Even the Savage Beast

I had Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off stuck in my head the whole time I was training last night. I was passing the guard. I was working a sweep. I was trying to squirm out of a choke. And the whole time, I was humming the da-da-da-da-daaaaaaaah of the horns in the chorus.

That chorus is crack rocks. And she is so dang pretty!

I’ve found myself humming all kinds of songs I’ve got stuck in my head while I’m rolling lately. I haven’t been called on it yet, but it’s only a matter of time before one of my guilty pleasures spontaneously “outs” itself. Does anyone else do this?

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Grinding, Part I

Part of a continuing series on getting my swag back. Things have been popping off in the last couple of months. I’ve been changing up my whole jiu jitsu game and competing. I’ve suffered some awesome highs and some devestating lows.

All the while, I’ve been struggling to generate worthwhile prose, even as my journey continues. As a half-measure, I leave you with a vignette of SMS communication with a training partner. I promise to return soon.

Me: Hey I'm exhausted. Think you can make it to the gym on your own?
Him: Nope lets go quit feeling sorry for yourself! I'm hearing excuses right now!
Him: !!!!!
Him: I'll drive!
Me: Lol I don't want to over train. I'm feeling worn out from the whole week
Him: Ill come drag you by the ears!
Me: Cmon son
Him: No such thing!!!!!!
Me: I'll be back at it tomorrow and Saturday
Him: :( me can't go friday or saturday :((
Me: Go today then, lol
Him: I can't go without my partner
Me: I'm not feeling bad, I just know imma be a wreck if I go hard for another day
Him: I refuse
Me: I'm putting my phone on silent and taking a nap !!
Him: Pussy!!!
Me: Ok fine. But I need to get a smoothie on the way.
Him: Good lets go!

The Day Before Competing (Hypoglycemia/dehydration edition)

Back to it. I’m competing in NAGA Georgia tomorrow. I managed to cut my weight down to 175, which will keep me from competing against the monsters in the gi division (I’ll be  in the 155-174.9 lb division verses the 175-199.9 lb, like I was last time), but in no-gi I’ll still be competing against the fat kids (170-179.9 instead of 160-169.9). I’ll be going with a huge team from Team Lloyd Irvin/Champions Training Center in Savannah, GA. I’ll come back with results, pictures and video tomorrow.

I had a really long day at work the other day, then dragged myself to the gym and had an awesome time. Did BJJ classes as well as Muay Thai with the mighty Muhsin Corbbrey. It made me remember why I love this stuff so much.

Going into this competition feeling strong in my jiu jitsu, and being mostly recovered from some nagging injuries that made it tough to train hard over the last couple of months. I made the mistake of rolling with some unscrupulous assholes while I was at the Army Combatives Schoolhouse in Ft Benning. I realized afterward that I’ve taken it for granted that most everyone has a great training ethic at all the BJJ/MMA schools I’ve been to. In the Army, you’ve got to watch out, because it’s a relatively unsupervised environment. If anyone’s going to the Combatives schoolhouse anytime soon after this post was written, give me a heads up and I’ll let you know who the knuckleheads are. (This might become a full post later on).

I got to train at Matt Serra’s school in Long Island during a recent road trip. Learned a couple of great things in the gi and no-gi worlds. Wish I could have trained there longer – Matt has a bunch of monsters in his gym! And all of them very fun to roll with. Not to give away the secret sauce, but the De La Riva guard seems to be new hottness. I was glad I was already familiar with it when I rolled in there.

That’s about all I’ve got for now. Figured I’d bang something out for this long-neglected blog while I’m chilling in this hotel room. I hope to get updating more often as I also ramp up my training.

Hard work, dedication !!

We’ll always be here.

I’m having a good week. After a lazy month, I finally got into the gym on Tuesday and followed it up with a pretty intense yoga class tonight. I’m feeling drained and sore all over, just like I did every night back home, when I was super serial about my training. (That’s serial as in serious, or maybe serial as in serial killer, as in I was a psychotic with no life except my training)

Part One: Always worth it

“Okay. Heads I go back to the MMA school and take these Jiu Jitsu classes. Tails, I go to yoga again.”

I flip the quarter and it comes up heads. I purse my lips and flip it again. Again, heads.

That’s how I ended up getting my sorry ass back into the gym for the first time in two months. I know. It’s shameful.

Of course, it was worth it. It’s always worth it.You hear it so much when you train. It’s a cliché: “You never regret training, no matter how tired you were before you came in.”

