, I had the option in every roll to try it. I would get into scenarios to try this move as much as I could. I had to implement the actions to perfect this move and then find the adjustments required against my opponents, and then the adjustments I had to make due to what differences I had in my mind or body. The experience I had learning this one technique had the residual effect of helping me learn other techniques to expand my arsenal. I had to learn to pass someone’s guard (a position where you are in between someone’s legs), transferring from side control to knee on the belly on your opponent, to learning to sweep someone from the bottom to get on top to start the knee on the belly chain. From there, I learned a multitude of different techniques that spawned from just that one technique. Hitting this “spinning armbar” in class was great and then hitting it in live competition was the ultimate satisfaction because the first time I saw this move it was merely a thought. Until I started putting it into actions for myself, I had no idea I could even do the move or that the actual technique even existed. I could see the evolution of the technique for myself in martial arts and the self-confidence I got from knowing I had the power to do it.

Step 5: Complete and recycle. The final step is knowing you have made the technique your own and then starting the next journey to accomplish the chained moves that stem from that one technique. Complete the cycle by knowing that you accomplished a technique and embrace the trials and tribulations of the past, know what the technique looks like for you now, and then start the process over. You will see the martial artist in you start to expand and grow. That addiction to being stimulated and the outcome of growing not only your body but your mind will be ingrained forever.

Love the process and be around others who help to push-pull you to a GREAT level.

Have a great holiday season and I cannot wait to hit our goals for 2021 together!

Hai Nguyen

Hai started training martials arts in 1993 and co-founded Elite MMA with Eric Williams in 1999. Hai loves training martial arts with his students, friends, and family. His wife Ashley is a black belt in BJJ and his 2 kids love training martial arts with their dad. They have mastered the art of the “punch hug”. They have implemented the 5-steps to lure you in with a loving hug and spins you into a punch.

Mixed Martial Arts Houston


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