Saturday, August 25, 2018

Almost Run Over? Good. Glad It Was Me.

After exiting the grocery store and while walking to my car, I was nearly run over. Not "Oh, some driver who lost me in a blind spot almost bumped me with their car" run over. 

Rather, a driver who presumably didn't check her mirrors, and certainly didn't turn her head, and traveling at a surprising speed while casually chatting with the passenger in her vehicle, nearly ran clear over me. 

And I'm grateful for it.

Note: There is nothing implied by, or attached to, me citing the driver's gender. It's simply a fact that helps me use the proper pronoun to the tell this story. 

The day was gorgeous and I was happy to feel the warm summer sun on my skin walking out of the store. In my ears Joe Rogan and Henry Rollins -- two men who share perspectives for which I have deep respect -- were having a conversation, via Rogan's podcast (Youtube version here). 

My bags were light, carrying only a couple cans of black beans and some vegetable broth -- enough food staples to make lunch for my lady and for a few inexpensive future meals. 

It was a good day. 

Honestly, everything felt so good that the only thing missing was a skip in my step.

Moving left to right across the car traveling lane, from one side of parking spots to the other, I made a straight line to my car. From out of the corner of my left eye a black sedan was backing up and headed straight for me. 

And in a flash I noted that the car was not slowing down. 

Mind you, I'm clear into the empty parking spots on my right. The car in reverse is pulling out of the spots on my left and pulling straight back, showing no intent to slow or change direction. 

I jump to to my right. Literally jump. Since the car continues straight back, and quickly so, I hustle, fast-stepping several feet to clear the path. 

Without even a hint of anger, I spy the driver, hoping to make eye contact. Not to reprimand her, or in hope of some apologetic gesture, but so that she recognizes the danger in her actions. 

To my dismay, she never turned her head. 

The car jerked to a stop, was shifted into drive and moved off through the parking lot, not down the traveling lanes but over the rows of empty spots.

Gathering myself mentally, I finished walking to my car with gratitude in my heart. 

What if I had been someone much older? Someone who couldn't see the black sedan backing up? Who couldn't react quickly or move with enough speed to get out of the way? 

Truthfully, I'm grateful that happened to me. The situation put me on my toes and, moreover, was one that I could respond to and effectively avoid. That incident-free situation could have been a lot worse for any one of the numerous elderly or less physically-able people who walk that same lot.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

My First Rear Naked Choke

"Being that you've never done this before, you may have a sore throat tomorrow," says my longtime friend and new jiu-jitsu teacher.

Sitting on the mat inside his barn-studio, heavy bags hanging from ceiling joists, a pull-up bar on chains, and air conditioner roaring in a fight with the 90 degree weather outside, I'm preparing to be introduced to the rear naked choke (RNC).

My friend -- "P" I'll call him -- slowly explains what the RNC is,  and when and how it can be applied. There's much more to the hold than P is covering, but he's giving me the basics, one small bite at a time. Good thing too, because learning jiu-jitsu, like everything else I've done, likely will be best done just so: slowly, methodically, and with detailed, hands-on training. Hands-on is quickly what this lesson becomes.

For some visual aid, P and I got in front of a mirror hanging on the wall next to the double barn doors. P, explaining again the several steps to effectively secure an RNC, stands behind and demonstrates the choke on me as I watch in the mirror.

His right arm snakes over my right shoulder, bicep pressing into my neck; the crook of his elbow setting under my chin; the forearm hugging the other side of my neck. His right hand grasps his left bicep with a monkey grip, where his right thumb, as opposed to forming a "C", is inline with his fingers.

P's left forearm angles up to my face and his left hand sneaks behind my head, his palm facing him. With his head turned left and buried into the back of mine, P shrugs/pinches his shoulders back, puffs his chest, and begins squeezing the arteries on either side of my neck, choking my brain of its blood supply.

With the ticks of a few seconds, I watch my face redden in the mirror, my eyes seemingly bulge, and I entertain a fleeting thought of staying in the choke long enough to experience passing out. Instead, with a mixture of fear and self-preservation, I tap P's arm and am immediately released from my first run-in with an RNC.

It's a trip, man. Choking someone, if only for a moment, and being choked-out. This introduction to basic jiu-jitsu movements is exhilarating and a fascinating new interest. I love learning how to move my body in concert with another -- a dance, of sorts -- filled with the primal urge to survive. It's like nothing else and requires no extra stuff outside of your own body and desire to learn. I love that.

