Former Boxing Champ Pascal Piles on to the Ignorance and Homophobia

Former boxing champ Jean Pascal jumped on the ignorant, homophobic train many in his sport seem to be aboard, when earlier this week he gave an interview calling out UFC star Nick Diaz.

In the video, Pascal says he would fight Diaz in the octagon, but under boxing rules. He goes on to say that UFC fighters “claim they can box. But I don’t see that,” before following up with the now tired, and not so subtly homophonic aspersion that too many boxers levy against ground fighting: I don’t get on the ground with other men.

 

“To go on the ground with another man, it’s not my thing. I’d rather to go on the ground with a woman.” he said, laughing. “I’m a fighter,” he continued. “I’m not a UFC wrestler….boxing, it’s art.”

The homophobia laced throughout, coupled with his willful lack of knowledge about grappling and insistence that real fighting takes place on the feet is as offensive as is the public’s continued tolerance of such drivel.

If one’s personal preference is for stand up fighting, that is fine. However, it is incumbent on the combat sports community to stop allowing the “grappling is gay” trope to be an acceptable thing. To say grappling is not an art, or not a “fight” is one thing; statements of that kind only demonstrate how clueless the person holding such an opinion is. But when we allow people to imply they don’t grapple because it is somehow gay, is to be permissive of a level of homophobia that has no place in 2017.

Diaz, a long time fan favorite, has yet to take a fight since serving a suspension for marijuana use. In spite of the lack of activity, there is no shortage of potential opponents. He has been called out by UFC Welterweight Champion Tryone Woodley, along with a number of UFC fighters seeking out their own “money fight,” which Diaz is perceived to be.

Pascal’s call out is further evidence of the Stockton native’s drawing power, and the depth to which  escalating talk of a super fight between Connor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather has penetrated both sports.

To paint the entire boxing community as homophobic because of comments like Pascal’s would be as closed minded as his belief grappling is gay. I’m certain there are plenty within the boxing world who respect it as a fighting art. I’m equally certain there are people in MMA with less than tolerant views on same-sex relationships; they just don’t express that by decrying ground fighting. Neither fact absolves either sport from taking responsibility for policing this kind of hate-speak.

It’s time to start calling these people out the way they are calling each other out for these much sought after money fights. We cannot respond to their subtlety with our own. They should be put on blast, their fear and ignorance hyped up like pre-fight trash talk. Don’t be scared, homie. Let’s hit these creeps where they live.

 

Floyd Mayweather’s Fear and Ignorance on Full Display

While a fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Connor McGregor has yet to materialize, the war of words is ratcheting up. Mayweather called the UFC star a “punk” and a “bitch” in his most recent interview suggesting McGregor doesn’t actually want to make it happen, citing the Irishman’s high asking price as a means of bidding himself out of the fight.

“At one particular time I had to be the B-side. When they brought the money to the table I took it, kicked ass and became the A-side.” Maywaether continued, “Come kick my ass and become the A-side.” This is likely a fair estimation of the situation. McGregor is going to have to settle for significantly less money than Maywearher if he really wants to see this bout come to fruition.

The boxing star’s business savvy and in-ring smarts are not a matter of question at this point, but contained within the rest of his interview are some disturbing remarks that had nothing to do with deal making or fight IQ.

Mayweather stated, “Real men fight standing up. I’m from [the] old school. I’m not going to kick my shoes off, I’m not going to be between no man’s legs wrestling on the ground. I’m going to stand up and kick ass.”

While that very well might come true, Mayweather’s assertion about how “real men” fight, along with his disavowal of being between another man’s legs on the ground contain a good deal of implicit homophobia and the acknowledgement that outside of his preferred skill-set, Floyd does not have a prayer of beating McGregor.

By stating that real men fight standing up, Floyd is attempting to emasculate anyone who chooses to practice ground fighting. Proclaiming that he won’t be on the ground between another man’s legs is, whether he’ll admit it or not, to say that doing so is to be homosexual. In essence, he has called McGregor weak and gay, two things which, in and of themselves are not qualities that should be used against a person, but which Mayweather clearly believes to be the source of great insult. 

