Thursday, August 30, 2007

Velocity Sports Performance: Day Five

It's embarrassing to struggle with a 15 pound dumbell curl. Of course I am not used to lifting weights while standing on one foot or laying on a giant yoga ball. Velocity's dynamic warm ups start to fatigue my joints and connective tissues because I am not used to that kind of movement. Add in some plyometric or medicine ball work and I am feeling gassed before I pick up a weight. Velocity's methodology attacks all the tendons, ligaments, and stabilizer muscles static exercises neglect, and "those itty bitty muscles get tired quickly," Chris Powell says.

I am still trying to figure out how I want to approach my Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu training while maintaining at LEAST my current level of boxing conditioning, drilling, and sparring. I am concerned, too, about my cardiovascular conditioning. Not just for combat sports but general, long term health. Luckily for my sleep schedule and sanity, Chris Powell told me not to worry about cardio for the next couple of months until I get my schedule settled and my body adjusts to a new work load and diet. Speaking of which, my buddy Mark aka Mr. Whip, coach of the Naptown Roller Girls, loaned me a book called The Grappler's Guide to Sports Nutrition by John Berardi and Michael Fry. The writing isn't going to win any awards, but it's direct, simple, practical advice with solid science behind it. I'll post a review of it in the next couple of days along with my dietary plan and the first of twelve monthly "shirtless dude holding a newspaper to show you how much weight he has lost" photos.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Indiana is Fat

This is justification enough for my MMA project. I am more active than most Hoosiers but I'm 28, heavier than I should be with blood pressure that is higher than ideal. This is my last shot to maximize my athletic ability and set myself up for long, healthy life.

Velocity Sports Performance: Day Four

Chris Powell pushed us a little harder today, running us through circuits of upper and lower-body weights and plyometrics. If I keep this up for a year, eat right and train hard, I'll be a freakin' manimal. I killed a gallon of water before 9 a.m. I might invent the herniated bladder.

Still trying to track down Ian Ransburg. Where the hell is this guy?

Monday, August 27, 2007

"I hate to lose."

Moises Ysaguirre hates to lose. At least that's what he told me after he lost a three round decision in an amateur box-off.

I coach Moises almost every Saturday, teaching him the fundamentals of boxing, conditioning him for fights and pushing him to focus on fundamentals when he is sparring. The 18 year-old lives in Richmond, Ind. with his Cuban-born father and Hoosier-born mother. He's a good kid. He works hard. He listens.

Boxing teams from around the state gathered at the Ryves Center in Terre Haute, Ind. on Saturday, August 25. Moises was slated to fight a kid from the same gym as the last kid he fought, the last kid he lost to. I've never visited his opponent's gym. Never worked out there, never had an in depth conversation with the kids or trainers. All I know of it is what I have seen at bouts, in the ring and out of it. And from what I have seen I don't like it.

The fighters coming out of the gym-that-shall-not-be-named are probably the best natural athletes in Indiana amateur boxing but I can't tell how much real guidance they ever get. They are lazy, they fight sloppy, they fight stupid, and they win almost exclusively through a combination of raw athleticism and their opponents mistakes.

Moises came out more aggressive in round one than he had in his previous bout which is essential when you only have three two-minute rounds to win or lose a fight. His opponent, like all fighters from the gym-that-shall-not-be-named, danced around with his hands down, bobbed and weaved needlessly, and threw blind punches from stupid angles. But Moises, in only his third fight, is too timid. He wades in, throws a punch or two and gets in a clinch. Or worse yet, he'll get in close and start eating punches. It was a close fight - Moises' conditioning was stronger at the end. He was more aggressive, he was landing more punches, but he was still in a hole that he couldn't get all the way out of. Now I have more information to take back to the lab. As much as I want to get in shape, I want to see Moises breeze through the competition at Golden Gloves next spring and do it with solid fundamentals and class, two things the gym-that-shall-not-be-named are sorely lacking.