So my throat, indeed, was sore the next morning. While contemplating the minor irritation at work the next day, it dawned on me that my right hand was gripping my left bicep in a monkey grip and my left hand was sneaking behind an imaginary head.

I think I'm gonna really enjoy this whole jiu-jitsu thing.

MMA is misunderstood

The further in love I fall with jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts in general, the more need I feel to articulate how the sports, and lifestyles, impress me.

While finishing the book, Into The Cage: The Rise of UFC Nation, written by Nick Gullo, I read the following passage that sums nicely MMA as a sport.

"MMA is the most misunderstood sport on the planet. On talk shows and news reports, critics wag fingers and complain that hand-to-hand combat somehow undermines society -- but their arguments ignore how this 'mock combat' unites and inspires us. Whether it's reality-as-theater or theater-as-reality, the hero's journey transcends borders, languages, and cultures; and for the fighters, the cage is the field upon which they test their resolve." (pg. 211. Into the Cage: The Rise of UFC Nation. 2013. Gullo)

It's true that MMA is misunderstood, and changing anyone's perception of the sport is not on my list of things to do. If someone is turned-off by the violence or feels anything related to that repulsion, I get it. Not everyone wants to experience the hero's journey through the lens of two people willingly entering physical combat resulting in injury and bloodshed; or as one of my favorite media personalities, Joe Rogan, has described it, "... high-stakes problem-solving with dire consequences." MMA is violent; not for the sake of violence but as the ultimate primal expression of an individual's story of hardship and loss or triumph. The telling of that story is a beautiful thing.

Perhaps in a later post I'll unpack Gullo's book a bit more than that one passage. There are a couple of nuggets in the book worth sharing. Check the book out. You'll find terrific photography that help tell the story of the UFC in a way that text alone cannot.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Miesha Tate Podcast Interview with John Morgan on The MMA Roadshow

On The MMA Road Show with John Morgan, episode 173, former UFC Bantamweight powerhouse Miesha Tate gave a great interview not just by checking the boxes on routine questions, but for giving praise to current UFC fighters, especially Rose Namajunas; the sort of praise that speaks well to the recipient and the giver.

During the interviews first half, Tate spoke about how, in retirement, her family comes first. While she still feels competitive -- enough to consider a grappling tournament -- and has plenty of post fight-career financial opportunities from which to choose, she’s enjoying a low public profile.

When asked about what she’s got going on these days, Tate prioritizes her new daughter, Mia, and maintains her commitment to her SiriusXM internet-radio show, followed by appearances on pre-fight shows and other such media events.

Competing at some level is also on on her list of things to do.

Pregnancy didn’t slow Tate’s will to train. Said Tate, "I stayed really active and busy throughout the pregnancy. I was hitting mitts with my former striking coach, the one I won my world title with, Jimmy Gifford, past my due date. I was nine months pregnant and in there hitting mitts. So, it's not too far out of reach for me to get back in shape and start competing."

So what, then, of fighting again?

"If you could just show up and fight, I'd probably do it.” Said Tate. “But to have to go through the whole training camp, dieting, and the politics of everything -- it gets crazy. And the sport has changed. Where my passion really lies now is with my family."

Turns out, given her skills in wrestling, jiu-jitsu and submissions, Tate may find satisfaction in grappling competitions.

Moving deeper into the interview, with a platform to speak freely, Tate stays positive by giving praise to some current fighters, and stoic on a former rival. Nary a negative word or feint barb was spoken.

Morgan asked Tate about feelings on her old Strikeforce and UFC Bantamweight nemesis Ronda Rousey’s first class induction into the UFC Hall of Fame. Citing that their rivalry helped kick off the sport, Tate said "It would have been nice if we both would have been inducted at the same time.”

Nonetheless, Tate maintains, "I'm proud that women's mixed martial arts is continuing to be put on the map."

Tate also talked about MMA standouts Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg. When asked if she thinks former opponent Nunes could be the one to unseat UFC Featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, Tate responds, "I think Amanda could be the one to beat (her)."

Speaking slowly and  thoughtfully, Tate continues, "I've been hit by Amanda. I've never been hit by Cyborg and I'm sure she hits like a truck, but I can definitely attest to the power that Amanda has and she's deceptively lengthy; she's very long. You think you're out of her range and you're not. She is someone who could actually probably hurt Cyborg. Cyborg, I don't think has ever really had to respect the power that another woman possesses standing across from her or at least she never seems to have. With Amanda that's different... If she goes in there and walks in straight like she does most other girls, she could really get hurt.”

