Cubicle to the cage Blog #9 Episode 108
By the time we had reached the nine month mark in the program, there were only 13 people still training. Many of us no longer considered ourselves newbies. I personally no longer felt that I was (as one keyboard warrior recently suggested) an MMA tourist. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t walking around with my chest puffed out telling everyone, “I train UFC”. None the less, day by day, decision by decision, workout by workout, lifestyle change by lifestyle change I felt I was walking the walk. I had revamped my diet and transformed my body, as Jeremy Horne suggested, from a tub of goo to that of a reasonable athlete. I had spent months hardening my body to the point where I could endure, and even enjoy, two or more hours of intense MMA training a day. I had taken my beatings (oh the many, many beatings) and earned at least a little respect from athletes half my age with ten times the experience and a hundred times the athletic ability. I had even learned some rudimentary skills that I worked daily to improve. And finally, I had faced a serious, potentially program-ending injury, and made the decision to train through it, no matter what the cost.
To further illustrate the point, I would like to share my daily routine for the summer of 2012:
5:45 AM: Get out of bed and spend a few minutes stretching enough to stand erect. This included a minute or two of getting my ‘frozen shoulder’ moving a little.
5:55 AM: After filling the sink with scalding hot water, I would soak facecloths in the water and place these over my injured shoulder. I’d then soak my hands in the hot water until I could bend my fingers enough to make a fist. Before leaving the bathroom I’d apply a topical anti-inflammatory and pain-killing gel to the shoulder.
6:00 AM: Take my vitamins and supplements. There were many.
6:05 AM: Wake up the kids and get them breakfast.
6:30 AM: Wash the kids and get them ready for daycare and school. Clean up from breakfast. Take out the dog. Pack lunches, etc…
7:30 AM: Take 2 kids to daycare and 1 to school and then return the home to drop off the van.
7:50 AM: Run 8.5 kms (5 miles) to work.
8:50 AM: Shower at the gym and walk to work.
9:00 AM: Work.
12:00 PM: Gym to lift, shadow box or do plyometrics.
12:45 PM: EAT!
1:00 PM: Work
5:00 PM: Bus home.
6:00 PM: Eat a small meal and spend time with Juanita and the kids.
7:00 – 9:30 PM: MMA Training
10:30 PM: Eat. Eat! EAT!!
11:00 PM: Prepare breakfast for the next morning, prep lunches for the kids and do any other household chores.
11:30 PM: Go to bed.
This was the schedule 4 to 5 days a week.
When I wasn’t training or working I was thinking about, reading about, or watching MMA. Becoming a mixed martial artist had completely taken over my life. It was all I did or thought about. However, Peter still was not seeing the kind of confidence, aggression and explosive violence he likes to see in his fighters. I still couldn’t find ‘the switch.’ I didn’t know it at the time, but a series of events were about to take place that would begin to change that.
As Steve Goodfellow pointed out, “When you train MMA you change your idea of what constitutes an injury.” What you would consider an injury in the real world, something like a sprained ankle, a dislocated finger or toe, or a broken nose, were no longer considered injuries. These were mere trifles that you tried to ignore or work around when you were training. I’m not sure how long it takes for younger guys to recover from the typical bumps, bruises, sprains, and strains that are considered part of the MMA game. But the older guys, like Rick, Steve and I seemed to never be without at least three or four such complaints. We never seemed to be able to fully recover from any injury before picking up another bump or two. All three of us had serious concerns about our ability to make it through to the end of the program. But, lucky for us, someone was about to come to our rescue.
Robbie MacDonald is a strength and conditioning coach and part owner of Nova Physiotherapy. Several of his friends are fighters and he regularly works with athletes from a number of individual and team sports. He also has a black belt in Tae Kwan Do and has extensive power lifting experience. Being, ‘of a certain age’ and having worked through several injuries himself over the years, he was the perfect guy to help us out. When I first injured my shoulder, I approached him to see if there was anything he could do to help me speed up my recovery. He not only offered to help, but made himself available for two hours every week to provide physiotherapy treatment to anyone participating in the Cubicle to the Cage program. A number of cubes took him up on his offer. Steve Goodefellow, Nickie Cleroux and I almost never missed a session, and I don’t think either of us could have made it through the program without his help. Huge props to Robbie and the folks at Nova Physiotherapy. If I had my time back I would have started seeing a strength and conditioning coach and physiotherapist even before beginning MMA training.
