Monday, October 31, 2016

Overall- 3 Weeks Blues

Three weeks from today, God-willing, I'll have fought.

This weekend was frustrating. It's still three weeks away, which is a little over half-way through camp. I expected that by cutting out processed sugar (i.e. chocolate, ice cream, everything I love), dairy, gluten, alcohol, fried foods, and eating out that I'd lose weight easier. I upped my water intake from around 1.5-2 gallons/day to 2+ gallons/day which likely plays a roll but still. If the apocalypse happens I'm set because despite working three jobs on my feet all day and going to the gym every day but Sunday, my metabolism is the equivalent of a large whale slumped on the bottom of the ocean that's eaten too much.

Then there's the fact that my face has a couple pimples on it here and there since camp started- something that rarely happens normally. I also have little energy and constantly feel full. Coach suggested I start eating breakfast to get my metabolism going which I did about three weeks ago but most days I have very little appetite. The one day I tried to wait until mid-afternoon when I started to feel hungry, I was light-headed and my body hadn't had a chance to process and utilize what I'd eaten.

Despite the weirdness overall, the last two weeks sparring have been my best yet. This December marks two years at the gym and February will be two years of Muay Thai. I didn't spar much until this summer though due to a couple jiu jitsu tournaments and injuries afterward. I do feel clearer mentally. My heart races less and I feel less moody and out of it at the gym. Better focus.

I'm just plain tired a lot though. My one day job is physically demanding and ruining my already bad shoulders. It's shit mentally since I spend the whole time thinking about how fucked my shoulder is and how I'm going to get out of there. It's the worst job I've ever had.

Going in, I knew my personal life was pretty messy and would be until after my fight at least. I was also aware my body has a tendency to fail and be weird (not respond well to diet changes). Despite this, I knew I'd regret not taking a fight. There was likely going to be no way to take a fight and not deal with these issues; be it now or in the future.

Things I'd Change:
- experiment with diets before camp (is it worth it in some world for me to skip dessert?)
- have a set work schedule that won't change during camp
- enjoy working enough where I don't consider quitting the entire time I'm working
- plan out off-day workouts in advance
- set up times with teammates before the week starts to hit pads before/after class
- keep food simple and portion out before the week
- make sure I have a day off from work to de-stress and train for fun
- go to the chiropractor every other week during camp
- record sparring sessions
- get 7-8 hrs of sleep, especially Tuesday and Wednesdays before sparring Thursdays

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sparring- 3 Weeks Out

Tonight went better than last week, which was better than any other week. Thank God I wasn't as sick and have been slowly defeating the head cold.

It's hard to balance not chasing someone down and also not standing there and doing nothing which leads to getting hit. It's a lot to remember and think about. Takes time to make it more instinctual.

My one allowance food-wise is that every Thursday I visit my grandmother and while I've managed to figure out timing enough to not be there for lunch or dinner, I cannot escape her offer to feed me Milano cookies. For some reason she loves to have me eat a cookie. Always has. Always will. I figure since I spend the other 167 hours of the week trying to devour as much squash, quinoa, lettuce, and beets as possible, my training and habits shouldn't be too affected by a couple cookies. It didn't seem to hurt sparring tonight.

Learning to spar light is difficult. It's intended to be technically sound and paced differently than hard or medium sparring. Hard sparring I'm still mostly trying to survive and throw at least a couple solid combos. Knocked knees hard with Jhordan tonight. "Fuck, fuck, fuck," I winced and stepped back. In a fight I wouldn't, but I'd never been nailed like that before and wanted to assess it once so next time it happens I know I'm fine. A lot of training is simply getting used to knocks and pressure. You have to first get used to being uncomfortable.

I used to tap a lot in rolling when it just became uncomfortable to not breathe. Now Coach yells at me that I wait too long when I'm being heel-hooked. last a little longer most times when a 220lb. (or more) dude has crushed the air out of my lungs and I take the smallest breaths I can while trying to make small adjustments to escape. Still haven't gotten to that equivalent point in sparring though. I turn away or shell up when getting hit and just stand there.