The root of this attitude is a deeper issue than I am qualified to address, but there needs to be a conversation started about how much longer we can justify not calling out those who espouse this kind of fear and ignorance. From promoter Bob Arum, to Floyd, to well regarded statesmen of the sport like Bernard Hopkins, the sentiment that MMA and grappling are gay is wide spread.

For Floyd, or any other boxer to single out grappling as gay because it takes place on the floor and often with one combatant’s legs wrapped around the other’s torso is to ignore the fact that boxers spend time in the clinch, essentially sweaty, shirtless hugging. Both are defensive tactics, but to many a pugilists mind, wrapping your limbs around another man in order to avoid damage is not gay, provided the action remain vertical.

As far as being a “real man” is concerned, let us not ignore Mayweather’s well documented history of domestic abuse. This is a person who has done jail time for beating women. Where he suggests that “real men” fight standing up, many others might argue that real men do not hit women, a notion clearly lost on the guy we used to call Pretty Boy.

Though the fight game lacks for certainties, it’s almost scientific fact that in a mixed rules fight a pure striker is fucked. Everyone who is paying attention knowns this, including Floyd. And so you get the “real man” talk as a means to bolster his ego. “Yeah, he’d beat me if we rolled around like a couple gay dudes, but I fight like a real man.” It’s easier to dismiss something than it is to admit you can be beat by it. It’s also why you’ll never see Floyd in the UFC and what makes Connor’s attempt to step inside the ring so compelling. He would go in a huge underdog, but when the likely outcome of him losing a decision did occur, McGregor  would hold a trump card: “I stepped into your world and took it to you. Are you man enough to step into mine?”

The call would be answered by crickets, accompanied by he sound of Floyd off in the distance, hammering a huge check like it was his wife’s head. 

A real man indeed.

A Closer Look at TUF 25: Redmption

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The latest season of The Ultimate Fighter show is underway in Las Vegas.  The 25th  installment will pit bantamweight champion Cody Garbrant against former champion and ex-teammate TJ Dillishaw, in a coaching match-up that will likely garner as many on screen dramatics as their July title tilt promises.

The full roster was released earlier this week. Titled “Redmption,” the cast is made up of TUF veterans, including two former winners, and one who is currently on the UFC roster.

The fighters are a rangy lot in terms of experience, success, and size. Jesse Taylor and Joe “Big Daddy” Stevenson each have nearly 50 professional bouts to their name and have competed for world titles. Hader Hassan comes with just 9 fights under his belt and losses in both of his UFC appearances. Ditto for Mehdi Bahgdad.

Big Daddy Stevenson also highlights the size disparity we will witness in TUF 25. The show is slated to take place at 170 pounds, but Stevenson, who won the show at that weight, has competed as low was featherweight. Hector Urbina has fought as high as 205, as has former TUF winner Eddie “Truck” Gordon. One has to immediately wonder if making weight will be an issue for the larger fighters, while dealing with the size of some opponents will be an issue for the smaller cast members.

Age and mileage might also play a factor this season as well. The theme of redemption eliminates the TUF’s normal search for young, unknown talent, but at an average age of nearly 32 years old, some of these fighters are a bit long in the tooth. Age is not kind to fighters, and outside of the renaissance we’ve seen in some heavyweights careers recently, mid-tier middleweights don’t often find that same kind of second wind. Skill sets can see improvement well beyond an athlete’s physical prime, but we need to maintain realistic expectations for the show’s victor.

TUF has witnessed its share of long-shot winners, but as usual, the playing field can be narrowed down to a few likely candidates. Whatever the outcome, light beer and hollow-core doors should tread carefully for the next little while. Neither has ever been safe when the ultimate prize  is on the line. For now, let’s take a look at the contestants.

Jesse Taylor- (30-15) Age: 33

Taylor has gone 24-12 since lone UFC appearance. Had he not fought a limousine window right after leaving the TUF house and lost his spot in the finale, Taylor had a strong chance at winning the show. He has been active since then, facing notable competition in the likes of Luke Rockhold, Jay Hieron, and David Branch, and has wins over TUF season three winner Kendall Grove as well as current UFC middleweight Chris Camozzi. A true middleweight, at 6’1” Taylor will be one of the bigger competitors, which should give him an advantage. But with 14 of his 15 losses coming by submission, one has to wonder if he can make it through the tournament without getting caught.   