Now, the part of the interview that really stuck with me was Tate sharing her thoughts on UFC Strawweight belt holder Rose Namajunas. "I think Rose... is amazing" said Tate.

Speaking of her time watching Namajunas fight in Invicta, before she was a known name and champion, Tate said, "She really came out there to fight and finish people. I remember her flying armbars, and flying triangles... She just possessed something different; a different kind of ambition. When you see that in a fighter really young, that she's willing to take those risks, big calculated risks, you think, 'She's got a fighting spirit.' And now she's the UFC world champion and it doesn't surprise me."

Given that the UFC loves its trash-talking fighters for promotional opportunities, interviewer John Morgan asked what Tate thinks about Rose and her distinctly different approach to public speaking.

"I think Rose is a breath of fresh air. Not everybody is going to gravitate to the trash-talking champion. Rose brings a sense of realness back to the sport. ... the way she presents herself is so authentic... she goes against the grain in a lot of different ways."

Namajunas "talks about people loving each other and not being so hateful” which "goes against the grain and I think she'll stand out for that” said Tate.

As a listener who may not represent the average mma fight fan, and who is still new on the journey from casual onlooker to engaged consumer, I love hearing Tate’s perspective on Namajunas. The young Strawweight champ’s public facing attitude resonates with me: to be successful does not have to mean chest-thumping and shit-talking; rather, it can mean humility and respect.

Hearing Tate’s thoughts on Namajunas reassures that even longtime, successful fighters can experience and demonstrate empathy; a quality, perhaps, not oft sought in combat sports, but for this fan at least, is a humanizing attribute.

Miesha Tate on Twitter
John Morgan on Twitter
The MMA Road Show with John Morgan podcast on Google Play

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Jiu-Jitsu Highlights Personal Growth Opportunities

selfie taken inside FM Gym after second jiu-jitsu workout

Ever had things you already knew to be true confirmed at the expense of your ego? You know, like failing a math test when you already knew you sucked at math. Or looking like a nervous wreck while trying to give a presentation, knowing full-well that public speaking isn’t your jam?

To a lesser extent, in my second jiu-jitsu class last night, some of my shortcomings, which weren’t news to me, were highlighted. Not highlighted by people pointing and laughing, or being publicly called out in any fashion; rather, well aware of weak areas in my life, these personal limitations are accentuated in jiu-jitsu in such a way that I want them to be under the microscope; I want to embrace them; and I want to improve them. Because of these desires for awareness, acceptance, and betterment of my deficiencies, jiu-jitsu is showing itself to be an excellent vehicle for self-improvement.


Jiu-jitsu, at least the way it’s being taught to me, is stressing two broad areas in my life that need attention.

  1. I’m freaking out of shape, man.
  2. I need to get back to basics (in everything).

Physical fitness

It’s no mystery that after many years of doing little for exercise, other than walking with my partner, I’m in poor shape. Really poor shape. Standing 6’ 2”-ish and weighing around 175lb, I have no major injuries to report, but also have little cardio conditioning and certainly no muscle to speak of. And at 44 years of age, I move pretty slow and my joints are a little stiff. Such is life, I guess. But it also doesn’t have to be that way.

After my first two jiu-jitsu classes, the parts of my body that are noticeably sore are my

  • butt
  • lower back
  • hamstrings
  • and abdomen

As far as I can tell, hooking and bridging, basic techniques to which I’m being introduced, are the source of the soreness. Well, that and the fact that I’m a tall, skinny, stiff, old Gumby. Interestingly, as I’m being taught, there’s little in the way of physical power used in jiu-jitsu. So the soreness isn’t like going to the gym after having never been and on the first day trying to lift to failure. Instead, using my body in such a way to secure it to my opponent, or encourage them to move in a particular direction, seems to call upon strength I don’t currently have. In this way, I’m super-excited to be using my body in a new, demanding way.

Back to basics

Adding to that excitement is another highlighted shortcoming I’m happy to work on: getting back to basics. It seems as with most, if not all things, in life, learning and lifelong implementation of any skill set starts with basic building blocks. Certainly there are basic techniques in jiu-jitsu that can be built upon for more advanced practice. And just as learning how to properly fret one note at time on a guitar can lead to shredding like Herman Li, a solid foundation in basic techniques is a must for not only getting better in the art, but enjoying it as well.

Moreover, the getting-back-to-basics mindset applies to even the simplest of things. Just as Jordan Peterson speaks about cleaning your room, or Alcoholics Anonymous espouses “keep it simple”, jiu-jitsu gives me pause to reflect on neglected areas in my life. One such area is personal hygiene.

