Friday, May 30, 2014

Self Expression

As a precursor to reading this, keep in mind that these thoughts are by no means original.  They are certainly inspired by Bruce Lee, Wong Fei Hung, and other great martial artists. I am only writing this now because I have a much more fluid understanding of understanding. Through martial arts, it is possible to experience ultimate freedom, but if we aren’t careful, we may confine our art form and become static. To become a fixed and changeless artist is to reject human nature and life in general.
Don’t try to fight like someone else. Don’t find a style to imitate or compare your own to. Don’t focus on any particular form or fashion of martial arts.  If you do, self discovery and self understanding are impossible.  Instead of free and open expression, your movements will be restricted by limitations of right and wrong, or sameness and difference.  A martial artist shouldn’t “do” they should simply “be.”  A martial artist shouldn’t “think” they should simply “feel.” This is not to say that martial arts are thoughtless, only that the thoughts should come from within.  Once this is achieved, genuine freedom can be experienced and complete self expression becomes possible.
For these reasons, it may be difficult for a martial artist to transition into competitive fighting.  A martial artist must be, to a certain extent, self-centered.  On the other hand, a competitive fighter can’t exist in an individualistic state.  They must rely on, and be reliable to, those around them.  Every successful team is rooted in a symbiotic relationship between teammates, trainers, and coaches.  Learning, teaching, and progress should be multidirectional.  No fighter, trainer, or coach is greater than the team. No part is greater than the whole. They all must function in perfect unison to be efficient and effective.  If the leg moves and the foot resists, the body will fall.
A martial artist can exist without competition. It is my personal experience, however, that this is a half filled glass.  This arrangement wouldn’t be “without” or “lacking” in any way, it would simply miss out on fruitful and meaningful opportunities. It would be comparable to a musician who mastered their craft in complete isolation. Who every day went and played their instrument in an open field without an ear to listen to, appreciate, or criticize the tune.  When we have others to react and respond to our art, we have a deeper understanding of our self. When our self expression occurs simultaneously with another’s, we have a chance to appreciate our art from a new perspective.
It is important, then, to allow the expression of each fighter’s self in the gym.  When drilling, it is easy to become fixed on the right or wrong way of doing things. However, this places limitations on a fighter that will prevent them from reaching their full potential as a true martial artist.  To tell a fighter that something will or won’t “work” is ignorance.  To build a fighter around a series of concrete techniques sets them up for failure. It makes them predictable, it makes them hesitant, and most of all, it makes them closed-minded. A closed-minded fighter lacks awareness and spontaneity, and without these things, a competitive fighter will never excel. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wow it's been a while!

The brawler mentality has, for the most part, run its course in MMA.  The sport has evolved, and pure tenacity alone just doesn’t seem to cut it in the ring.  This saddens me, because I don’t want to see the Diego Sanchez' lose their place in the sport.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about how technical every aspect of the sport has become, and is becoming.  In fact, sometimes it’s difficult for me to decide whether or not I enjoy fight theory, or the act of fighting more.  I’m sure I’ll still be as obsessed with martial arts despite the popular rule set, but I’d hate to see a set of rules reduce the incentive of fighters to try and finish a fight.  
I believe one of my greatest problems with the current atmosphere of MMA is the prevalence of the “fight to win rounds” mentality. I’m not talking about people who go out and out grind their opponent to a decision, because that is an art in it of itself; I am talking about the fighters who try to quickly establish the upper hand in a round and then disengage from their opponent to try and edge them out on the scorecards.  I understand the desire to minimize risk in a sport as dangerous as ours, but if you can’t embrace the vicious exchanges, and more importantly, give the fans what they pay for, then what’s the point?
Which brings me to the point of this stream of thought: I’ve been thinking about a new form of MMA. I know what some of you are thinking (if anyone reads this) but bear with me.  I don’t think the problem is in the rule set per se; I completely agree that some techniques don’t belong in a sport that claims to value the safety and longevity of its athletes. Instead, I believe the problem lies in the scoring of fights.  The ten point must system, is a bust system (heheheh).  There is simply too much subjectivity and room for idiocy to ease the sick feeling in my gut every time a close fight goes to a decision.  
What I suggest, is a fight scored entirely on ring control.  A four foot in diameter circle at the center of the ring, the fighter who has both of his feet in the circle for the most time win’s the round.  Eliminate the urge to do the bear minimum, increase the urgency for action, and give an incentive for controlling the pace of that action.  If you still want to be an elusive fighter, you will have to be one with dangerous intentions, and actively be seeking a finish.   Imagine a world where judges have no say, cornermen could tell you exactly what you need to do to win, and fighters could no longer say, "well I thought I did enough to win the fight." Now I doubt this will ever become a televised or sanctioned version sport, but I urge you all to implement this into your sparring and drilling.  At the very least, it may help those greenies out there understand and appreciate fighting in the pocket. After all, isn’t the purpose of competition to establish dominance? Enjoy my brainchild, and fight well. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jesse Thorton Sr.(center), his Son, Jesse Thorton Jr.(left) and Curtis Bruce (Coach and Owner of Ambition MMA/Ambition Combat &Fitness), at Jesse’s Bellator MMA Debut. It wasn’t a win, but it was a great show that went all three rounds andwe couldn’t be more proud of Jesse.  Jessewill enter the cage again Nov, 1st 2014 at ShamrockFC in KansasCity, Missouri.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What We Earn