When I got there, Flocka (I am totally winging it with the spelling), a dude I’d rolled with a month ago asked me:”Where you been, man?” He’d invited me back to practice on Saturdays, impressed with my skill. This meant a lot to me because after after all the time I’ve had off, I feel like a white belt all over again, flopping around helplessly on the mat. Like a walrus, or a paraplegic who’s fallen from his chair.

I told him I’m still getting my bearings in this new town. That I haven’t bought a car yet, so it takes an extra push to get motivated. I omitted the fact that I’ve been having serious doubts about my own commitment to training in the first place. I told him I want to get in more, especially on Saturdays when I’m always free.

“Well, we’ll always be here, man,” he replied. He doesn’t know how much this meant to me. Thanks, Flocka.

Part Two: Turkeys

My buddy has called my legs “turkeys.” This is a word he’s brought from his homeland, which is Florida, which (the word, that is, “turkeys”) is applied to large, meaty legs. I think it’s usually used to describe females with large, powerful thighs. I possess turkeys naturally. And a big bubble butt.

Yesterday we did a pretty serious leg workout for morning PT, with box jumps and burpees. Then I rode my bike to the gym, where we did an hour of double legs, including partner lifts. Today, I rode my bike to yoga, where the instructor put us into Utkatasana and some other leg-intensive poses. What this means is that my legs are only gonna get bigger. It’s going to be hilarious when I fail to add bulk up top to go along with it. I’m going to look like a T-Rex.

Part Three: Playing Ketchup

I’ve had a couple of good days of training, but my diet continues to be an issue.

This is the least appetizing picture of a hamburger I found in 30 seconds.

This is the least appetizing picture of a hamburger I found in 30 seconds.

For lunch today, I succombed to a double quarter pounder with cheese from Burger King. That is to say: despite the fact that I had clean, paleo-friendly food waiting in my fridge, despite the fact that I looked at myself in the mirror this morning and saw very clearly where the 10 lbs I’ve gained has gone (hint: not lean tissue), despite the fact that I’ve been talking shit about switching to a paleo diet – despite all this, not only did I purchase this fast food item, I asked to “go large” due to french fries being easily the most seductive junk food for me, and not only did I purchase this fast food item, I sat down and put it all into my mouth, chewed, swallowed, and ate it. And immediately felt terrible.

Yes, I’ve backslid quite a bit. From my former glory. But I’ve been frustrated and bored, and I haven’t had any goals. Lately, I don’t even know why I get up in the morning. Without a goal, I’ve been rudderless. But what goal to pick? The most important thing is to have one.

“A goal is not always meant to be reached. It often serves simply as something to aim at.”

Thanks, Bruce. That means a lot.

Grow or die

We're just friends!

Honestly, I don’t know why people think Hoot and I are “an item.”

Let me take a step back: I got laid off last year while I was training for my first MMA fight. I decided to join the Army in September and graduated from Basic Training in December. I’m training for my job now. I still get homesick, mostly for my home Academy, which I consider more of a home than my old apartment. If you made a chart, I’m sure I spent way more of my waking hours training than at home.

When I got here I found a gym with huge wrestling mats rolled up at one end of the basketball courts, gathering dust. I started teaching basic jiu jitsu to a couple of my pals. We didn’t have access to anyone more experienced than me, and I was itching to get on the mat. It’s an awful, helpless feeling wanting only to train, and feeling your jiu jitsu drain away, as if through the soles of your feet.

During a PT session one morning, one of our sergeants told us: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” I totally agree, and I’ve been doing everything I can to keep my jiu jitsu from rotting on the vine.

I feel presumptuous being the only conduit for this precious thing.  Who would grant this responsibility on a twitching retard like me? As a purple belt, though, it’s technically my right to train new students. I’ve watched Hooton go from zero to having a basic understanding of a couple of positions. She’s a handful for inexperienced males who, a month ago, would have smothered her with raw strength. Seeing this, I’m filled with shame and pride. If hooton’s jiu jitsu sucks, it’s my fault.

Hooton evades the breakdance armbar

Friends from home will recognize a familiar scenario: My best friend in Maine was a girl who trained BJJ as well.I don’t know why my best friend once again a female grappler, but there is this: Out of at least ten people I’ve trained with here, only Hoot has stuck with it (Her real name is Hooton. I call her “Hoot,” partly because my phone’s T9 recognizes “hoot” as a word in text messages). She has all the makings of a great student. She never wants to go home from the gym, she rolls until she can’t breathe,  and she doesn’t whine when she suffers bumps and scrapes. She’s at the point now where she doesn’t feel completely lost when she rolls, and now all she wants to do after class is train. I’ve got a training buddy!