As we walked out, one of their kids knocked his opponent out with the first three punches of round one. The victor's teammates started howling, pointing, laughing, running around, knocking folding chairs akimbo. Maybe these kids come from nothing, maybe this is the only arena where they feel accomplished. But if their coaches can't impress upon them the opportunity sports affords them to rise about their environment then they are doing all of these young men a disservice. The gym is a place to learn how to fight but there are ancillary lessons to be learned about dedication, focus, respect, and integrity...if you're paying attention.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dragonfly Muay Thai: Day One

Kenneth Bigbee, Jr. shouted "kick" and I did, blasting my shin across his hips underneath the Thai pads he was holding. My legs were shot and I was mortified. I apologized profusely while the whole class had a "been there, done that" laugh at my expense.

Bigbee, a former Navy SEAL, is a long-time practitioner of submission grappling, Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, and the Korean weapons-style Kumdo. He began study Muay Thai two years ago under Ian Ransburg and received his blessing to start his own school. He still enjoys Korean martial arts but in terms of street defense and MMA, Bigbee said "I don't like teaching things that aren't effective."

My backround is American Kickboxing - the footwork and striking mechanics are significantly different but I left all my baggage at the door to learn something new. Bigbee walked me through basic punches and kicks; his program is only a few months old and still small enough to allow for individual instruction. "When I teach you punches I start with the hands, move to the hips, and then the feet," Bigbee said looking at me in a mirror. "When I teach you kicks I start with the feet, move the hips, and finish with the hands." I have thrown thousands of punches and kicks in my life but the mechanics of Muay Thai - standing tall on the balls of my feet, swinging my hands away from my face when kicking, holding my hands away from my face when in a defensive posture - are totally counter intuitive.

Damn you, Velocity Sports Performance! My hips burn with every thrusting Muay Thai knee as I circle the gym at Oriental Martial Arts in Avon, Ind. Dragonfly Muay Thai operates under the umbrella of a hapkido school and the environs reflect that more than a Muay Thai or boxing gym. It was Friday night and I was already cashed from work, workouts, and sleep deprivation but I pushed through it. If I am still standing I figure I can work for another hour. My can-do attitude backfired when I couldn't do enough to get my leg up to Bigbee's pads.

I've always been interested in Muay Thai because it's the only so-called pure martial art that has a long standing tradition of formalized full-contact competition. Bigbee knows which way the wind is blowing and took time to explain his perspective on why Muay Thai's mechanics are better suited to MMA than boxing's are. His view revolved around meeting attacks further out in the gap to allow for time to sprawl if necessary as well as never putting yourself in a position where you are vulnerable to a knee or kick.

Amanda and I got a really good vibe from him and his students but Avon would mean a minimum 60 minutes of drive time for each class. We are going back on Monday for conditioning but I was told that Ian Ransburg runs the Muay Thai classes at Modern Gladiator, an MMA gym between my house and Downtown. The time and gas expenditures of training in Carmel at Velocity and Avon at Dragonfly might be prohibitive.

Friday, August 24, 2007

MMA on National Public Radio

There was an excellent segment about MMA on All Things Considered this afternoon. Audio will be up later tonight.

Where's my nap-mat?

I started nodding off yesterday when Amanda and I met with an event planner at the Fountain Square Theater. Eight hours wasn't enough sleep to make up for what I have expended this week. We are headed to Dragonfly Muay Thai tonight but I don't know how much gas I have in the tank. Tomorrow I am cornering Moises' fight in Terre Haute and I've got to play a show in Indy in the early evening. I am starting to worry about possible complications of spending two mornings, two or three evenings, and Saturday afternoons in the gym each week. It's hard enough to do that while holding down a job but we've got a wedding to plan and my already-short fuse gets whittled down by stress and exhaustion. Another opportunity for growth, I suppose.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Velocity Sports Performance: Day Three