A man this weekend asked a common question, “how much do you guys get paid to fight?” He was shocked when I said we don’t and replied, “even if you win? That’s crooked, you all deserve to get paid.”  At first I nodded in agreement, but then, as usual, I got to thinking.  What one is perceived to deserve is of little to no consequence.   This notion of merit bears no semblance of reality in my sport.  The fact of the matter is, a very small percentage of athletes will ever be adequately compensated for the amount of work they put in, the pain and suffering they endure, and the seats they fill.  My sport has a tradition of emotional, physical, and spiritual gratification that very few life endeavors can boast, and for this simple reason, even if there was no hope for future financial reward, there would never be an event without a line of fighters pleading their case for an opportunity to compete.
There are a number of reasons why a man or woman in the gym graduate from sparring partner to competitor.  Most often, it is not for the promise or expectation of silver and gold.  For some, it’s the fact that they’re tired of having to pay for the injuries accumulated in the gym out of their own pocket.  They know that, at the very least, if they can make it through the physical exam and into the ring, they can claim to have been hurt during the event and the promotion’s insurance will pay for their recovery. This may sound farfetched and slightly contradictory to some, but to those in the sport, this paradox is known to be commonplace.
I am still relatively new to the competitive aspect of mixed martial arts.  I have only had three (sanctioned) fights, and roughly five minutes of cage experience.  That being said, the treasure in my sights isn’t one that can be found on a bank statement.  Sure it would be nice to look back and say “I made a fortune doing something I love,” but it’s a fool’s errand to assume that’s a guarantee.  I simply hope to remain in this sport long enough to become the best human being I can be.  What I’ve discovered about myself, and those around me, in such a short amount of time is difficult to describe in words.  All I can say is this: if you allow it to, this way of life can teach you to be honest in a mendacious world, loyal and reliable in a den of thieves and traitors, and perseverant in the midst of hopelessness. These qualities are forged from blood, sweat, pain, determination, and camaraderie. They spill over and enhance every aspect of your character, and in my eyes, that’s more than I deserve. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

What Makes a Champion?

So you decided you want to be a mixed martial mad(wo)man
huh? I’m sure most people, myself included,  who have watched a few UFC events have considered the possibility that they themselves have what it takes to make it in this sport.  After all, how hard could it really be? It’s only nine minutes of competition and the guys on TV really don’t seem much tougher than you.   So you take the liberty to send a mass email to every gym in town; making bold statements about how you’ve got the heart of a champion and asking laughable questions about how soon you could fight if you were to join.
              You decide on a gym (probably the least expensive one) without any clue as to what that gym has to offer or what your in for. Depending on the individual they are either so confident that all they want to do is spar and learn submissions OR they are so timid that they think they might just work the bag for a class or two... or ten….  Either way, they discover very quickly that this sport, suffice it to say, is not as easy as it looks. 
Most people never return to the gym after their first real beat down.  Of those that do, the vast majority decide they’re only in it for a work out.  The proud, the brave, and perhaps a bit crazy few who continue to pursue a life in the ring have only begun to scratch the surface as to what being a martial artist means.  At this point most wannabe fighters have grasped the concept that blood, sweat, bruises, and soreness are our daily bread. 
What only 1% of neophyte combat athletes understand is the difference between tiredness and fatigue. Even fewer are willing to translate this understanding into their practice.  The fortitude, dedication, and constitution it takes to push yourself to the point of absolute exhaustion is what separates contenders from champions.  By absolute exhaustion I mean the point where you’ve long since passed your minds attempts at telling you to stop.  It’s that moment where your brain starts sending erratic signals causing you to lose control over your motor skills. It’s that moment where, try as you might, your muscles stop working the way you tell them to.
The problem most people have in all aspects of life is their belief that being tired is enough; that trying and putting forth an effort amounts to progress. If I could impress any one idea and plant the seed for your next approach to any goal, it would be this: push forward until you have NOTHING left to give, and then push some more.  If you do this, success will inevitably come to you.  It won’t be easy, in fact, it will seem impossible, but I guarantee that once you get to this level you will become addicted to the results.
There isn’t a secret to success, there are simply a series of paths you can take in regards to your dream.  You can move away from it, stay where you are, you can “try,” or you can take matters into your own hands and MAKE IT HAPPEN.  Discomfort, pain, exhaustion, and the inability to carry on should be the goal of every training session.  Each time you do this you take one step closer to an unbreakable spirit, an unimpressionable mind, and an indomitable will to achieve what most men and women dismiss as unrealistic or unattainable.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Options vs. Outcomes