Joe Stevenson- (33-16) Age: 34

Every good story has an emotional center, and Stevenson is likely to be it for TUF 25. Winner of  season two and long time fan favorite, Big Daddy saw his best days as a lightweight where he challenged BJ Penn for the 155 pound strap. He is 2-2 since last fighting for the UFC in 2011 and has only two fights after a three year lay off. His opponents in those have a combined record of 23-45, making an assessment of his current fighting abilities difficult. A dominant grapplers whose hands never really caught up with the rest of his skills, Stevenson is a natural lightweight and will suffer a significant size disadvantage if not given the right match-ups. Fighting a bigger man is nothing new to him, having started taking professional fights while still a teenager, but the game has changed; skill used to make up a size deficit, but the playing field has evened out and size does matter. Given his experience, it would not be a surprise to see him get through a fight or two if pitted against the other smaller fighters, but he’ll likely run into a wall with the bigger men. 

Gilbert Smith- (12-6) Age: 35

Smith is 7-4 since losing his one proper bout in the UFC and currently on a two fight skid. “Chocolate Thunder” or “Midnight Madness” (depending on which website you consult) is a tough grappler, and as I recall from his original run on TUF, an all around good guy. Unfortunately Smith has never been able to string enough wins together over quality opposition to make a serious run an breaking back in to the ranks of the UFC, though he did hold an RFA belt for a time. He may not go far on the show, but look for him to be the voice of reason in the house and a team leader.

Julian Lane- (11-6) Age: 29

“Let me bang Bro! Let me Bang!” The drunk cry heard ‘round the MMA world. Lane’s antics on season 16 have become the stuff of legend, second only to Junie Browning lunacy. One would almost feel sorry for him had he not shown up looking like a caricature of an MMA fighter, compete with bad tattoos, pink mohawk, and sunglasses worn inside. He’s gone 7-5-1 since TUF 16, and lost to the only real name fighter he faced in Paul Felder. Lane has also struggled against bigger men, a fact that will limit his success in this run. Redemption won’t come for him by way of winning the show, but with a solid performance or two, and by avoiding any of the craziness that plagued him last time out, Lane has a shot to come away redeemed.

Eddie Gordon- (8-4) Age: 33

TUF Season 19 winner, Gordon dropped three straight after being victorious on the finale. Those included a highlight reel head kick KO to a resurgent Josh Samman, a split decision loss, and a submission at the hands BJJ World Champion Antonio Carlos Jr. Dropping a trifecta of fights is almost always a precursor to walking papers, but Gordon shouldn’t be judged too harshly. People get caught, with both strikes and submissions. At total of twelve fights, Gordon is relatively green for this group, but the lack of mileage might play into his favor, as should his size and strength. The Truck won his lone fight since leaving the UFC and though there are no guarantees, Gordon should go into the show a favorite, potentially becoming the first two-time TUF winner.

Dhiego Lima- (12-5) Age: 28

Lima is a well rounded fighter, but has not found the level of success that has graced his brother Douglas. He is 2-1 since leaving the UFC, dropping his most recent fight via TKO. Lima made it to the final of season 19, doing so at 185 pounds when he is a natural welterweight. That experience against larger opponents, combined with the fact he won’t have to manage his weight so carefully as others, could play into Lima’s favor this time around. Making it through at least the first round of competition is a good possibility, and the prospect of another Lima vs. Gordon finale would be very fitting given the theme of redemption.

James Krause- (23-7) Age: 30

Krause’s inclusion here is odd, given the fact he is already on the UFC roster, is 4-3 in the promotion, and has won his last two fights. Though the TUF Live alumnus has not stepped in the cage since February of 2016, one has to wonder what his existing contract is like for Krause to put himself in the TUF grinder again, and at a weight class above where he usually fights. 30 fights gives Krause plenty of experience, and he should have a sizable bag of tricks to pull from, but his chances here aren’t great. Come what may, Krause should get more fights in the promotion beyond this show.

Mehdi Baghdad- (11-5) Age: 31

Another natural lightweight who as fought as low as 145 pounds, The Sultan’s prospects here are not kingly. Baghdad dropped both of his UFC bouts after his appearance on TUF 22 and  was dropped from the promotion after pulling out of a fight in October 2016 with an injury. Another fighter whose size will be a liability, Baghdad’s inclusion seems to be almost an apology from the typically cold-blooded UFC for cutting him when he was injured.