I'm starting to like this. Don't get me wrong, it's still difficult and humbling but I am already starting to feel like the workouts are knocking rust out of my joints. Waking up was easier this morning, at least as easy as responding to a 5 a.m. alarm will ever be, I worked out, ate breakfast, made a lunch, fed and walked Bomber with enough time left over to shower and make it to work within a reasonable distance from 9 a.m.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Back to the gym

Bob Mercuri walks in a circle shaking hands, asking everyone questions tailored to their lives, interests, and level of experienc on the mat. The police officer and jiu jitsu purple belt under Pedro Sauer has a smile and a story for everyone. He has seen the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts ebb and flow; he was Chris Lytle's first jiu jitsu instructor and helped him get connected to Jason Godsey's Integrated Fighting camp.

"Look at all of you in gi's, you look like a real jiu jitsu team...well, except for Neal," Mercuri says. We laugh, but all my disposable income has gone to working on the house this summer. Soon, Bob, soon.

Mercuri talks a lot during his class, explaining three or four basic jiu jitsu techniques and breaking down the application of each for street defense, competition grappling, and MMA. Jiu jitsu used to be a secret weapon, but now street hoods and sports bar jocks often have a working knowlege of BJJ. "I used to teach people how to defend themselves against people who didn't know jiu jitsu. Now I teach people how to defend themselves against cage fighters!," Mercuri says.

I really like his class but I need more drilling. Street defense and competitive fighting both require what Musashi called "no-thought." You perceive and react forcefully without making conscious decisions. This is achieved through endless drilling which creates new neural pathways which control instinctive reactions.

Amanda and I are scheduled to talk with the owner of and train at Dragonfly Muay Thai in Avon, Indiana. The instructors there were certified by Sakasem Kanthawong, former Thai champ and longtime Fairtex instructor in Bangkok and the US. Amanda got shorts from Sakasem during the years he spent in Indianapolis, so we are both stoked.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Velocity Sports Performance: Day Two

This doesn't hurt as much as it did last week.

There is still a great deal of discomfort involved but last week's "oh my god I want to die" has been downgraded to "this really and truly sucks." We got more sleep and the workout doesn't effect me as dramatically.

Chris Powell is at the helm today and we do a lot more core work. Each exercise is manageable by itself but they become extremely difficult when I have to do several of them in rapid succession. I am already starting to feel "freer" through my hips if that makes any sense, frequently bending at the knee and hip instead of compensating with my back. If the first two days are any indication, I can see myself sticking with this kind of athletic training because of the variety of work involved. I don't have Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, but I do bore easily.

Tonight is my first night back after several weeks off from training due to an overwhelming professional and personal workload. Two or three hours of jiu jitsu and boxing should put me flat on my back by 10 p.m.

The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi

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Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi
Interpreted by Stephen F. Kaufman, Hanshi 10th Dan.

Like the blues, Samurai texts often lose power and beauty in the hands of white people. The Book of Five Rings is Miyamoto Musashi’s treatise on battle strategy and warrior philosophy. Made quaint, antiquated and irrelevant by a martial arts culture completed detached from combat, it moldered on my shelf for years, offering little to my understanding of fight training. Or so I thought.

At the beginning of this project I pulled the book off the shelf to see if I could cull anything useful from it: fighting, like anything else, is primarily a mental exercise. As I reached the end of the book I realized that Musashi does not belong to so-called traditional martial artists. When Musashi writes that, “Through constant application of your training skills, you will come to understand the value of a particular technique if you practice with full resolve and use the methods of visualization in your training,” he is talking to the full-contact-training modern mixed martial artist.

Even though Musashi wrote about sword play, much of his philosophy
applies directly to modern combat sports. The grandmaster didn't believe he had attained supreme knowlege, and he wrote, “If you constantly disregard the possibilities of other methods and tools then you become short-sighted and may in fact lose the advantage of your own strength.” Constant growth and the quest for perfection is the "spirit of the thing itself."

Two subjects in particular carry significance for street defense and MMA competition; focus and intent. Without proper focus a fighter loses precious moments in which to strike and makes himself vulnerable to attack. Without proper intent, his attack will be weak and fail.