            One of the greatest errors I see made in my sport is the perception of winning and losing as “options.” In fact, I would go as far as to say that believing success and failure are choices an individual makes stunts our performance in all aspects of life. Winning, losing, victory, defeat, success, and failure aren’t decisions we make; they are simply the destination we reach after a long road of options.  Choices are something we have control over, and there are simply too many variables in every worthy endeavor life has to offer to assume we have the jurisdiction to claim we choose our outcomes.
            Now I’m not saying our lives are predestined or up to fate. I’m not trying to convince anyone that we don’t have some sort of say in our achievements or lack there of.  What I am trying to impress upon anyone who takes the time to acknowledge my opinions is the importance of loosening your grip on the notions of winning or losing.  Instead, focus on how you approach the journey to whatever challenge or obstacle you’re preparing for.  Channel your energy into the choices and options you have genuine control over and let go of everything else.
            Rather than worry about winning or losing, concentrate on the day to day choices you face in reaching your destination. Among these options are: giving your best effort vs. half-assing, perseverance vs. cowardice, dedication and discipline vs. complacency, apathy, and chaos.  If you seek to better yourself it is as simple as acknowledging your choices and having the courage to make the ones that benefit you most.  They are almost always more difficult to initiate and even more so to turn into habits.  However, once you have succeeded in consistently making the proper choices, the destination you aspire to reach becomes much more likely.
            Now one might question my logic and ask, “well shouldn’t you WANT to win?” and in a word I would respond, “absolutely.”  However, that question only serves to legitimize my reasoning; not to mention it seems quite rhetorical and leading, as I can’t imagine anyone WANTS to lose.  Wanting anything in life is a desire. Our desires serve to fuel our greatness or confirm a lack of determination and persistence. A desire is the shithead cousin of necessity.  The individuals who NEED to improve, who NEED to push forward, and who NEED to achieve their goals are the ones with the mindset necessary to make the proper choices.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

For the Fighter, by the Fighter.

            There’s nothing wrong with using “community equipment” at the gym, other than the fact that it get pretty gross and eventually becomes overused and unsafe to train with.  That being said, I have always preferred having something to call my own.  I enjoy the bond created with my gear; each piece has a purpose, it all gets frequent usage, and I clean everything religiously.  Once you’ve decided you’ve had enough time with the biological experiment that is shared equipment, it’s important to know what exactly to look for. 
Everyone wants the highest quality and level of protection for the best price.  Some people go to the “Walmarts” of the combat sports world and over look what I consider to be one of the most important factors in the equation: who stands behind the gear.  I’ve spent my money at many retailers and websites and it has become surprisingly easy to distinguish which distributors and manufacturers care about the fighters they’re supplying.  Now any time I need a new pair of gloves, or shin guards, I only consider buying from those who have proven to be reliable, respectful, and considerate.
I recently purchased a pair of Thai Gloves from I tried them on and it was the perfect fit.  I dislocated my thumb and needed something with sufficient support and padding while still allowing me to feel if I was landing my strikes with proper form.  These gloves were more than sufficient, but began to break down pretty quickly; the stitching became loose and the inner lining was getting torn.  After similar experiences I expected the worst: that I would be stuck with what I had bought and once again be back in the market, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
Seven Fight Gear is a company built for the fighter by the fighter.  Less than 12 hours after I notified a representative about my dilemma, he explained to me that the particular model I had received was recently removed from the shelves.  He then told me he would send me a pair of the new and improved glove the following morning.  Considering the neglect and disregard many distributors and manufacturers have for their consumers (especially in the world of mma) it’s quite refreshing to have a positive and professional experience for once.  A tip of the hat to SFG, I am certain to do more business with them in the future and I recommend that any serious fighter do the same.