This is an older blog post, but it led to an interview on the Everyday Fighter Podcast. Link to the podcast is at the end, cuz duh, you should read this first! Cheers,
Getting back on the mat is challenging. I have forgotten a lot since I last spent time rolling with people, and the stuff I do remember is not exactly Kosher to pull in a traditional BJJ school. I first learned some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in self defense training, and while I don't remember how to do an ankle lock, I remember how to choke someone by shoving my index and middle finger into the area beneath the trachea. NOT the kind of move you want to pull as a white belt. Not the kind of move to pull with anyone you want to ever be friendly with, actually.
But while walking out on the mat to be routinely tied in knots by younger, more experienced fighters is wonderful for my sense of humility, there is something else that I had forgotten in my years away from training. The skills are cool, that is true. The exercise is killer. The growing sense of confidence is nice. But the thing I have missed most is simply the company of fighters.
I forgot that people who spend their free time training is skills that routinely involve testing those skills in sparring or rolling have a deep sense of who they are. Maybe not in all aspects of their lives, but in a few very important ones. You put on gloves and step up to trade blows and kicks, or try to submit someone, and you come to a quick, acute understanding of who you are, what you can do, and what you can take. You know situations you feel comfortable in, and what makes you feel uncertain, off balance, or flat out scared. You know how much gas you have in the tank, how much you are willing to dish out, how much punishment you can take, and exactly when that moment arrives that you need to get the hell out of there.
That all sounds obvious, but fighters understand this territory and all the grey areas between the lines. Too many people feel that if they had to they would certainly rise to the occasion. That to protect themselves or their family they would dig deep and persevere. But the unfortunate truth is that in all likelihood that is simply not true, and a dangerous delusion. You never truly know how you will react until you are in the situation. But if you have trained in choking someone and getting choked, in throwing punches and getting punched, in slamming someone to the ground and in having your favorite face catch yourself on the way down, if you have felt these things then you are more likely to understand exactly what your capacity for handing out and taking punishment is.
And understanding these facts about yourself brings a few things. Humility is a huge one. I know, there are a million examples of the over-the-top egos in fighting, but scratch the surface and every fighter knows that they will lose. They might seem unstoppable, but there is someone out there who hits harder, or is faster, or simply younger and waiting for them to show a sign of slowing down. And unless they are a complete fool they understand this. And if they are anything less that godlike then they have alreadylost, often enough that they have either learned when to walk away or how to push through, make adjustments, and move forward.
All of this lends an ease and centeredness to fighters that is wonderful to be around. They understand things about themselves that most people in our society never discover about themselves.
A long way of saying "thank you" to the folks at T-Town MMA for letting me come out and play again! Good stuff with good people.
Okay, link to the podcast...
The interview is mostly about why, at 47, I still insist on putting on a gi or strapping on gloves and allowing people to try to kick my ass. It also covers why doing martial arts with your kid is a totally amazing thing to do. Some of the people and activities mentioned refer to The Dad's Edge, a Facebook group for fathers the interviewer and I are both associated with. Because Dads sometimes need advice too! I highly recommend checking it out, dads.
I write a lot about fatherhood, personal development, martial arts, fatherhood, extreme athlete Wim Hof, and sometimes how the rest of them relate to each other. I am going to deviate a bit here and talk a bit about love, which oddly enough as a 40 something year old man I don't write much about. Love and football.
I have a good friend, who since we were children has attempted valiantly and in vain to get me interested in football in general and the Seahawks in particular. I’m pretty sure that as far back as 1st grade he was trying to explain to me what a screen pass was, and I was developing my ‘uh-huh, don’t really care’ expression I would perfect and copyright as a teenager.
He tried for a few very solid decades to get me to care in any way, shape or form about football. It didn’t work. Watching on tv was a waste of time, although if I was watching I liked to watch the Seahawks (or the Seachickens, as they were fondly called around my house during less than stellar seasons). Aside from playing padless tackle games on weekends in middle school I had no real interest. When we played our games on fall weekends I had to have it explained to me why you could ram full speed into someone but you couldn’t trip them. I thought tripping was an excellent way to not get broken by the guys that were all bigger than me, and actually knew how the game worked.
