Cubicle to the cage Blog #6 Episode 105
A couple of days after Morteza’s fight, we were all asked to meet Peter at the Halifax Ale House where he worked. The Ale House sits on Citadel Hill, one of Halifax’s highest points. Atop Citadel Hill sits 250 year old Fort George, built by the British to protect them from French attack during the 7 years war. One of the fort’s key defences is the incredibly steep slopes that protect it from every angle. An attacking force would have to climb, at times on hands and knees, up a 100 to 200 meter grass hill before reaching the fortified walls. We knew Peter liked to have his fighters sprint the hill, sometimes carrying heavy bags, or each other, so we were ready for a very very tough night of training. But, as any good coach would do, Peter knew we needed something a little different. To our surprise, the moment he arrived we were all bundled into a Party Bus and whisked off to Hatfield Farm, a local dude-ranch and renound party location.
The night Morteza fought, we were probably 5 months into the program, and few of us had really taken a break. The training was becoming increasingly more intense every month, and the strain was starting to show. A number of people had either dropped out or were training only a couple of times a week. Many others were suffering from some sort of injury or other. A few cubes had `had their bell rung`and were suffering from mild post-concussion symptoms. Nearly everyone had a busted nose, dislocated finger, `popped`elbow, broken toe or sprained knee. I personally had a laundry list of bumps and bruises, but had sustained only one injury that was causing me serious concern. For several weeks I had been suffering from severe shoulder pain every time I tried to lift my right arm over my head. And it was getting worse. But that`s a story for another day.
These types of injuries are fairly common to anyone training mixed martial arts. But it seemed the cubes were racking up the injuries much faster than anyone would expect. Perhaps it was the fact that we were unfamiliar with proper training techniques. Perhaps (or even likely) we were less coordinated and physically capable group than you typically find in an MMA training camp. And certainly, the fact that Peter was pushing us so hard, in an effort to get so much done in a short period of time did not help. Whatever the cause, Peter felt that this was the right time in the program to step away for a couple of days, give everyone a chance to rest, and blow off some steam.
With the exception of a few cubes who knew each other before joining the program, most of us had never had an opportunity to socialize outside the gym. Having this opportunity to relax and unwind together was a great treat. The moment the bus started moving, and the booze started flowing, it was immediately apparent how close many of us had grown in the preceding months. We had bled, sweat and cried together for nearly half a year and the intense bonds that develop in such high pressure environments were evident. I don`t think I`ve laughed so hard in years.
An added bonus for us all was having an opportunity to spend time with Morteza. The trip to the farm was the first time he had socialized with anyone at the gym since his fight. He was still a man adrift. Nothing remained of the fun-loving, easy going jokester we had all grown fond of. He was as embarrassed and depressed as he had been the night of his fight. To someone not familiar with professional fighting, and not familiar with Morteza, they might think it odd that he should be taking the loss so hard. But, for Morteza, there was much more to this than simply losing a fight. He had been studying martial arts for more than half his life. In that time he had developed an image of himself as a skilled and confident fighter, and a badass to boot. He was brimming with self-confidence and bravado. The thought of losing had never entered his mind. And that is exactly why he lost. Even his opponent would admit Morteza had more physical tools available to him to win the fight. But while he was a skilled (although easily distracted) technician in the gym, he did not have the urgency and intensity that characterizes most fighter. As Peter so eloquently put it, he didn`t ever hear the footsteps of that 1000 pound gorilla coming up behind him, looking to smash him in the cage.
Gavin Tucker once told me, the moment he has a fight lined up he starts building up his opponent in his mind. He imagines his opponent is the toughest and most skilled opponent he has ever faced. He imagines the guy is a monster, who is bigger, faster and better than him. He then uses this as motivation in the gym. If the foe is bigger, better and faster, then Gavin feels he must work harder and train smarter than his opponent to have any chance of winning the fight. This fear pushes him and drives him to stay focused and keep one step ahead of that 1000 pound gorilla. After Morteza`s fight, we could all hear those footsteps. I personally made a promise to myself that no matter how many skills I learned or did not learn in the coming months, if I was given an opportunity to step in the cage I would at least be mentally ready.
After a few days to rest and recover we headed back to training. And we could instantly tell that Peter was stepping things up a notch or… five. The first new training technique he introduced was hill-sprints. One of the TITANS gyms sat at the summit of a 1.2 kilometer incline know as Breakheart Hill. Starting as a rather gradual slope, the incline increases gradually as you near the top. An ominous piece of trivia is that Breakheart Hill earned its name from breaking the hearts of horses who attempted to pull wagon loads of goods from the city of Dartmouth to Cole Harbour back in the 17 and 1800’s. Reportedly, the embankments on either side of the original roadway were littered with dozens of equine burial sites.
Our goal was to run from the top of the hill to the bottom and back as quickly as we could. Each additional lap had to be as fast or faster than the first. From Peter’s perspective it was a fantastic training device. For us it was torture. On the run down the hill, the decline is so sever you are basically being thrown down the hill at break neck speed. While not terribly hard cardiovascular work, it was hell on the legs. On every step, your entire bodyweight and the additional force of throwing that weight down the hill was forced onto your thighs. These are the same thighs that would have to soon push you back up the same hill. And, like I say, the further up the hill you get, the steeper the hill becomes. If you tackle the hill correctly and conserve your energy it’s a hell of a workout. If you don’t do it correctly,… it’s a killer. I’d been running marathons and half marathons for almost 10 years and I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so hard to make a finish line in my life as that first attempt at Breakheart Hill. For those who were not accustomed to running, it must have been absolute hell. I’m not at all surprised that many of them had to walk.
Whether Peter’s reaction to seeing folks walking was entirely genuine, or if it was another attempt to ‘cut the dead wood’ is something only he can answer. But either way, the reality was the same. It was time to rededicate ourselves and step up our games, or it was time to quit. And for the first time in the program, Peter was about to sit us all down and ask us which it was going to be.