Leave it to me to get chummy with one of the few females here – because we both dig jiu jitsu.

Sprawl Choke!

Here’s a picture of me choking the shit out of her!

The Army constantly works against us, though: They have us on a pretty intense schedule: Wake up is at 4:30am and we aren’t released until 5pm. It’s hard to use even the little time we have: At this phase of Initial Entry Training (IET), I have to have a “battle buddy” everywhere I go. Since Hoot and I are opposite sexes, we have to find a third person to bring along to the gym whenever we train. Hoot is the only one who’s stuck with it. So, we’re always dragging some schmo along who isn’t really all that into it. It’s a stupid situation, the kind I was warned I’d find myself in when I joined the Army. The latest dude we’ve been training with seems to be more interested than the rest, though, and when we “phase up” to having the most privileges allowed here – hopefully this will happen within the next couple of weeks – we won’t need battle buddies anymore.

Last weekend, we went off-post and trained at the local BJJ school. Their instructor isn’t there on the weekend, but a couple of guys there are solid grapplers. It felt really good to train with experienced opponents again.

Looking for knee-to-belly against Joe

I’m getting more comfortable with teaching. Today I taught Hoot and our friend Frazier a bunch of cool stuff: A variation of the Sumi Gaeshi where you hold a Kimura grip and finish with that submission on the ground; how to establish and hold a basic knee-to-belly pin; and from there, a move my instructor calls the Nate (If any readers know a more universal name for this, please let me know). I’ve been sticking to basic techniques, but I was feeling saucy today. My buddies seem to have picked this stuff up pretty well.

I miss my gym back home. A lot. I don’t regret my decision to leave – I felt like I needed to bust a geographical move when I got laid off , and I’d always felt a calling to serve my country, at least for one term of enlistment – but I’m really not happy here. Everyone says that once you’re done with training it’s much less confining. I hope I can keep growing my jiu jitsu while I’m doing this gig.

By the way, we start Army Combatives this week. I’ll update with my opinions on this BJJ-derived program.

(Photos courtesy of Angel)

A Rebuttal to the Ball Region

Wednesday’s Penny Arcade is about MMA, and while I do think it’s funny, I felt like the authors are missing out on a lot of what goes on in an MMA fight. I decided to shoot them an email, which I’ll also post here.

Hello Jerry,

As an amateur MMA fighter and long-time Penny Arcade fan, Wednesday’s comic is a delicious intersection of two of my most-loved domains – a venn diagram whose circles I never thought would intersect. I also enjoyed the old podcast where you originally talked about your forays into MMA. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of ridiculous email from ridiculous people on this topic. I’d just like to make a quick point and get out of your way.

In short, I think the strip is really funny – especially “kick-kicking, a kick-based form of combat” – but I sincerely believe you are missing out on some really good stuff, and I assure you the appeal is not in the “look-away” moments. The appeal of MMA is exactly what you desire – a contest between diverse “systems.” The results may not be as balletic as you expected, but when two guys get into a real fight it’s rarely very “pretty” to watch. That’s not to say there aren’t incredible displays of virtuosity!

In the early days, it was an open question which “system” would carry the day in an anything-goes fight. We just didn’t know. There were lots of people who claimed theirs would be the “ultimate” fighting art, especially those who lived on money from students. As it turned out, the jiu-jitsu guys were able to close the gap and force their game on all comers for most of the 90s. That’s changed, and even guys who specialize in striking are now usually world-class grapplers. It goes both ways, too – you’ll see guys who are primarily grapplers scoring knockouts with punches and kicks.

Ironically, grappling is the most complex part of fighting. While striking is relatively simple and is all about timing, grappling is a “deep” contest that moves more slowly and has a lot more room for strategy and improvisation. In practice, though, it’ll always look like “sweaty ball-punching” if it’s not your thing.

The new UFC video game actually does a good job of capturing the complexity of MMA. I was really impressed with it!

If you find grappling to be fundamentally a bummer, you might enjoy watching muay thai fights, which are basically MMA without the ground game. Fighters are allowed to grab each other while standing, and even throw each other, but there’s no ground fighting. It’s often very pretty to watch. If you’re sincerely interested in MMA, I’d also suggest the 2008 documentary “Renzo: Legacy” (Trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zENt9OpmhY)

(also, a story I wrote for a local magazine about my first MMA fight: http://www.thebollard.com/bollard/?p=6262)

Anyway, thanks for your time!

-John Bronson
Portland, ME