Justin Edwards- (8-5) Age: 34

After losing his lone fight on TUF 13, Edwards managed to stick around the ranks of the UFC for four years. He wasn’t the most active fighter on the roster in that time, averaging just one fight a year before losing three in a row and being cut. The majority of his fights have come at welterweight, so he should be comfortable there, but his loss to 170 pound monsters like Brandon Thatch speak once again to the difficulty in overcoming a size deficit. He dropped two subsequent fights at lightweight, including one to TUF 25 cast-mate Ramsey Nijem (there’s that potential redemption again), and has not taken a fight since June of 2015. Inactivity and being paired against more skilled fighters should create an early exit for Edwards.

Seth Baczynsky- (19-14) Age: 35

At 35 years old and with 34 fights behind him, The Polish Pistol’s odds of winning the show are narrowed by his mileage. He had notable wins over the likes of Tim Means, Matt Brown, and Neil Magney, but lost a very close decision to Thiago Alves, and came up short in his next two outings before being cut. That said, Baczynsky is a gamer and will be on the bigger side of the competitors, two things that should make him a factor on the show. He is 1-1 since leaving the UFC in 2015, the loss coming to Jesse Taylor. Once more redemption rears its head.

Hector Urbina- (17-10) Age: 29

Urbina turned pro at just 19 years of age and wasted no time stepping into the deep end of the pool, facing the likes of Tim Kennedy, Mayhem Miller, and Lyman Good. If you can say anything about El Toro, it’s that he will take on all comers. Sadly, that’s maybe the best that can be said about Urbina. His willingness to trade and get in wild exchanges leave him susceptible to getting knocked out; his fight with Bartosz Fabinski demonstrated an inability to negate superior wrestling skills. Though it’s not for lack of heart, Urbina’s chances of winning the competition are slim.

Ramsey Nijem- (9-6) Age: 29

Fighting out of John Hacklmans’ The Pit, Nijem is a strong grappler who found some measure of success in the UFC after losing his TUF finale bout to Tony Ferguson. Ramsey was able to stick around the UFC for a few years afterwards, putting three wins together to begin his run, before the slide that led to him being cut in 2015. He is still young and has not accrued the amount of damage that other contestants have. The time off since being cut might have done him some good and helped him shore up holes in his game. At at 5’11”, the 170 weight limit should also suit him better than some of the others who usually compete at lightweight. Not a favorite by any means, but if there is a dark horse pick, I think Nijem is it.

Hayder Hassan- (6-3) Age: 34

A big puncher who rightly earned his nickname “The Hulk” on TUF by fighting three times in 17 days, leaving no question about his heart or his desire to get in the cage and mix it up. Hassan was picked to fight in the camp vs. camp finale, losing by second round submission. HIs next bout, a rematch against Vicente Luque who he was victorious against on the show also ended via submission and he has not fought since. His power and willingness to engage make him a dangerous opponent, but unless his submission defense has tightened up in the time away,  Hassan’s shot at making the final isn’t good.

Tom Gallicchio- (19-9) Age: 30

The hirsute Gallicchio is dangerous on the ground, with 13 of his 19 career victories coming by submission. The veteran grappler, however, lost his only fight in the TUF house and also dropped his lone fight since then, via TKO. Though tough as thy come, one has to wonder what kind of redemption Gallichio’s inclusion in the show offers, save for another shot at a dream for a hard-nosed, likable guy.

Meryl Streep: MMA’s Newest Villain or Harbinger of Mainstream Acceptance?

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It seems Meryl Streep is MMA’s latest and greatest villain. Not a roided up Brock Lesnar. Not the unfair pay and restrictive contracts. And certainly not CTE. Nope. Permanent damage inflicted by juicers, on people who have almost universally short careers and who are unable to properly monetize said careers take a backseat to the latest plague upon the landscape. That plague is named Meryl Streep.

While accepting a Golden Globe award on Sunday night, she gave a speech that was staunchly anti-Trump and typically Hollywood, steeped in self-congratulatory hoopla. She addressed mixed martial arts only to say that if all the foreigners were kicked out of acting, and the diversity removed, as a country we would be left with football and mixed martial arts, which, she reminded everyone was not, “the arts.” Simple and seemingly benign.