I’m not sure if Peter realized that we were all breaking down, or if the dog days of summer had just mellowed him out, but July was a great time to be training MMA at TITANS. We focused mainly on technique during classes at the gym. This gave us the opportunity to learn without getting busted up and worn out. I actually felt I was picking up skills much, much faster than I had in the first half of the program. A few of us had hit some sort of tipping point where we’d developed a few base skills and we were now able to build more quickly off of that base. We had even learned to spar without trying to kill each other and several of us and picked up enough basic grappling skills that we could have competitive grappling matches every day or so. And I have to say, that was fun as hell.
Peter also started substituting ‘day trips’ for some of our regular workouts. One day we went to the beach where we ran in the sand and drilled wrestling takedowns. On another occasion we met at The Canada Games Centre pool where we swam, did underwater cardio drills, and practiced Thai plum work in the water. I don’t think there was any specific benefit from repeated trips down the water slides, but we threw those in at the end of class as well….. you know, just to be safe.
As summer grew to a close, we did get some disappointing news however. Three more cubes decided the time had come to call it quits. With the arrival of his first child, Jock Hiltz had decided to leave the program. Actually, to be more accurate, he decided that he could no longer work towards the goal of stepping in the cage to fight. He still wanted to train a little to support the team but he would not be able to dedicate himself to training in the way he knew Peter would insist if he wanted to fight. While I supported his decision completely, this sucked. While certainly stronger and more athletic that I was, Jock was outwardly as unlikely to become a fighter as I was. So, with a major injury casting a constant shadow of doubt over me, I was always secretly happy that Jock was training and doing well. If I couldn’t make it to the end of the program and fight, I secretly wished that he could succeed in my place. It’s also worth noting that Jock has some sort of super-human caveman strength that simply defies belief. It was sad to see him go and I will always wonder how he would have done if he had finished out the program and fought. But, while I was disappointed he was gone, I was at the same time extremely happy for him that he made the decision to spend time with his family.
The second cube to leave was Sonny Adamski. As I said in a previous blog, Sonny was a ringer. He was the youngest, most athletic and most skilled cube we had. We all assumed that he would be a shoe in to fight at the end of the program. His stand-up skills were sound, and while he was sporting a white belt, I’d often seen him submit larger and more experienced blue belts, both in and out of the gi. But the fight game is a fickle thing. Over the three short summer months, Sonny sustained two (or possibly three) concussions. It’s just one of those things. Sometimes you bob when you should weave, or you take a slam the wrong way, or get kneed in the head when scrambling for position on the ground. Whatever the cause, as Tyson Cave so eloquently put it, “When your brain hits the inside of your skull,… its nighty night time.” And just like that, after a couple of freak accidents, Sonny`s chances of fighting at the end of the program (or possibly ever) were gone.
Finally, Jerome Wilson, aged 49, grew too busy with work to dedicate himself to training. While making it to very few classes at TITANS, Jerome still trained anytime he could and told Peter he would fight anywhere, anytime if given the chance. With his natural toughness and ample boxing experience, nobody ruled out the possibility of seeing Jerome in the cage before his 50th birthday.
This left us with 10 cubes remaining from the 36 who had started the program. The cubes remaining were Chad Symonds, Rick Doyle, Sebastian O’Malley, Claire McEwen, Ashley Welsh, Morteza Shai, Nickie Cleroux, Robin Smith, Steve Goodfellow, and Boyd Sharpe.
Being in the final 10, knowing that one or more of us was going to get a chance to fight in less than 6 months was an extremely exciting and empowering thing. As Sebastian pointed out, knowing that we could leave at any time, as many others had, but choosing to stay, sent a powerful message to our subconscious. As the night approached for us to be assessed by the Nova Scotia Combat Sports Authority for our professional fighter’s license, I could feel a small wave of confidence that I had not felt at any point in the program. Regrettably, this would turn out to be little more than a ripple of confidence and it wouldn’t last long.
