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BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU
MMA is still very young as a modern mainstream sport. As recently as 20 years ago, when the UFC held its first event, MMA was still an unregulated blood sport still in its infancy. In the past two decades, MMA has exploded, regularly topping the list of the fastest growing sport in the world. Critics have likened it to human cockfighting, or even compared it with the savagery of the gladiators of the Coliseum. Why then this sudden popularity? The reality is that despite the vocal protestations of those who are against any kind of violence, even a regulated sport, there is something about fighting that speaks to a primal part of all of us. The act of fighting is as fundamentally human as laughing, or falling in love. To ignore the aggressive part of your soul is to ignore on some level what it is to be human.
I am a professional MMA fighter, a boxer, a long time wrestler, and a Martial Arts and Self defense instructor. I’ve recently added regular yoga classes at De La Sol yoga to an already full training schedule. I find the poses and stretching help me recover and relax after hours of training, sparring and conditioning. I also find the meditative side of the practice to be very soothing. This is especially true when I’m dealing with the added anxiety of an upcoming fight. Even for an experienced fighter, the idea that someone out there is preparing at this very moment to deliberately do you harm can be a preoccupying and overwhelming thought.
One of the instructions I hear over and over from my yoga instructor is to “empty my mind,” or “exist in the moment.” I am encouraged to disengage from my stream of consciousness and to stop planning or worrying about the future for a moment. Being able to deliberately quiet or even shut off my anxious thoughts would be very restful. Unfortunately, I have found it challenging to master the skill of removing myself from the constant static and noise that constantly bombards my mind. Often, seeking mental silence seems like chasing the memory of a dream. The more I concentrate on achieving mental peace, the more my mind resists and the more turbulent my thoughts become.
There is, however, one part of my life in which I am able to regularly disengage from the running monologue in my mind – fighting. Anytime I’m in a fight the noise falls away from my mind, and I exist totally in the present moment. My subconscious is at work of course, there is often a strategy to adhere too, or an opportunity for a creative burst of a technique that is partially or wholly new; but those processes are beneath the surface. I know they’re happening but they don’t materialize as articulated thoughts. When this occurred to me, I was immediately struck by the irony. The most at peace I’ve ever felt in my life is while in the midst of a fight.
This feeling of peace lasts beyond the window in which I’m actually fighting. After a sparring session I am calm, relaxed, and happy. I have no aggression or animosity left. Training and fighting is very much a relief valve for me. I feel better equipped to deal with the challenges of day to day life, and I am certainly a more pleasant person to be around.
David Carrier and Michael Morgan recently published a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology which suggests that human hands evolved so that we can make fists and fight, and not just for manual dexterity. When compared to a slap a clenched fist can quadruple the amount of force delivered because of the way it buttresses the hand. A clenched fist is also half as likely to sustain damage, compared to a strike thrown with a looser hand position.
Human beings are unique amongst the higher order of apes in that we have the ability to make clenched fists. Not even they hyper aggressive chimps, often regarded as the most combative of the primates, have developed hands which transform so perfectly into weapons. The study adds to a growing body of evidence that humans are among the most aggressive animals on the planet.
The ability and the desire to fight developed as a necessity. The ability to protect our resources and our offspring is critical to the evolution of the human race. Modern man exists in a world devoid of the evolutionary and selective pressures to which aggression was a beneficial trait. Our aggressive behavior remains, but no longer serves an evolutionary purpose. The opportunity and ability to express this evolutionary mandate then, is something that can start to fulfil a part of us that has existed for hundreds of thousands of years.
That is not to suggest that I advocate going out and picking street fights, or assaulting one another. Sex is illegal if it isn’t between consenting adults, and so is fighting. MMA, boxing, wrestling and other combat oriented sports afford modern humans the opportunity to express an ageless desire to confront, combat, and conquer a foe. Fighting and combat in general speaks to a part of us that is often ignored or suppressed in modern times, but is a part of us none the less. Fighting, paradoxically, has the ability to bring us peace.
There is an old adage from a Roman statesman, often attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero: “if you wish for peace, you must prepare for war” (si vis pacem para bellum). His meaning, presumably, was that the act of becoming strong enough to defend oneself can be powerful enough that you may never need to use that strength at all. The sentiment of his quote speaks to me deeply. In fact I used the latin origin as the name of my gym, Para Bellum.
There is another truth buried in Cicero’s advice, however, and it may be somewhat uncomfortable to admit. The desire for combat, the act of fighting, is an essential part of the human condition. Fighting is as much a part of our make up and, as natural as eating or sleeping or loving.
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