Mental focus begins with the eyes, but Musashi isn't talking about having a 20/20 vision. When fighting, "I look through him and only think of making the hit. I have no preconceived notions of which target is the one to aim for." Watch a fighters eyes - are the fixated on his or her opponents face, hands or feet? Do they wander around? By training our eyes at a point where the throat meets the breastplate and looking "through" rather than focusing on that point, we see the entire fight unfold without having, as Musashi said, "preconceived notions of which target is the one to aim for." When you stop looking you start seeing.

Musashi refers to timid fighters as Bashful Monkeys. The Bashful Monkey is afraid of being hurt and keeps himself more than an arms length from his opponent because he is unsure of his abilities. Fighting with the attitude of "no mind" is a major theme in the Book of Five Rings. A fighter is most vulnerable to attack while striking. But if that fighter holds back, or is timid and fearful of being hit, not only will their attack be weak and ineffective, they will likely suffer a damaging counter attack.

Musashi wrote over and over that a warrior has but one concern and that is the destruction of the enemy. Any fear of injury or distraction increases the likelihood of defeat. "When it is necessary to attack," he wrote, "(warriors) do so with complete resolve, sure of themselves, neither overbearing in attitude or with false humility. They simply attack with all their heart and soul.”

Maintaining focus and timidity when attacking are two things I struggle with in my training but now I have a few more mental weapons to attack my deficiencies with. Musashi is only one of many Eastern philosophers whose work has been bastardized and watered down to sell at motivational or self-help seminars, but he belongs to the fighters of every era. I am taking him back.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Jack Dempsey on the MMA, er, Boxing Industry

"They came as promoters, managers, trainers, even instructors. Too often they were able to crowd out old timers because they had money to invest, becuase they were better businessmen, or merely because they were glib-talking hustlers...They mistaught boys in gynasiums....(those mistaught boys) became instructors." From Championship Fighting by Jack Dempsey.

Dempsey wrote about the downside of boxing's explosion in popularity during his legendary career but his sentiments could easily have been written about the current state of MMA. In the premier issue of Fight Magazine Rickson Gracie says, "There is a lack of precision and beauty in what I see today...when you win, it should be beautiful." When a young fighter is surrounded by people who haven't mastered what they teach, you get sloppy punches, bad footwork, weak, unbalanced kicks, and white-belt jiu-jitsu.

Food for thought.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Velocity Sports Performance: Day One

I think I'm going to vomit.

I had to peel off my sweatshirt after ten minutes of dynamic stretching and warmups. The long sleeve thermal shirt bit the dust around the twenty minute mark, which was also when I was ready to quit. "All right, now we're going to do some of the more advanced warm ups," Abby Jorgensen said. Jorgensen pulled morning duty this week, so she is putting Amanda and I and one other Velocity student through our paces at the crack of dawn. We lunge, we skip, we squat, we leap, we run, and then we change directions and do it again.

Seconds tick by as my legs burn and my stomach turns. My hips and knees stop wanting to flex and I have to concentrate on moving when all I want to do is sit down. My ego is taking a beating. I'm no fighter, I'm not even a mediocre athlete. I'm just another overweight, out of shape wannabe gasping for breath during advanced WARM UPS.

Sixty minutes into my training at Velocity, I am faced with the reality that I am much further away from being ready to fight than I thought I was. If physical conditioning has a rock bottom, I may have hit it this morning. Watch out when I am on my way up.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Step Two

If I am going to condition my body for competitive fighting, become leaner and more powerful, I've gotta fix my diet. When I was a kid I didn't really care for vegetables that weren't corn, potatoes or carrots. I was on an all PB&J/hamburger/spaghetti/pizza diet. Then I was a strict vegetarian from my mid-teens to my mid-20s. I learned to cook and got pretty damn good at it. I ate a wide variety of foods but my diet was still heavy on starch and refined sugar. But I didn't drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use any other drug. I even avoided prescription drugs.

