Dreams and the Proper Distance : First Published in FIGHT! Magazine 2008

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I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. Henry David Thoreau


Team Meeting


Anyone who has spent a lot of time in fight gyms will recognize their familiar smell: of stale sweat, wet leather and something vaguely reminiscent of urine, (the imported leather, which finds its way into a lot of training gear, is treated with cow urine overseas.) Although it’s not a pleasant smell, it lends credibility. If a gym has been open for a while and doesn’t have the smell, it is hard to take it seriously. It is the smell of strain and physical effort.

I am reminded of it when I enter the 5,600 square foot gym of powerhouse fight team American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. The place looks well used, and the people inside are serious and hardworking. It is immediately obvious that place is hardcore. The gym is divided into four parts, with a boxing ring in front next to a space for cardio classes and punching bags and Jiu-Jitsu mats in back. Often, there are three classes going on at the same time at AKA. It can get crowded, so the gym closes to the public from one to four, so that the pros can work out privately.


When I arrive, I notice twenty or so professional fighters gathered in the back on the Jiu-Jitsu mats, underneath a giant American flag hanging on the wall. Head coach Javier Mendez has called a team meeting to discuss something very important. He is a little pissed off, and speaks in a stern and authoritative voice.

“If you don’t have concern for the other people in this room, there is no place for you on this team.” His eyes move around the space, making eye contact with each member of his American Kickboxing Academy. Many of the guys in the room are new to the game, struggling to make it, holding onto day jobs as well as training. Others are on their way to being millionaires from their involvement with MMA. He punches the next part to make sure he gets the point across “Whoever you are.” There is no favoritism in this room.

The meeting has been called because one of the newer guys was supposed to get checked out for staph, but didn’t show up for his doctor’s appointment even though Javier had offered to pay for it. This puts the whole team at risk. Many of them have big money fights coming up, so Mendez wants to get the message out loud and clear. He will not tolerate anyone endangering the wellbeing and livelihood of their teammates. A few of the stars are not present because they are between fights: John Fitch, Mike Swick, and Cain Velasquez. But other than that, the room is packed.

Phil Baroni stands up and announces brazenly, “If you’re not in the UFC or haven’t fought in PRIDE, I don’t want to hear from you.” He is promptly heckled and jeered by other members of the team, and sits down as anyone who wants to add his two cents does so for the next twenty minutes. There is a tough and unmistakable sense of fraternity at AKA.

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8 Life Lessons from the World of Mixed Martial Arts

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A while back I spent several years traveling the world and observing the best martial artists up close and even training and competing myself. As a writer I was always most interested in these fighters, not so much for their exploits in the cage but as models of excellence and fortitude. Counterpoints in a time of widespread cultural distraction and fractiousness. I looked for things that I could take away from what I was learning to help me in my everyday life. The following are the core principals I took from my experiences in the world of fighting that have helped me in my quest to live an authentic and empowered life.

  1. Don’t give up: This doesn’t mean charge blindly into destruction or court hardship just to prove how tough you are, but always recognize your authentic will instead of your animal appetites and develop the first unfailingly as a means to master the second.
  2. Use everything you have: Commit, and don’t hold back. Choose wisely what you do then expend yourself fully in whatever you put your hand to. In this way you will marshal all of your resources and develop new ones as well.
  3.  Always attack: Eliminate every vestige of passivity from your mind. Never hold back because of a fear of failure or disappointment. 
  4. Be courageous: Courage devours aggression because courage increases and reinforces itself while blind aggression burns out. Fortitude beats cunning in the end.
  5. Be first: Seize the initiative. Wake up. Be alert to as much as you can. Live with energy.
  6. The Killer Instinct: Always think in terms of winning. Don’t just survive. Be constantly aware of the circumstances for victory and watch for them. Close the show when the chance comes.
  7. Prepare: Focus on technique. Details matter. A mastery of practicalities will produce confidence and eliminate indecision.
  8. Visualize success: If your limbs are tied up, move forward with your mind until you free yourself. When you do, the power of Providence will be at your back. 

Donovan Craig

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A Remarkable Battle

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By: Donovan Craig


The day was going badly for my body until glorious King Alexander shattered the enemy formation with a lightening cavalry charge from between my temples to the base of my neck. Astride wild Bucephalus he cut a figure of terrible beauty. 

The emperor Napoleon has ordered a barrage of cannon to dislodge the forces entrenched in my lungs. A part of his humble beginnings his time as a lowly artilleryman. I cough violently to aid him in his work. 

Hannibal, for my benefit, has buried the hatchet with the Romans. He and grim Scipio have surrounded the enemy with great slaughter behind my left knee. How long can such an alliance hold?

The aching in my right shoulder is where Stonewall Jackson himself has his opponents trapped in a withering crossfire of musket shot and grate.  Earlier an explosion knocked the General from his horse.  The concentration of this odd otherworldly man was unbroken as he dusted himself off. 

Julius Caesar is directing the entire operation from a base just under my heart. No detail of battle escapes his great mind, infinitely perceptive and utterly ruthless.  The most gifted killer of them all.

Although I’m in distress I’m heartened that my defense has fallen into such capable hands. A more crucial battle was never fought as the fallen are discharged with eerie precision in shivering tides of clammy sweat. 

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