The knowledge that you can knock a man out with one punch, that however far behind you fall in the fight, you can still pull it out with one shot can be dangerous in a fighter. It can lead to passivity in the early rounds and letting a match slip away. The Jab is different. The Jab is commitment. The Jab is steady. The Jab is knowledge. The Jab is technique. You take control with the Jab. It makes life easy in the ring. The Jab is fundamental. The Jab sets up the bigger, more impressive shots. The Jab is simple. The Jab is your most important punch.
I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. Henry David Thoreau
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.Continue reading “Dreams and the Proper Distance : First Published in FIGHT! Magazine 2008”
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Always attack: Eliminate every vestige of passivity from your mind. Never hold back because of a fear of failure or disappointment.
- Be courageous: Courage devours aggression because courage increases and reinforces itself while blind aggression burns out. Fortitude beats cunning in the end.
- Be first: Seize the initiative. Wake up. Be alert to as much as you can. Live with energy.
- 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.
- Prepare: Focus on technique. Details matter. A mastery of practicalities will produce confidence and eliminate indecision.
- 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.
“ Every talent must unfold itself in fighting.” Friederich Nietzsche.
Vigorous Creatures – Lost – An important Call
Twilight on the edge of the Mojave Desert. A jackrabbit the size of a terrier lopes into the middle of the road, where I’m standing outside my parked car. I make eye contact with the animal and it stares back brazenly before darting off. I hadn’t realized it was possible for a rabbit to look mean, but that one sure did. Huge crows fly overhead and a rooster calls robustly somewhere in the background. All around me, dozens of Joshua trees writhe eerily in their fibrous, fire-resistant bark. In the distance a wiry feral dog, maybe a coyote, eyes me opportunistically. I glance at my phone, wondering if anyone got my text message asking for directions.
I think back to a phone conversation I had exactly a week ago in my office in Atlanta. “Now this is going to be real, these guys are going to be training for UFC 91,” said Dean Albrecht, one of the most powerful agents in mixed martial arts. He paused, implying that if I were having second thoughts, now would be the time to back out. I didn’t say anything so he went on, “How’s your insurance?”
“Good, I think”
“Do you have all of your teeth?”
“If you want it to stay that way, you’ll need a real mouthpiece, not one from the drugstore. I’ll handle that.” The uber-efficient super agent would handle everything for me over the next month.
“How’s your Jiu-Jitsu?” he asked.
“Okay, I guess. I’m a blue belt.”
“Mmm,” Dean grunted skeptically. “And you used to box, so your hands are okay. Can you kick?”
“How old are you again?”
“Ahh.” Dean changed the subject. “Listen, everybody reads the magazine, but I doubt they are going to know who you are.” (Referring to my job as editor)
“That’s better,” I said. “Don’t tell them. I don’t want to be treated any differently. Treat me like anybody else going out there.” There is a pregnant silence at the other end of the line. “Yeah, it will be great,” he then said. “You can go incognito.” Dean was enthusiastic about the idea of my training with top-level pros for a month before fighting in Las Vegas, in spite of his doubts about my ability to complete the assignment. Granting me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he had arranged for me to train for a week with one of his biggest clients, UFC lightweight star Joe Stevenson, at his gym in Victorville, California.
Alone, lost, and with nothing to do, I start to wonder if I have made a mistake. It’s not the physical hazard of fighting and training that weighs most heavily on my mind but as always, my dread of embarrassment and the shame associated with failure. I know that I am going to suck compared to these guys. After all, they’re world class. But what if I really suck? What if I can’t do it? My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a car engine, and soon a black truck speeds over the hill in front of me, churning up a cloud of dust. It skids to a stop beside me, and a guy who’s built like an anvil glowers out at me from behind the wheel.
“Are you the editor guy?” he growls.
“That’s me,” I say. So much for incognito.