Around my 25th birthday I experienced a pretty big emotional jolt and my lifestyle changed literally overnight. One day I felt like having a cheeseburger and a cocktail and by god I had them. So now my diet is more varied than when I was a kid, but I am just now coming back to center after a couple of years of making poor lifestyle choices simply because I could. I've started by downing a half gallon of water each day, which is actually causing mid-afternoon headaches and mucus drainage. Detoxing is not a pleasant process. More details to come.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Velocity Sports Performance: Fitness Analysis and Athlete Test

I haven't failed a test in a long time.

Chris Powell laughs with me as I struggle through Velocity Sports Performance's Functional Movement Assessment. "This (test) is to see if you have any muscle imbalances," he says. The chain, as the saying goes, is only as strong as its weakest link, and Powell is studying me for weak links. Once weaknesses are identified, they are identified and targeted. One extremely successful NFL franchise uses this test when assessing potential draft picks. This unnamed team is known for drafting "unknown" players who often outshine more highly touted prospects once the season begins.

Powell, 28, is the Sports Performance Director at Velocity and holds a BA in Science, Minor in Human Nutrition from Butler University and a Masters of Science, Physical Education. He guides me through three repetitions each of the Overhead Deep Squat, Hurdle Step, In-Line Lunge, Shoulder Mobility, Active Straight Leg Raise, and Trunk Stability Push-up. These simple movements are difficult to execute - stabilizer muscles all over my body are screaming and I struggle to stay upright at several points.

It takes less than thirty minutes for Powell to learn that my hips open during certain leg movements to compensate for lack of strength or flexibility (or both), that I lack power in my glutes, and that the range of motion in my shoulders is slightly limited. My best score on any movement is two out of three with lots of ones sprinkled throughout. Next up is Athlete Pre-Testing.

This is what you'll see on ESPN the week of the NFL combine: vertical leap, standing long jump, forty yard dash and cone drills. Powell talks of "displacing" myself downfield. It's all very precise and interesting and my mind is swirling with parallels between the work Powell does and what I want to explore in martial arts.
Bruce Lee believed that martial training required rigorous physical conditioning with the end goal being the ability to generate explosive power while maintaining perfect balance. Explosive power is speed. Speed is strength, balance and form, three things I lack.

Here is my best effort in the Athlete Pre-Tests.
Vertical Leap: 19 inches.
Standing Long Jump: 7'1.5"
Forty Yard Dash: 5.70 seconds.
Pro Agility (Side to Side Cones): 5.71 / 5.65 seconds.
Three Cone Drill (90 degree turn): 9.19 / 9.46 seconds.

I signed up for a one-month trial at Velocity and my first class is at 6 a.m. Thursday. Progress updates will be posted.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Chris Lytle and United Fight League at Conseco Fieldhouse

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It's easy to say this when it's not your money, but last night's United Fight League MMA card at Conseco Fieldhouse was a success even if it wasn't profitable. Approximately 3,000 fight fans filed into the Indiana Pacers' home stadium to watch more than 20 homegrown fighters duke it out, the show ran smoothly (from an observers perspective) and it seemed like everyone went home happy. It was cool to see a local promotion presented as well as it was - from the DJ to the lights and live video boards, Conseco's built in production services helped immensely. My only complaints are minor: more of Papa Schnacke and less of local radio jocks who don't really know how to announce a fight. Also, what's up with Primetime's slogan? "If you are not buying Primetime, you are wrong. Correct yourself!" If that doesn't belong on I don't know what does.

Jeremy Wingler Vs. Dominic Desando
This wrestling match goes down early, but Wingler's not too good
in the mount. Desando slips out the back door twice. The fight goes down again in round two, Desando gets reversed, mounted and pounded. He gives up his back and the ref called it. Wingler by referee stoppage.