The other issue is that my emotions dictate my technique. It's my personality to be cool with whatever status-quo is for the moment but if someone ups the ante (or stops doing their job properly, say at work), I'll immediately react. As if my subconscious is always on her toes waiting for the moment she can unleash. Unfortunately she does not unleash with a whole lot of skill behind her aggression which costs me against a more skilled opponent.

Overall a good night. Drank a lot of water and Coach is content with my weight. Left at 158.4 tonight, so a little over two pounds away from fight weight. Icing my knee tonight in hopes it won't swell for a double shift of work tomorrow.

Bad Mind, Bad Body

It's important to know that people have bad days. Like even though my diet is on-point, I'm still fighting being sick and even though I'm doing combat conditioning and extra bag work and pads, I still feel slow and drained. Super slow today. 

Some days are good but today was not one of them. After Monday when my teammate Jake loosened my sub-scapula from the clutches of my lat muscles, I felt amazing. So loose and strong. Today was far from that. A new assignment at work that started today is aggressively worsening my shoulder to the point where I'm considering finding another job.

Knee pain during squats from poor form caused by a lingering ankle issue that happened in February on vacation. It's also noticeably affecting my left kick since Muay Thai kicks are thrown with the shin using power from the hip- a rotation that somewhat occurs off of the right ankle. Below is how it's done. 

Adding insult to injury, probably literally, I haven't been sleeping well again. The hardest part of training occurs in the mind, not the body usually. If your mind is right, all else follows. If the opposite is true, the body follows suit. My personal life is currently changing and I am considering even bigger changes down the not-so-distant road which keeps me up at night wondering what I'm doing as I put together an application. 

The one consolation I have is that in a few weeks I'll be able to train more and have one day off during the week. OK, the other consolation is that supposedly we learn more from mistakes and bad days than we do from good days. Today, I learned a new sub-scap exercise. Tomorrow we will see if housing butternut squash and quinoa soup makes you fatter. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Filthy Fifty & Fighting for Love

Saturdays are rough, man. After working doubles Fridays, I usually get up to hit the market to buy groceries for the week (Fisher Hill Farm and their beets have been my favorite for a couple years now). I'll get coffee and then head to Combat Conditioning. 

Today's workout was... The Filthy Fifty:

50 Box jump, tire
50 Jumping pull-ups
50 Kettlebell swings
Walking Lunge, 50 steps
50 Knees to elbows
50 Push press, 45 pounds
50 Back extensions
50 Wall ball shots, 16 pound ball
50 Burpees
50 Double unders 

It could have been worse, honestly. I hacked half the time but other than some congestion am pretty ok. I broke some of them up to ease up on losing form for my shoulder. Afterwards I rowed 4K on the erg for some steady state/metabolism boost and then a fellow fighter Josh was nice enough to hold Thai pads for three rounds. He'd been up since 4AM working. 

Josh doesn't have to do that. He doesn't have to pay what we pay to come do workouts like we do, get black eyes in sparring, and hold pads for a teammate on a Saturday morning. He doesn't have to work shitty hours around when the gym is open. Most of us don't have to have odd hours at work, miss hours at work (money in our pockets), miss happy hour, possible relationships, dinner with friends, or whatever it is people do after work. None of us technically have to do that. 

For most of us, it's a stage of life we're in. Late-twenties, early thirties before serious relationships and settling down. It sucks balls to miss an 80 degree summer night of bridge jumping, or saying no to a guy who asks you out to dinner, or friends you barely get to see anymore because you're paying to learn how to straight ankle lock someone, if you're lucky. If you're not lucky, your neck gets cracked the wrong way and you have to spend precious free hours paying to see your chiropractor. If you're lucky. 

Some of us have had concussions, surgery, or are perpetually taped up. Coach walks with a limp. Coach Wally visits two chiropractors more than anyone I've ever met. And they roll with us, AND they do workouts with us plus extra on their own. 

None of us have to do it, and none of us ever say it to each other, but unspoken, we're there and we stay because we love it. Because our gym people are good people and they become like family. 

In "The Fighter's Heart" by Sam Sheridan, which I'm reading, this guy is talking to Sam about dog fighting and about how some dogs love it. He says, 

"'If you are fighting for something, you have to fight for what you love. If [the dog] doesn't love you, he's gonna quit. No one, no dog in the world, will fight for more than forty-five minutes without love and heart.' 