It did not take long for the MMA community to explode with its own self-righteous indignation, as Twitter accounts boiled over in frothing 140 character chunks. Few things come as a surprise in the fight world anymore, but the response this garnered was shocking. The mere passing utterance of “mixed martial arts” within the context of a larger speech sent fighters, promoters, and journalists alike into a tail-spin of defensive hyperbole. The kind one might expect from a thespian rather than from a group of individuals routinely touted as being among the toughest on the planet.

There is an art to martial arts, but it is not “the arts,” as are they are typically referred to. Parochial as any reference to “the arts” is these days, her point was clear: sports are not generally contained within that framework. Go tell your college counselor you want to take a judo class to fulfill art credits and see how far that gets you.

Reactions have been so disproportionate that one wonders how many people actually took the time to listen to her speech. If fighters get their news the same way most people do, a safe guess is that very few did; a quick glance over a link or a Tweet probably, before unleashing a fully formed opinion based on very little fact, held up mostly by emotion. The same thing those same people would accuse Streep of doing. We need to quell this short sighted thinking and look at the situation anew.

Much of life comes down to perspective. How one looks at something, the ability to turn life on its side and view it differently goes a long way. The same applies here.

Foremost, Meryl Streep, arguably the greatest actress to ever live, mentioned MMA at the Golden Globe Awards, which is an international gathering of Hollywood’s elite, viewed by millions. Any press is good press, and that is quite a lot of press. She didn’t call it UFC or human cockfighting. She referred to it properly as mixed martial arts, and on an enormous platform. That is huge.

Moreover, Streep chose to use MMA instead of any other sport, pairing it with the NFL, a money making leviathan and worldwide presence. Not basketball, not baseball, not hockey. MM-freaking-A. Put on par with the biggest sports organization in America, and as an example of what would be left with out “the arts,” which once again, is the bigger picture here. She said nothing negative about either sport, made no mockery of its participants. She merely defended her own profession by using another as a point of reference.

The biggest oversight by all those who’ve come unglued at Streep’s speech is that, within its context, MMA was the only sport that fit into the verbal scheme she was working with. Saying “you’d be left with football and bowling, which are not the arts” lacks the nice ring that using mixed martial arts does. It was a transitional phrase, one which, as a writer, I have to recognize was well done. She threw a deft, well timed combination rather than winging clumsy arm punches.

I doubt that Meryl Streep is a big fan of MMA. I’m equally doubtful she has anything against it. The truth of the matter is likely that she (or the person who wrote her speech) knows enough about the sport to use it in that situation, and with confidence the millions of people watching would all know it as well. It didn’t need to be qualified and no one in the audience yelled out, “mixed martial what?” They took it in stride. I wish I could same the same for the MMA world.

What Streep did on Sunday night was not an attack on mixed martial arts. She did not belittle those who give their lives to the sport, didn’t castigate the practice as inhuman, and certainly didn’t profess to knowing anything about it other than to say it exists. We should consider the possibility that Meryl Streep has accepted MMA into her her life, and in doing so, spoke for the world at large. MMA is a so much a part of our social fabric it can be used by an aging spokeswoman of an enormous industry that is completely removed from combat sports and everyone understood.

It is time we put away the notion of MMA being an underdog sport. For better or worse, mixed martial arts is a part of popular discourse. Meryl Streep knows it. Now we must embrace it.

I Do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but I Don’t Want to Talk About It.

I Do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but I Don’t Want to Talk About It.

I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There. I said it. This isn’t some kind of dirty confession, nor is it something I feel must remain a secret. I just, as a general rule, don’t want to talk about.

It’s a year and change into my journey. I’ve toed the waters slowly, as other, more substantial life goals took precedence over training. I have earned a single stripe on my white belt and feel rather accomplished for having done so.* SkilI level aside, I can be relied upon as a solid training partner who works hard to improve; if I get nothing else out of this undertaking, I hope it’s that, and trust of my teammates. But I still don’t want to talk about it.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is something I wanted to do for quite some time. It was easily a decade in the making. The desire to become proficient, if not expert, in a martial art has long been a pursuit, one that was generally pushed off to the side along with many other “someday I’ll get around to it” type projects. Well, I still can’t read latin, but I can apply and arm-bar, or triangle, or collar choke to varying degrees of success. You just won’t catch me talking about it.