In my defense, I never called it “sports ball,” but I was close. It was that bad.
Over the years I received several invitations to go to a Seattle Seahawks game…for free…and I was always busy with, you know, something else. Usually rehearsals for a show, or boxing practice, or having something terribly important that I had to go do right away so I can’t explain, sorry but thanks for the invite!
And then... As with many "then"s in life it started with: I met a girl. This woman was beautiful, she was smart, and she was athletic, competing in all sorts of team sports growing up (unlike myself, who always preferred solo sports. Diving and gymnastics, anyone?) She was born on a ranch in Montana, so she was also tougher in many ways than most of the men or women that I had met in my life. In a completely wonderful, sexy, kick ass way of course, right sweetie?
Having no local team to root fork, people there choose whatever team they like, for whatever reason, to become fans of. Her dad was a big Cowboys fan (the Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett era), so she and one brother followed suit. Her other brother likes Denver because they were close geographically and he likes to be contrary. Her Cowboy-cheering brother still follows them despite the continuous wave of Seahawks gear we send his kids. He's hanging tough. He says it is because one of his coworkers is a Hawks fan and is a bit of a jerk, but I think he is just saying that to be nice.
I like to think that she found it somewhat charming that I was clueless about the game. The “I don’t follow sports, really, I am an artist” thing had worked really well in college. In all reality she was most likely thinking something more along the lines of “oh crap, what have I gotten myself into?” She encouraged me to go to my first game with my friend. Came with us to games, explained some of the finer points of the rules, and even helped me say the right things. For real. In fact at our first game together I remember saying something along the lines of “we need an interception and then we need to run it back for a touchdown.” I shouted it, but in that stadium I might as well have been whispering it in her ear since only she could really hear me. She said “good, but it is called a pick six. Say pick six.” I turned the other way and shouted to my friend “we could use a pick six right about now!” Boom! I had arrived.
She even drove all around San Diego with my friend, myself, and an SUV full of guys she had never met so we could go to bars, watch the game, then go back to more bars to console ourselves after we lost. What a woman.
There is a lot I have grown to love about the game. The athleticism is still stunning to me at times. The sheer spectacle of a last minute play that not only wins the game but sends your team to the playoffs. Sharing that moment with a few thousand people who are now, for the moment, family. Because when you turn to the stranger next to you and see the same stunned disbelief on their face that you feel, you are strangers no longer. The raw, thumping vibration in your bones as thousands of people howl at the top of their lungs. Even the tribal ‘our guys vs. their guys’ aspect of it is a kick in the ass and keeps me coming back and tuning in.
There are also things I intensely dislike. Watching a player get hurt, sustaining season or career ending injuries in a split second is difficult to justify, even though “they know the risks, they choose this life.” In my years as an EMT it never made a gnarly wreck more bearable to think “well, the statistics of driving are there for anyone to read. They knew what they were getting in to.” I mean I enjoy, no I LOVE watching Tom Brady pout after a 3-and-out (or joy of joys, at the end of a loss!), but I think I might still cringe watching him get hurt. Most likely. But it is the Patriots, so all bets are off.
For the record, I also dislike getting pelted with skittles. I am kind of glad that era is over.
So now I call myself a fan. Of football in general, but of the Seahawks for sure. They were the team I grew up with (I knew who Jim Zorn and Steve Largent were as a kid, I wasn’t that hopeless!). The Hawks were the team my friends talked about (stats I still don’t always understand). They have provided some of the most thrilling and cringe worthy football I have seen.
My friend is only slightly resentful of my girlfriend, now my wife. He is just happy to have my companionship at games, to share something he loves with a close friend. We have traveled to an away game, and as long as I buy the nachos he keeps offering to take me to games from time to time. Good deal if I ever saw one. And I can honestly call myself a fan of football. Even if it took a girl, and 40 years, to get me there.