Light Heavyweight
Jeremy Steward Vs. James Douglas
Steward is sponsored by a Waffle House franchise, which is pretty badass in my book. he also throws wild punches, one of which opened a cut under Douglas' right eye during a flurry of clenches and takedown attempts in round one. Douglas mounts in round two and wins by referee stoppage.

Victor Batola Vs. Chris Frayer
I want to say that the last minute replacement was named Nick Ditola, but I couldn't make it out over the PA system. Frayer came out and immediately launched a high kick that missed badly. He slipped but recovered quickly by pulling guard and attempting a triangle. He didn't get that but quickly switched to an armbar and Batola tapped. Frayer by submission.

Super Heavyweight
Jeremy "Tiny" Norton Vs. Brian Veach
UFL promoter Keith Palmer must have supersized this fight. Resist that urge the next time you pull in to the drive-through lane, Keith. Lots of wild swings and clutching between these 300 pounders before Tiny fall down go boom. These two flop around for a while before Norton takes the mount and puts it on Veach, who tapped out. Norton by submission due to strikes.

Orville Smith Vs. Steve "The Weasel" Hallock
Smith looks like nothin' stepping into the cage, and together these guys weigh as much as one of Jeremy Norton's Golden Corral helpings. Boo birds started chirping when this fight was slow to get going, but Smith and Hallock went to the ground where Smith beat Hallock's face badly before sinking in a triangle. Smith by submission.

Brent Weedman Vs. Anthony "The Recipe" Lapsley
Former state champion wrestler Lapsley walked to the cage in a neoprene "Gator" mask and came out aggressive, dropping Weedman on his head. He stood up, then took sidemount and dominated, opening a cut on Weedman's forehead with an elbow. Lapsley by Doctor stoppage.

Brian "Voodoo" Dunn Vs. Pat McPherson
Dunn has a lot more experience on paper but McPherson has been training with Integrated Fighting for years and he's got a bitchin' mustache. Advantage McPherson. There is some give and take in round one before McPherson eats a high kick and goes down. I thought he was done for but he bounced right back up. Round two started with a lot of dancing. Amanda pointed out that McPherson sticks Dunn and backed off. He could have ended the fight quickly if he just waded in and dropped a few bombs. McPherson pit Dunn down with knees and dropped into his guard. McPherson fought off an armbar attempt for nearly a minute before escaping and raining down punches. McPherson by decision.

Shaw Bradbury Vs. Darrell "Bulldog" Smith
These guys brought a sense of urgency to the cage. Smith scored a takedown and got reversed, then got side control, transitioned to full mount and put a lickin' on Bradbury until the ref stopped it. Smith by referee stoppage.

Light Heavyweight
Jeremiah "Wood" Adriano Vs. Todd Brown
Wood definitely didn't want to be on his feet. He charged Brown flat-footed over and over again before getting him on the ground. "Wood" fought off a kimura and was saved by the bell in round one but got caught in a triangle in round two. Brown by submission.

Matt Delanoit Vs. Shamar Bailey
More of a submission grappling match than an MMA fight, the highlight was Bailey shooting under a kick to take Delanoit down. Bailey brought a big cheering section who chanted his name. Bailey by decision.

Light Heavyweight
Gary "Iron Bear" Myers Vs. Sam Toole
This was 52 seconds of crap. "Iron Bear" looked like he'd never been in a fist fight before, and after he tapped out due to strikes he retired in the fight too late. Toole by tapout due to strikes.

Nate Moore Vs. Ricco Talamantes
Two former state champ wrestlers race to get to the ground, and Nate Moore wins in the first round. Moore by armbar.

Johnny Rees Vs. Scott Henze
Lots of clinching against the cage before the fighters go down. Rees by submission.

Main Event
Chris Lytle Vs. Matt Brown
Another submission grappling match with not a whole lot stand-up action. Either Lytle didn't want to finish Brown too quick in front of the hometown crowd or Brown, a member of Team Jorge Gurgel, has sick ground skills. A stalemate until Lytle sunk a guillotine in round two. Lytle by submission.