Some people know I do this. My wife. My family. My close friends.They will occasionally if I have been to class, but for the most part, they don’t want to talk about it either. And I’m fine with that.

At work I sometimes show up with a hickey-like gi mark running it’s way across my neck or face. Round, fingertip size splotches serve as little beliers of the death grip someone had on my wrist the day before and talk to my co-workers for me. They tell of a life outside the cozy walls we find ourselves confined by; they speak of impact, and of violence, the kind which most people avoid. The rules of polite conversation prevent most from asking what kind of trouble has befallen me, and that’s fine. The bruises can whisper to people about what I do in my free time, because I don’t want to talk about it.

Occasionally people do ask why I am bruised up or why I am limping. I usually say I hurt myself exercising. If pressed, I will tell them the specific means by which an injury occurred; I do Brazilian jiu jitsu. It is the near inevitable follow up questions that are the well spring for my desire to not talk about it. “What is it that?” It’s a martial art. “Like karate?” No, not at all. It’s grappling based. “Oh, like wrestling?” A little, but only in the vaguest sense. “Do you want to be a fighter?” Uh-huh. Nearing forty years of age is when most really great careers in the fight game take off. “Can you kick my ass?” I don’t know, but if I can, jiu jitsu will not likely have much to do with it. “Why do you do that?” I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it.

BJJ occupies a similar space to MMA. People have heard of it, have maybe seen it a little, and yet even a negligible grasp on how it works doesn’t curb the ignorant pontificating that dominates public discourse on the matter. I once sat cringing on my sister’s couch, while I listened to some guy give a detailed and completely false account of the way UFC fighters go about purposefully breaking their hands in order to strengthen them. As someone who keeps up a ruthless pursuit of even the most minute details of the MMA world, and who has actually broken his hand only to have it heal as a disfigured shadow of its former self rather than a better, stronger version of the original, I can tell you the mess this blockhead peddled was patently wrong. I hear things like this all the time; rarely with such unbridled and proud ignorance, but more often than not, when the topic of fighting comes up, I remain quiet. I’m too obsessive and I remember everything I read; the burden of caring enough to know enough keeps me silent, lest I spend many a conversation correcting people’s inaccuracies and coming off like a pedantic dick. So I don’t talk about it.

The same holds true for jiu jitsu. People just don’t know enough about it to warrant negotiating a conversation in which they will assuredly be uninformed. Unless they do jiu jitsu too. While I tend to demur when it comes to my martial arts participation, many are effusive. They’ll happily espouse on all manner of things about the jiu jitsu lifestyle; how doing BJJ changed their life; how they got a sweet new Shoyoroll gi; are you a leg-lock guy? And on and on and on. Much noise is made about living this coveted “jiu jitsu lifestyle.” Other than always talking about jiu jitsu, the only things I can reliably associate with a jiu jitsu lifestyle are a curious, and culturally skewed preoccupation with acai fruit, and an equally incongruent usage of the Hawaiian hang-loose-shaka-hand thing. These types share a similarity to crossfitters in that you’ll know they do jiu jitsu, because they’ll tell you they do jiu jitsu. You won’t have to ask questions in this case because they really want to talk about it.

“Jiu jitsu changed my life!” is a common exhortation. It certainly has change my life, and I’ll tell you why: because I do jiu jitsu now. Before, I didn’t. Now, I do. So indeed, my life has changed. But it hasn’t become my reason for being, nor has it made such an impact as to effect my life in the manifold ways some claim it has. Certainly there are positive by products of jiu jitsu: From outwards appearances, I am in better shape now than I have been in a good many years; when I watch MMA I appreciate and understand grappling in a new way, observing a universe of details I never knew, or knew to look for. Largely though, there is no difference. If I eat better, it’s because that is a change I was ready to make in my life, and one which might also come along with the decision to get into a new sport. Perhaps there was an overall lifestyle change that jiu jitsu was one portion of. I think far fewer people are changing their lives because of jiu jitsu than the case is that people wanted to change their lives, and started doing jiu jitsu. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not a fire-sale of self belief, positivity, and healthy living; it is merely a form of exercise favored by a small percentage of people. Even unhealthy people do it: overweight people; drunks; smokers; people unafraid of gluten. Many of them do jiu jitsu, and do it quite well, but are otherwise very unhealthy. If jiu jitsu were a magic, cross cultural panacea of sorts, I wouldn’t have to explain what am arm-bar is to my mother, which is especially hard when I don’t want to talk about it.