Now, don’t get all grossed out or think that by the previous admission that I’m some sort of gnarly, messy, neck-beard (although I do, at the time of this writing, proudly sport a bushy beard). But things like cleanliness are huge in spending an hour on a mat, rolling with another dude who is also sweating from the exertion. So focusing on washing before and after a class is important.

Taking it a step further, maintaining clean and short finger and toe nails is a must. For the first time in my life, I’m making regular use of fingernail clippers (as opposed to biting, peeling, or using a pocket knife to trim my finger nails) and, more surprisingly, staying on top of my toe nails.

To be honest, attention to my toe nails has traditionally been short and sparse, getting after them only when I couldn’t stand the sight of them. And that took a while. Now, the getting back-to-basics mindset (and care and respect for the guys I’m rolling with) forces me to clip and clean those nasty buggers so that I’m not contributing any grossness to the gym mats, or just generally looking like a freaking monster.

It’s all those simple things that add up to something much greater. Over time, with consistent practice in maintaining order and wellness in the simplest areas of life, I’m certain that I will be empowered to grow better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Back-to-basics doesn’t apply only to jiu-jitsu; it’s a mantra for life. Having lived in a tiny house and as a relative minimalist, I could go on about simple living, but the point here is jiu-jitsu and how it’s a welcome teacher of what’s important.


So I guess that’s it for now. Jiu-jitsu is revealing itself to be a terrific teaching tool; one that resonates with me. That it highlights some of my shortcomings -- with more on the way, I’m sure -- also rings true. It’s time to get back to basics, and get my body, mind, and spirit into good shape.

Friday, August 17, 2018

First Jiu-Jitsu Class

Inside look at grappling and striking gym

In the past, I've found a way to do a thing -- let’s say, stack firewood. And that way worked. Perhaps it wasn't the most efficient way to stack firewood but the result was good. The means, however, were predicated on will, effort, and/ or strength -- whatever the task called for.

Unfortunately, I spent little time developing a better system for work; a more efficient means to the end. The wood got stacked well and that was enough to feel proud of a task well done. The means may have exhausted me, but I felt pride from that relatively thoughtless exertion.

For me, therein lies the problem: I could have been more thoughtful, thus more efficient. Perhaps with some planning, I could have used less energy to achieve the same, or better, result. And isn’t that a good idea? Achieving a desired goal in as efficient a manner as possible?

After my first jiu-jitsu class, that idea of using less energy, a more efficient means, to reach the desired objective, was really driven home. What better, more efficient, way to best an opponent than for him to do the work for me? Let my opponent exert himself. Let him do the work. Let him get tired. Then, maybe, with proper skills, technique, and thought, I can win the conflict.

Although the concept of “work smarter, not harder” isn’t new to me, the idea presented through jiu-jitsu is intriguing. If it can be avoided, why go toe-to-toe with an opponent, or similar challenge in life, trading blows and hoping I land the final, winning strike? Why not work methodically and systematically, influencing the situation or adversary to give me certain outcomes that allow me to conserve my energy and preserve my well-being, and finally coming out on-top?

Look, I know next to nothing about jiu-jitsu or physical confrontation in general, and I’m not trying to act like I’ve got anything figured out. However, I think jiu-jitsu is exactly what I’ve needed to learn and adopt a new, efficient way of thinking. Through jiu-jitsu I hope to learn how to execute skillful means in all things in life to realize my desired end and clinch the win.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

New to playing cigar box guitar? Start with Shane Speal's beginner lesson

Shane Speal -- the driving force behind the modern cigar box guitar movement -- got called out on his video lessons... they weren't basic enough!

So Shane responded with this 6:33 minute video...
How to Play Cigar Box Guitar - The very BEGINNING lesson!

In this lesson, geared towards the absolute beginner, you'll learn:

  •  How to hold a pick
  •  Slides
    • how to fit to your finger
    • which finger to use
  •  How to play with a slide
    • don't mash the strings
    • hold right over the fret
  •  Quick lick (to get you playing right away)
  •  Picking hand
    • strumming pattern for quick lick

With great close-ups on both the slide and picking hands, and essential basic playing tips, this beginner lesson gives you the tools to find immediate success playing your cigar box guitar.

What's your favorite beginner cigar box guitar lesson?

Almost Run Over? Good. Glad It Was Me.

After exiting the grocery store and while walking to my car, I was nearly run over. Not "Oh, some driver who lost me in a blind spot al...