A brief but loquacious Thai Boxing & BJJ manifesto on everything and nothing
I decided long ago that I would never wear a Gi. I broke that rule a couple of years ago, putting aside the long worn out Thai boxing shorts and getting into a new costume. One that I’d long ago sworn off.
Why would I put aside something I spent a lifetime doing in order to dedicate my time to something that I suck at?
Sometimes I understand the answer completely and other days I still wonder.
It’s not easy developing a comfort zone. Years of work, pain, and failure go into the construction, why would we abandon it to start a new one?
My comfort zone was not getting punched in the face and kicked in the legs, until it was. Known to MMA and BJJ aficionados as “stand up” (a term I still most strongly associate with comedy) my comfort zone, over the last 25 years or so, was a variant of kickboxing heavily influenced by the Thais, and the Dutch, and traditional boxing.
But it was mine. It was comfortable. It was represented by the Thai shorts.
Now most of my training time is spent off my feet and on the mat. A place that’s not comfortable, not known, not mine.
But it is beautiful, as a departed friend pointed out, “you can never really get your arms around it”, like an ocean there is always more.
BJJ forces patience. It’s incredibly detailed, nuanced and technical.
You can land a lucky punch, but you cannot land a lucky flying inverted double reverse sit-out double wristlock Kimura arm-bar. You have to really practice that thing, you know. But the euphoria of making it work, of pulling it off during a roll, is strong.
Part of why I was willing to leave my comfort zone, was that in a way I got to stay in it. How is that possible? Because I’ve been working with Geoff Balme now for the better part of two decades.
So it’s still home.
A lifetime ago I ran a kickboxing school that absorbed a contingent of ruffians who just lost their training space. This imposing gaggle of derelicts was traveling far and wide to learn a new and exotic thing called BJJ in the 1990’s. Now they had come upon the Holy Grail.
Their Holy Grail was a very large, slightly disheveled PhD insect scientist who came from the upper Northeast with a BJJ pedigree, expertise, lineage, and the ability to easily quash everyone, while simultaneously smiling and carrying on conversations about music, science, and Russian literature.
That the Holy Grail is still around, still teaching, and that’s a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s an opportunity that should be seized upon. It’s a prime reason I’ve been willing to endure the humiliation of going from something I know and taught, to bumblingly attempting to learn something I don’t know.
The ego is not swallowed easily. It tastes terrible, frequently refluxes and fills the mouth with bile and vomit. But it’s worth it. Why?
Because maybe we aren’t really actually ever leaving our comfort zone. Maybe we are simply expanding it. It’s evolution, baby (apologies to Pearl Jam). We have to keep expanding, keep evolving, and keep the construction of our comfort zones active or we wither, rot, and in a way, die.
Over the years of doing this, you discover that what brought you in the door isn’t what kept you there all those years. Those things in the ads, the things we think matter, aren’t the things that matter.
It isn’t about ‘self defense’, it isn’t about six pack abs, fitness, and isn’t about “winning”. It’s just about doing something. It’s about being fully engaged in something, anything, fully present and fully lost all at the same time.
Thai boxing, BJJ, theater, slam poetry, playing the cello, marathon running, essay writing, listening to music, all of those things are the point in and of themselves.
It’s about being at one for once with the universe.
NOTE: I stole that last line from the song “Choked Out” by the Mountain Goats and John Darnielle, it does a better job of saying what I am trying to say in this awkward ending than I am, so read the lyrics while listening to the song, and buy the album right here because, artists need to eat and because it’s a damn fine album about professional wrestling.
You don’t get too many of those, no, no, you sure don’t.