Maybe the jiu jitsu lifestyle is just a matter of having at any and all times no less three outstanding injuries. I have torn intercostal muscles in my ribs and screwed up both knees. My legs are a patch work of amorphous bruises in various shades of purple, brown, and yellow, each one a badge of honor, or more probably, feeble attempts to retain guard. My lower back stings with random sciatic pain that shoots through it and down my leg. The middle of my back cracks when I inhale deeply (this I actually like). My right shoulder pops when I wipe my ass, my left shoulder can barely stand to have a seatbelt strap placed over it, and they both have tendonitis bad enough it sometimes keeps me awake at night. My neck stings and freezes if I look left or right too acutely. My fingers crack with a violence and frequency they’ve never before known. Everyone who has put even a minimum of regular mat time in must have a list of their own, but complaining seems to be universally maligned in the jiu jitsu lifestyle, so we try not to talk about it too much.

I struggle with the “why?” portion of this whole equation sometimes, too. That I should find it difficult to explain to others is no surprise. There are a lot of reasons I suppose, no one having much more weight than the other. It’s empowering; not that I have any delusions about an ability to defend myself, but, because every single class I get through without giving up is a victory. A confirmation of my ability to endure. I do it because it occupies the same part of my brain as other activities I love. I was shocked to find I obsess on jiu jitsu the way I do when I’m in the middle of a long research project or paper. I lay awake in bed at night mentally rearranging jiu jitsu moves they way I would words in a sentence or putting together the melody for a song. What if this goes here, then that goes there? What will that look like? Will that work? The variations and combinations are endless, the pursuit for prefect technique relentless, and for a person like myself who has an excess of mental energy that needs to be channeled into something positive, jiu jitsu is a tremendous vehicle. Mostly though, I do jiu jitsu because it is fun. In spite of the sweat, the blood, the pain and discomfort, I never end a roll, whether I was the hammer or the nail, without a huge smile on my face and feeling excited for the next one.

A few months back, after a particularly good round of sparring, I rolled off another grown man, sweaty and heaving out of breath, and said to him, “that was beautiful,” as though it was the night of our wedding and we’d just consummated marriage. I recounted the absurdity of this incident to a friend and he asked, “Who was the guy?” I didn’t have an answer. It was someone I’d never seen before that class and who I haven’t seen since. I have plenty of regular training partners whose names I do know, but aside from a name, mostly I don’t know anything about these people. One of them seems to be in labor of some kind, a few in the tech business, a couple others perhaps students. It occurred to me how strangely intimate training jiu jitsu is, how much trust we must place in the people we practice with, and that we do so not really knowing the person at all. We don’t speak at length about our jobs or our lives, yet we lie around on top of one another for hours on end, chest to chest, cheek to cheek, huffing and puffing, and doing our damnedest to kill one another. We slap hands, we smile, we say “see you next time,” and go about our business. We exist outside the walls of the academy, but we don’t really talk about it.

“It sounds like Fight Club,” the friend joked to me. “Are you allowed to talk about it?” he asked. Maybe it’s just that. Perhaps my need for this is a symptom of my condition; that of a modern man seeking out some primordial struggle as a means of getting in touch with my wounded masculinity, and my sense that life, as wondrous as it can sometimes be, is too often rendered dull as we slog through the monotony of it all, the blunt force trauma of morning alarm clocks and traffic and unfulfilled wishes that isn’t quite strong enough to kill us outright. I am Jack’s acceptance of life in the middle. I am his boredom. I am his disappointment at never being a child star, his search for something visceral, his underlying horror at the futility of it all. I am Jack, balled up on the floor in a sweat soaked gi, trying to breathe while life slowly digs its hooks in and chokes me out. But I don’t want to talk about it.

*In the week and change I spent writing this I earned a second stripe on my white belt.