Applying for a professional fighter`s license:
Almost as much as getting in the cage and fighting, getting our professional fighter`s license was something we were all eager and anxious to do. To actually get in the cage and fight, an awful lot of stars need to align. You need to avoid injury, get signed by a promotion, get an opponent, have your opponent avoid injury, pass countless medical exams, avoid illness, and then make weight. Considering the violent and taxing nature of the training, it is a wonder any professional fighter ever makes it to the cage. But, if we could at least prove to the combat sports authority that we had done the work and had learned enough to pass the assessment and get licensed, than in some sense we could say we had done what we had set out to do. With the training behind us and the professional fighter`s license in hand, the actual fight would just be the cherry on top of the cake.
As the Combat Authority evaluators entered the gym, I was at the same time anxious and confident. If nothing else, I felt I had done just about everything I could do to prepare for this test. There was almost a sense of relief that my fate was now out of my hands. We started with randori style grappling with one person playing the aggressor and the training partner the defender. I`m sure didn’t get any style points from the blue belts and purple belts watching, but I felt I had no trouble improving position, passing guard, maintaining top control and transitioning between several chokes and locks. I don`t mind admitting, I felt pretty damn good by the time we`d finished the grappling portion of the assessment. The stand-up portion of the assessment consisted mainly of bag work. No sweat… or so I thought.
I started working the bag, alternating between single punches and kicks, on to combinations, even throwing in some knee strikes and elbows. I thought I was doing great for a guy who could barely throw a punch or kick less than a year ago. The commissioners were not impressed. At one point, commissioner Hubert Earl, called me over. I could tell immediately by his demeanor that he was not liking what he was seeing. When he asked me, “Do you have any killer instinct in you at all?” I actually felt like I was going to throw up. Even worse, I felt like my heart was going to beat its way out of my chest. I’d had Peter preaching to me for months that I couldn’t find my killer instinct, that I wasn’t showing him that I had what it took to be a fighter. So this should not have come as such a surprise. But, to have an independent assessor, walk in off the street and make the same observation after watching me train for less than 10 minutes was heart breaking. In a flash I saw my fighting life flash before my eyes. I was almost certain they were not going to give me my license. As we waited for them to complete their assessments, I sat silently in the corner, not speaking to a single person. Not since the sauna, 5 months before, had I felt such an overwhelming sense of panic and dread. It took every ounce of self control not to run from the gym screaming and crying like a kid having a tantrum. I was embarrassed and frustrated beyond words. I felt that everything I’d gone through in the past nine months had been for nothing. And worst of all, as I saw the horrible possibility that my journey was over looming before me, I felt I had let Peter down.
When the moment of truth came and the commissioner stood before us, giving us the cautionary speech about how dangerous the sport was, reminding us that the risks of serious injury were so great, I could barely hear a word over the roaring inside my head. When he gave me a reluctant smile and handed me the signed application form, I could hardly process what was happening. I finally came to my senses when I saw everyone exchanging handshakes, back slaps, and hugs. I couldn’t believe that all 10 of us had passed muster and were now licensed to fight in the province of Nova Scotia.
This should have been a night to celebrate. I should have been on top of the world. But, I don’t think I have ever felt so wretched. I did manage to put on a brave face long enough to congratulate my teammates and chat briefly with Peter. But I wanted nothing more than to get out of the gym. I was so angry and frustrated with myself that I thought I was going to explode. I am not the kind of person who has ever been accused of having a tempter (maybe that was a lot of my problem), but that night as I stormed out of the TITANS gym I was in a fury.
How I didn’t get a ticket for speeding or reckless driving on the drive home is beyond me. I pulled into the drive way, yanked my gear out of the back of the car and marched straight into my shed. In the glow of the street light across the cul de sac, I hung a small 25 pound punching bag from the rafters. I threw on a pair of bag gloves and started hitting the bag with every ounce of force I could muster. Normally diligent to punch and move as the coaches instructed, always focusing on technique, tonight I through all technique out the window and I attacked the bag with nothing but pure unadulterated rage. By the time I’d exhausted myself, the floor of the shed as covered in paint cans and boxes of nails and screws that had been shaken off the shelves. My shoulder was absolutely killing me and my knuckles were ripped to bloody shreds. While I went to bed physically exhausted, my thoughts were whipping around my head in some sort of rage fueled hurricane.
When I awoke the next morning the storm was still raging.