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People started fleeing like rats during Lytle's post-fight interview. It was a good crowd, but 3,000 people isn't going to create gridlock downtown, folks. It's interesting to see how the UFC is pervading male pop culture. You could have opened an Affliction tee shirt warehouse with the amount of product that was in the building, and I saw several guys sporting low-rise mohawks a la "The Iceman." So many "fight gear" companies were represented that it got a little absurd. Think of a name that sounds tough, get a couple stupid slogans, hey, we're a fight gear company! Not really. I met the cat who runs UFC Junkie, which you should check out if you aren't already in the know.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Step One

I have a fitness assesment scheduled on Monday at Velocity Sports Performance in Carmel, Ind. I am steeling myself for some harsh realities. I don't think the trainers know how raw the material they'll be working with is or how much material there is to work with. But I've always been fairly agile, limber and graceful for a big guy. I've got an athlete inside of me, it's just going to take some work to get him out.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

In Defense of Mixed Martial Arts

This was adapted from a previous post on a blog I keep elsewhere.

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MMA has been fiercely criticized for years, blackballed from the sports radio, television, and print publications. Sports Illustrated just recently saw fit to address the topic. For whatever reason our culture finds honor in football, a game that leaves men crippled at thirty with arthritic knees, backs, fingers that look like gnarled tree roots and a lifetime of post-concussion symptoms yet a single Muay Thai kick to the head is unconscionable. Even boxing, for all its corruption and history of death and disability, is defended as sport whereas MMA, well, you know, that's just a street fight. Well, you know, it's not, but money talks and when UFC's 2006 Pay Per View receipts cracked $300 million the bullshit started walking. Now everyone who wasn't on board with it before is trying to make sense of it, make a buck on it, or both.

"Why" is the most common question. I'm inclined to say "why" anything - why baseball, why knitting, why collect Matchbox cars, but the popularity of MMA is simple to me. We live in a flaccid culture without rites of passage into manhood. Boys teach each other how to be men, they create gangs, they scar their bodies with tattoos, they join the Armed Forces hoping it will give them purpose and direction. Men of my generation are fascinated with courage, honor, dedication and loyalty because they were so rarely displayed by absentee fathers. Fight culture validates manhood. And hell, if you can make it to Pay Per View the money's pretty damn good.

This is nothing new. Warriors knew that martial skills must be honed, so they created games to simulate combat. So as much as "traditional" martial artists (you know, the ones who train in feudal Japanese underwear) disparage MMA it's actually much closer to the true martial tradition than a class of 30 soccer brats flailing at the air. A samurai didn't teach his son jujutsu to build his self-esteem and improve his behavior at school. A samurai trained so that he could slam his enemy to the ground and break his body in the event that he couldn't run him through with his blade.
Mixed martial arts looks like a street fight to people who don't know a kimura from sashimi . The magic of MMA isn't that it's offers the best of any one martial art but that it forces each fighter to account for all variables at all times. MMA has forced martial arts schools across the world to diversify their training regimens, to address stylistic flaws in their "perfected" arts, and to discuss practical applications for an art that was always intended to be practically applied.

To be sure there is a lot of lowest common denominator "ground and pound" in mixed martial arts fights, but there's also the pin-point accuracy of Anderson Silva's strikes, Georges St. Pierre's superior athleticism and graceful melding of techniques, "The Prodigy" BJ Penn's unbelievable fluidity and dexterity, and world class judoka Karo Parysian's ability to drop anyone on their head with a quick turn of his hips. There is art in MMA, but it's like a Jackson Pollock painting. It's powerful and effects you immediately but you need some education to make heads or tails of it.
You don't have to like MMA but you need to understand it in order to offer any valid criticism.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Here is the story I was working on when this idea struck me, and here are some frequently asked questions about mixed martial arts as well as a brief history of the sport. We produced the video below as a complement to the story.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Plan

Jerry Smith once told me that there are people who fight and people who don't. He didn't mean to divide the world between rough-knuckled brawlers and contemplative pacifists but instead to distinguish between those who will assert their wants and needs and defend their right to pursue them and those who will not. In this context, fighting is a matter of self esteem. Do I love myself enough to defend myself and my rights? Do I love myself enough to face challenges, learn, grow, and become the person I'd like to be?