That's the secret: It's about love."


I've been having weird dreams lately. I've dreamt about my fight a couple of times. Shadowy recollections of strange scenarios where I missed my fight, or something went wrong before-hand. 

One of my greatest obstacles in life, and it took seeing this in another person I loved to see it in myself, is that I fear losing something I love. So I always hold back in reserve. I fear investing time and energy and love into something that will fail. That I will fail. I'll fail to follow-through, change my mind, not train hard enough; fall in love and it won't be reciprocated. Or I'll have been so set against love for so long out of fear that I'll be hurt more by loving something I'll lose that I won't even consider opening up to the notion. 

At the end of the day, I love training. I fear writing about it will somehow mark the acceptance that I've come to so deeply love something and I'll shirk and lose that feeling. As if speaking of it makes it vanish or lose its value

But I'm also at the point where my heart is growing tired of almost loving something and me pulling away. Or perhaps I've only dabble in infatuations, afraid to love deeply. Or maybe nothing before has been something to wholly give myself over to. 

So I said yes to this fight, even though I am afraid. And I've written a couple letters for once putting sentiment to paper, even though I am afraid. 

Because any time you break anything down to its purpose, it appears to be love. It's hard to argue what you should choose in any situation with a fact such as that. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

1 Month 'til Fight- Sparring Night- Will One Fight Be Enough

Wednesdays I work double shifts at two jobs and can only make it to LA Fitness for a quick workout between jobs. I run home, let the dog out and grab some lunch (pre-made) and eat in the car on the way to the gym. I'll get a workout from my conditioning coach or one off Onnit Academy. Coach Wally uses a lot of their workouts which utilize more strength-in-motion training...sort of. It uses things like mace bells, weighted bats, and sandbags. Awesome for form.

Thursdays, however, is sparring night. This morning I woke up at 4AM sick and was still sick by 8AM so called into work. It was either I could make it through work ( though I'd done most of today's work yesterday) or I could probably rest and make it through sparring. Our coaches are strict on not showing up sick because you could infect your training partners and put them out enough to miss their fight which is the worst thing you can do to someone half-way through camp. But I felt like if I slept, drank a lot of water, and medicated myself with oregano oil, Sambucol, Corelife Eatery with a lot of local red miso in it... I could be all right by 6PM for striking. It worked. I probably would have gotten sicker being at work. I read some Wendell Berry essays this morning which really helped me relax (something I rarely make a prioritize- actually, make that never prioritize...), watched "Warrior" and read A Fighter's Heart by Sam Sheridan for a couple seconds.

Sparring went the best it could have. Coach Wally sparred with me twice and went over teeps again which might be invaluable this fight. Malik pummeled me again. This was the first time I'd felt like I just wanted it to be over. Like, if this were a fight, I'd be thinking, "Is this ever going to end? How long can he keep this up for?" That's What She Said jokes aside, you really don't give a fuck when you're getting punched over and over and over. It wasn't hard, just constant pressure that makes it hard to get punches in. I felt less sloppy overall. More controlled. Last week Coach said I'm aggressive enough, which women tend to have a hard time with usually, but I get emotional and am easier to read when he's hit me so I tried to keep my cool more. Kept my hands up. Looked for openings, read where a combo might work...

There's a line somewhere of going all out too soon and gassing yourself and then holding back too much.

It was the last night my friend Caroline, who has fought five times, was at the gym before leaving for the state trooper academy in Albany. She is the only girl with enough experience to spar with. There's several benefits of sparring with her:

1) She is shorter, as my opponent will be
2) She has experience fighting
3) She has a woman's perspective on fighting

Guys are fine to train with- they're awesome. You get used to pressure, being hit hard by someone sometimes a lot bigger than you or more skilled is invaluable. But women fight differently than men and size makes a difference. My opponent is so much shorter I could kick over her head and miss entirely. Or, I could go to throw a cross to the body but she's much lower so I get nailed in the face. In this case, an upper has been a lot more effective. It's not on the guys, but on Caroline it works.

