This post is sort of an answer to a common question or a reply to common remarks I receive from people via email, in person, or on social media sites is in regards to my “fighting”.
I certainly don’t feel the need to explain my hobbies to anyone, but I feel the need to at least humbly attempt to take some stigma away from a very legitimate sport.
A question I often get from people, and do not have the time to adequately answer, is “Why do you fight?”. A lot of times this question comes with hints that I’m battling personal demons, or even more ridiculous theories that perhaps I’m associating with the wrong people.
It is often more appropriate for me to answer with a question recalling the same level of closed-mindedness: “Why do you not?”.
I have never not fought. I was a junior black belt in Taekwondo. Then I went into wrestling in high school. Immediately after high school I transitioned to American Jiu Jitsu (black), Gracie Jiu Jitsu (purple), and amateur MMA. In my late 20′s and early 30′s I concentrated on Muay Thai, Boxing, Judo, and eventually professional MMA. It’s a hobby that I enjoy, and I find that the more involved I am in it, the healthier I am, both physically and mentally.
But since the internet loves reading top # lists…
6 Great Reasons To Fight Competitively
1. Physical Health
This is the obvious one that should surprise nobody. There is no way that you can be involved in any form of competitive fighting without being in the best physical shape of your life. Of course, you’re almost always injured somewhere during training. But a stress fracture in your ankle doesn’t threaten to shorten your life. Cardiovascular stress, obesity, and poor diet does. In addition, being in great cardiovascular shape doesn’t just mean you can run to the store without running out of breath, it shows up in every facet of your life. You see noticeable improvement in your metabolism, your immune system, and even nagging life long ailments like eczema and frequent migraines often disappear. Most importantly for me, good physical health brings on #2.
2. Mental Health
Whether you’re a physician, a yoga instructor, or a neuroscientist, you simply can’t deny the insurmountable evidence that physical health and mental health are closely intertwined. In fact, cardiovascular health has shown to increase brain size and function, increasing spatial memory by up to 40%, and can even stave off or slow degenerative brain diseases. There is no placebo effect at play. Even if I’m tired and sore, the influx of dopamine and serotonin gained by training or sparring in the morning help me concentrate, stay focused, and feel accomplishment for the rest of my day in the studio. Like night and day, the more involved I am in training, the less I feel symptoms of anxiety, depersonalization, or depression. For me, it is more effective than any drug or therapy at accomplishing relief for the above symptoms.
3. Healthy Competition
If there was one thing I can never do, it is merely going to the gym or go jogging simply to stay in shape or improve my appearance. I can’t even imagine checking into a fitness club, running on the treadmill, lifting weights, doing some pilates, and then calling it a day. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I completely lack motivation if there isn’t an end goal. But that’s why marathons and soccer leagues exist, they give you a deadline for your personal fitness achievements, and directly reward you if you’ve reached those achievements. Over the course of a few years, being on a soccer team or running marathons is no less dangerous than competing in MMA. The point is, a lot of people aren’t in shape because it is miserably boring when they don’t have competition as a reward and climax to all their hard work.
4. Peace And Self-Discipline
For the sake of this post, this is probably the most important thing to note, since it directly attacks the misconception that combat sports are related to general violence. While I am certainly not timid, soft-spoken, or afraid of confrontation, I rarely lose my temper. The amount of people, in my entire life, who have witnessed me punching or throwing something out of frustration, or even raising my voice in anger can be counted on one hand. I attribute this, almost 100%, to training. When you focus on, let’s say striking, to the point of it being a skilled art-form refined over many years, it stops being a subconscious tool to use when you’re angry. It’s no longer as simple and instinctive as using your fist or foot as a loosely controlled bludgeon, and because of that, when I can no longer tolerate a situation or person, I’ve mostly lost any instinctive desire to physically harm them.
This is reflected vice-versa in every contact sport, and you learn it on your first day. Your muscle fibers operate and react much faster when relaxed, and even sparring feels much closer to a speed chess game than a venue to express anger. In boxing, one of the first things you have to conquer in training is the speed bag. The beauty of a speed bag is that it is completely impossible to use when frustrated, angry, or impatient. The sooner you learn how to free your mind of that stress, focus, and relax, the sooner you see improvement when hitting it. And that’s the point. You’re not learning how to strike with a speed bag, you’re learning how to relax and strip the association of negative and violent thoughts away from striking.
So when someone says “Wow, I’d better not piss you off!”, I laugh to myself. The absolute last thing I would ever want to do is solve a disagreement with violence, and I don’t even have a violent urge or temptation to struggle with in those types of rare situations.
People generally associate MMA with the yoked up guys who wear UFC or Affliction shirts and start fights at clubs. I do encounter these people from time to time, but they either show up to a class or training camp once and never return, or they quickly get transformed into humble individuals. Which brings me to #5.
There’s this whole side of my life where I deal with a lot of disrespect, poor-sportsmanship, ego, and general douche-baggery. And it’s in my career as a touring musician. When on tour, I have been threatened, spit on, shoved, and even had to defend myself. Albeit, usually by someone who is intoxicated or out of their mind. This type of emotional conflict has never happened to me in a training camp or even competition. Even if you have a scheduled fight against someone, that person is an athlete, just like you, who is just as nervous as you are. You both have something together that words cannot describe, much like people do with “war buddies” or even family members. My training camp has people from many walks of life. There’s a high school teacher, a bartender, an ex-gang member, a few full time fighters, a plumber, an investment banker, and even a famous politician who is now in prison (me being from Illinois certainly doesn’t make that an easy guess). But while I have so little in common with any of them, they are the first people to detect if something is bothering me, and they are the first who would offer whatever they could to help.
This might not sound like anything unique to some people. But I come from a very sparsely connected family, and a lot of the relationships you gain as a musician are more about networking and common interests than something deep or genuine. So to me, it’s very relevant to give to and receive from this avenue of deep, steadfast respect.
6. It’s A Creative Outlet
A long time ago I accepted the fact that I’m drawn to things that allow me to be creative, whether I’m good at them or not, or even whether they’re productive or not. I’ve logged way more time into stupid Roller Coast Tycoon games than I have Call Of Duty. The difference between MMA and most other sports is that MMA is still rapidly evolving. You have your general do’s and don’t's, but after that, if you plan to be successful in any way, you need to pave your own path so your opponents can’t prepare for you. So what you have is an intense strategic sport that is relatively new and unexplored. You’re encouraged to be creative and use your head, and those that do that well are undoubtedly the champions and icons in the sport. I think that aspect, more than anything, is what kept this as a big hobby of mine in one way or another since I was a child.
In the past 2 years I have been professionally commissioned, but I mostly made that jump because I’m in my 30′s and I feel like I would regret not taking it seriously later in life. While it makes touring a bit more difficult, it has no effect on the time or energy I put into writing music. And I have no plans to switch careers or even continue maintaining this level of training for more than a couple of years.
So, I have no demons that I’m fighting, or no toughness to prove. I am in the best mental and physical health of my life and thoroughly enjoying what I’m doing.
I hope this post helps wash away the distaste and negative connotation of MMA from some of my readers. I’ve never understood the general thick border between athletes and musicians, or sports fans and music-nerds. I think we may have a lot to learn from each other.