I have studied under Smith at Self Defense Systems (SDS) for a decade. He and his senior students taught me to box and kickbox. I have a competent grasp of his adaptation of American Kenpo but I had a short, undistinguished career as a competitive boxer. I am passionate about martial arts but have never dedicated the time, energy, and spirit necessary to maximize my potential. This leaves me to wonder; am I a fighter? I have one year to find out.

Barring injury or imprisonment I will make my professional MMA debut in approximately one year. Between now and then I need to reshape my form and develop flexibility, speed, and power. Between now and then I need to hone my skills as a boxer and kickboxer and become a competent submission grappler. Between now and then I need to harden by body to be able to absorb and deliver punishment. Between now and then, I need to keep my eyes and ears open, absorbing as much information as I can about nutrition, athletic training, martial technique and philosophy, and competitive strategies. Between now and I will work 40 hours a week, pursue other interests and commitments, plan a wedding and get married. Between now and then I need to become a fighter.

I am going to visit Velocity Sports Performance in Carmel to get a fitness assesment and develop a plan of action for enhancing speed, agility, flexibility and power for MMA. I am going to increase the frequency and intensity of my workouts to improve conditioning and develop skills. I am going to seek out new teachers and training partners to become a better boxer and kickboxer, to learn rudimentary judo and submission grappling. I am going consume a mountain of books, documentary programs, and fight footage. I am going to enter at least one submission grappling tournament, I am going to pursue an amateur kickboxing fight, and I will compete in Indiana Golden Gloves 2008. Next summer I will compete in an amateur MMA bout before joining Keith Palmer's fighters for a six-week fight camp leading up to my professional MMA debut. I will push myself and likely my bride-to-be and close friends to the breaking point and learn if I have the will to push beyond it.

This blog will be the record of my journey between now and then. I will post detailed explanations of what I am doing, stories about the people I meet, pictures and videos detailing my development, reviews of books I read and shows or films I watch, and reflections on the process. This blog will be the story of my becoming or it will be the account of my failure.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

And so it begins...

Tuesday, July 17
"You're the only guy in Indianapolis who could sell more tickets than Chris Lytle," Keith Palmer said. Our laughter echoed in the warehouse space Lytle and associates are using to prepare for his August 11 fight at Conseco Fieldhouse. The space, dubbed Throwbacks Boxing and MMA Gym, is little more than a cinderblock cube filled with wrestling mats, punching bags and a boxing ring tucked in a far corner. I was there to shoot a web video with Lytle to run with a story I wrote about mixed martial arts.
"When are you going to fight?," Palmer said, pushing the issue. I met Palmer several years ago through amateur boxing. The one-time pro pug started as a trainer and ended up managing fighters and promoting mixed martial arts shows. Lytle, a veteran of more than 60 fights in the US, UK, and Japan, including more than a dozen for the Pancrase and Ultimate Fighting Championship organizations, is Palmer's biggest client.
He knows I've got a passbook from USA Boxing, that I've stepped into the ring at Golden Gloves, that I have been a martial arts enthusiast for years and that I have developed a rabid appetite for MMA. And he wants me to fight on one of his cards.
My brain was an octagonal cage for the rest of the day, thoughts crashing from wall to wall like heavyweight prizefighters. I am an avid critic of fighters and the fight game. I talk trash about technique, but could I really do any better when the shit hits the fan? I go 5'10", 250 - superheavyweight with a welterweight's reach. Can I get in real fight shape as I approach 30? Am I capable of committing to a real fight camp? Am I brave enough, crazy enough, stupid enough, insecure enough to step into a cage and trade leather with someone?
I called the fight promoter tonight and asked him if he was serious. He was. Oh, man.