To be honest for a second, watching "Warrior" and reading helped me slow down and think about what I'm doing. I'm a huge asker of why. Why are we here? What are we doing with our time, our money? What is important? Does what we think is important and what we want line up with how we use our time/money/energy?

I started training because of curiosity; it was something I'd considered for a long time. Self-defense is priceless to women. But then it became an escape for this ongoing heartbreaking relationship I had with a guy I worked with. Now it's become something I need and love. My team is a family to me. This would probably break my mom's heart, but I am closer with my coaches and teammates than anyone in my family now. They're what families should be. They push you, choke you and crush you, knee you in the gut so you drop to the mat gasping, support you, and laugh and cry with you.

My one coach constantly teases me about dumb questions I already know and gets on me about shit, like not remembering the warm-ups. But when I sobbed pathetically after losing my first grappling tournament he hugged me and said I did well. My dad wasn't interested in coming. It still hurt a little, but I've mostly accepted he has his own issues and there's other people I'm lucky enough to have. Anytime I can I attend teammate's fights because I've watched them work hard, trained alongside them, and want to be in their corner for them on their day.

After sparring tonight, I was considering that if I by some miracle got this job I'm applying for that would send me overseas for 2 years, would I go? And is the gym a good enough reason to stay? Would I be leaving something I deeply value and love too early? Caroline was at the gym for four years and fought five times. Would one fight be enough for me, I wonder?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

1 Day, 1 Month 'til the Fight

Slap, slap, slap, slap.

My sweat-soaked braided ponytail hits my back as I trot to the bathroom for what seems like the thirtieth time today. Drinking around 2 gallons of water a day will do that.

Tonight was fun, though. Had a chiropractor appointment after work, grabbed coffee at my favorite spot, Ugly Duck (which my phone sometimes auto-corrects to Ugly Fuck when I text people), and headed to the gym at 5pm.

Tuesday's schedule is:
5- 6pm Combat conditioning
6- 7pm Thai pads/striking
7- 8pm jiu jitsu
8- 9pm grappling/rolling

I felt good today after rolling last night so decided to roll for half of grappling tonight. Could use to sweat out some water weight and practice. Almost everyone else in camp leaves after class so I figure at least I'm working if not hitting bags.

It was a huge relief to see the numbers lower on the scale after every class. By 9pm, after 25' on the spin bike after rolling, I'd cut from 160.8 to 156.0. With the weigh-ins you get a pound of wiggle room so I could have weighed in tonight for the fight and been on weight which is great a month out. It's nerve-wracking though. Women's bodies are different than men's.

Every three weeks our bodies just flip out hormonally and sometimes it's predictable but we're always changing so one menstrual cycle could have your body retaining a lot of water for a few days and the next could not. There's a lot of different outcomes so unlike men, we can't just skate by in case our bodies decide to hold on to three or four pounds for a few days. That could have us over-weight for a weigh- in when in 24 hours we could be below weight. All because of hormones.

By the way, this is rolling:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Training: A Case of the Mondays

Training went well tonight, albeit it takes a long time after a day and a half off to warm up.

Started the day with a 20' jog with the dog, worked, felt totally drained around 3PM and tried to nap with the dog while the chicken and beets were in the oven. #MEALPREPPER. Then hit pads before class with a teammate Malik who is on the same card as I am. Stayed for advanced jiu jitsu/rolling to sweat a little water weight out. My memory isn't as sharp on our warm-up technique having skipped some days to hit bags. The shoulder also tends to flare up after rolling which makes other conditioning and striking more difficult so I've laid off jiu jitsu more to focus on technique and work for my fight.

Lesson of the day: eating a 1/4 c. of roasted garlic to stave off an impending sick feeling before the gym is not a great move. Case in point:

Scott: "You smell like...kerosene."
Me: I think you mean garlic...
Scott [sniffs]: That's it!

Yesterday a teammate challenged me via Instagram (@jesse_smash) to 100 kicks for 7 days to raise awareness for drunk driving (somehow it helps...). If nothing more it gets me doing 700 extra kicks this week alone. So just for kicks (for shits and giggles?), after jiu jitsu I went to LA Fitness.

When Coach said he wouldn't promote me to yellow belt until I fixed my cross it became the bane of my existence. The harder I try to fix something like that the worse it gets. Tensing up is horrible for form because a lot of it is just staying loose and rolling relaxed shoulders into punches. So I practiced kicks a lot instead since I couldn't seem to get my cross right without being watched and corrected. They've gotten decent as a result. Tight hips are common in training and while mine are tight someways, my groin/psoas muscle allows for head kicks which can be a great weapon in a fight.

In Muay Thai, one kicks with their shins since it's the hardest part of the leg and with the leg acting as a pendulum from the hip, the damage can be devastating to a liver or head. At first, the kicks can be painful. I have knots of tissue on my shins but they don't bruise much anymore. The nerve endings eventually die and it stops hurting. Like a broken heart. Oh, damn... But really, it's ideal for inflicting damage.

All in all, feeling loose. Just gotta get this garlic out of my system.

Fight Camp- 4.5 Weeks Out

Three weeks ago four teammates and I started camp for a kickboxing fight on a November 19 card with Gladius Promotions. I changed my diet about four weeks ago, cutting out dairy (except sheep feta), processed sugar, and gluten. I'll post over the next four weeks leading up to the fight. 

The biggest struggle so far has been cutting weight. At 5'9", I walk around at 163 and have for years. It's been difficult for me to cut weight doing anything besides running. Even with the heat this summer and training 3-3.5 hours 4x/week didn't have me lose any weight other than right after training. You sweat out a lot- sometimes 4-5 pounds and that's with drinking water during training. 

The other issue has been an ongoing shoulder issue. I've seen two chiropractors and one strongly suggested and MRI but I don't have health insurance and even if I did need surgery I wouldn't get it. A) Can't afford it and B) It would put me out of training for months. At 27, I can't afford to lose that time. I'm down to rolling one night a week from three or four which has helped. Added combat conditioning 3x/week before night training plus two workouts on Wednesdays and Fridays when I work double shifts and have to squeeze a workout in between jobs at LA Fitness. Last week I started running in the morning or at night for 20' plus to get my metabolism going. Also started eating breakfast. 

If the apocalypse ever comes, there's a high chance I'll survive a while. My body basically holds onto any fat and has an incredibly slow metabolism despite an above-average workout regimen. At least that seems to be the issue. I look 145lbs. most of the time but weigh almost 20lbs more than that. This makes cutting weight more difficult. Or maybe I eat too much. 

The opponent the promoter matched me with is shorter and aggressive. She's 1-0 kickboxing, 0-4 MMA. So she's had her first-fight-stress-jitters. I've had a couple jiu jitsu tournaments but nothing like this. It's a different animal fighting with a specific person instead of a tournament. You can tap out in a tournament, but in kickboxing you've trained to fight a specific person. There is no tapping out. Either you're knocked out or go the full three rounds in the cage. 

I also quit one of my three jobs for another potential job offer so in three weeks I'll be able to be at the gym every day again which will be a huge relief. Unfortunately, it's only about a week before my fight so it won't help a lot except maybe more time to recoup a bit before the fight the week-of. 

At any rate, I am low-key excited to have a fight. When I started at Empire almost two years ago, I'd considered fighting but knew it was a long way down the road. Others at the gym had been training 2-5 years and were fighting. A lot of people say it's humbling to walk in to a gym and realize how much training is required and the level of skill that's in there. A lot of people leave after a week, or a month because they're not immediately able to fight or realize how hard it's going to be and that it's just not for them. 

Personally, I had almost no background in martial arts. Before joining, a friend/guy I was seeing briefly trained at the gym who was going through an MMA camp. With our schedules we really only saw each other after he'd been at the gym from 5-9pm training hard. So I knew it was taxing mentally and physically and the dedication required. 

Empire is one of, if not the, best thing that I have ever done. I've changed as a person and the skills I've learned are invaluable. In other sports, I had to drag myself through practice and wondered with bewilderment how people would do extra training outside normal training and how they could be happy to be there most of the time. Steve Jobs said it well:  "If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better as the years roll on."