Submission: My Humbling Experience in an MMA Gym

By 02.08.12

I had shown up for what I thought was an MMA-conditioning “class” where you run through a bunch of crazy drills that kick your ass. Little did I know that the conditioning was cancelled. The guy who runs the gym tells me the news and says, “It’s OK — stick around, we’re going to do Jiu-Jitsu instead.” Immediately I’m thinking, “Shit, I don’t know anything about Jiu-Jitsu, isn’t that where they roll around on the ground and basically hump each other for extended periods of time?” Didn’t sound real appealing, but I needed to get my workout in, so I said “f*ck it” and joined them.

We started with some basic moves and then moved into live sparring. Here’s how the next 10 seconds went:

I sized my opponent up and easily had 50 pounds on this guy. He looked like a puss-bag. Little did I know that he’d been doing this shit for years and was about to teach me a few lessons. Instead I’m thinking “I’m an athlete. I’ll shove this guy around a bit and try to practice some moves and try not to hurt him…”

“Ding!” Bell rings. I give him a quick shove and tackle him. Somehow I find myself being choked out. The End.

I didn’t even really know what happened. So, how did I get here? Well… I got fat.

While playing hoops on Thanksgiving break, I tore up my ankle really bad, was on crutches for a month, and couldn’t do much of anything. “Normal” people would sulk for a few days, start the rehab process, and watch what they eat so they don’t balloon up. I chose to say f*ck it, drank my face off (specifically with the 300-calorie microbrews), and ate like shit (you name it: fast food, pizza, every dessert within reach). I guess you could say it was my way of coping with the fact that I was going to be stuck on the couch for a while.

Needless to say, I woke up on New Year’s Day still drunk from the night before (had about 739 drinks and ended up at 4 a.m. in a tiny hot tub on a hotel rooftop with 5 of my buddies all yelling out lines from “First Blood” while our ladies hid in shame), and learned that when we got back to our hotel room, my girl and I were going to have sex but I’d passed out cold as she was getting nekked. I looked in the mirror at my bloated body, big beer gut, and puffy-hangover-face and decided it was time for a change. I’d put on about 15 pounds of blubber during my “injury” and needed to put the brakes on this train-wreck. I’m a big dude (6'4″ and 235 at the time), who’s always been active/athletic and I’ve got to admit, I was a bit ashamed at how far I’d let myself go.

Now the “athletic club” I go to is ultra-nice. Clean atmosphere with a bunch of bubbly, super-energetic fitness nerds that are always walking around in their spandex gear and chugging Muscle Milk. As with most clubs like this, you’ve got a couple of choices for exercise: hit the treadmill, lift weights, play hoops, or do some sort of class like yoga or something. I wasn’t into it. I needed a change. I needed some type of gross, dirty gym. Something with some attitude. Think “Mr. T as Clubber Lang in 'Rocky III'” Gym. I needed something that smelled when you walked in.

My “perception” of anything to do with MMA was basically this: Yes, those dudes are f*cking badass, but I can’t stand the whole “MMA Scene.” You know what I’m talking about: the dudes who sport mohawks, have 20 tattoos, and love to chug energy drinks while listening to death metal and ripping up their sleeveless “Tap Out” shirts. The dudes who got beat up at some point in their lives and clearly have anger issues. My thought was, I’ll join this new MMA gym and just focus on boxing and get a good workout in — f*ck the MMA shit. I don’t want to become a fighter; I just want to get into “fighting shape.” The constant reminder of having your beer gut feel tight in your pants is motivation enough to keep this shit up.

Back to the sparring session… There were about five other dudes in there and I was easily the biggest guy there. So, in my mind I’m thinking that I’ll be OK if they do some type of crazy technique on me as I can just push them around and try to wrestle them. F*ck was I humbled quickly. We started by going over some of the basic “moves” and I learned about the various positions to get in and to avoid. The “moves” are basically grappling techniques involving putting your opponent into submission by either manipulating their arm to a point where the pain is unbearable, or into a choke position. Basically you’re trying to get your opponent to give up. I’ve got to admit: This shit was pretty cool.

I already told you how Round 1 went. After I’d been submitted, I was still a bit cocky. I thought, “He got lucky, he just knows all the tricks, I’ll get him this time.” Here’s how Round 2 went down:

“Ding!” Bell rings. I give him a quick shove and tackle him (my only move at this point). We wrestle around for about 10 seconds. I then find myself on my back in a useless position with him on top of me ready to punch me out (which we don’t do – once you’re submitted the sparring is over). The End.

That was it. I was HUMBLED. I thought “Shit, this dude looks like your average Joe, I’ve got him by 50 pounds, and he completely snuffed me in about 10 seconds.” On top of all that, he was cool as shit. He wasn’t sneering at me or acting like a bad ass. He just smiled and calmly said “Good job man, this stuff takes a while to learn.” I immediately felt like one of those action movie characters — the big dude — who f*cks with the wrong guy in the bar, quickly gets snuffed, looks at the guy like, “Umm… thanks for not killing me. Sorry… How about I buy you a beer and tell me how you learned that shit?”

So the rest of the session we slowed it down a bit and kept sparring. I kept charging and he kept submitting me. He was able to actually use my size advantage against me by using my momentum as a catalyst for improving his own position. He would then use his new position as leverage to get me into a hold that I couldn’t get out of. He showed me some different ways to grab and hold an arm so that if you applied enough pressure, your opponent would either tap out or break his arm. Some wild shit!

I became intrigued and was starting to get hooked. I kept asking questions about why he did this or why he did that — and actually had a lot of fun learning about it all. It was one of those moments in life as the saying goes where “the more you learn, the less you know.” On top of all that, I was exhausted. I hadn’t had a workout like that since high school basketball running wind sprints. I was hooked. I was going to mix up the boxing and the grappling, drop the weight, and learn some cool shit at the same time.

For the last few weeks, I’ve kept this up, dropped 10 pounds already, and have a brand new perspective on MMA. I’m amazed at the flexibility and conditioning you need to be good at this sport. Yes, I said it’s a “sport.” If you disagree, try it out and tell me otherwise. The guys that are good at this can manipulate their bodies into weird angles/positions all while trying to keep their opponent off of them.

It also takes supreme conditioning, strength, and endurance. After just four weeks I’m in much better shape than I was that morning after New Year’s Eve. I’ve also noticed that I’m starting to feel a lot like Ed Norton’s character in “Fight Club.” I’ve got bumps and bruises all over and even a few minor abrasions on my face from boxing and sparring. I can actually “maintain” the grappling sessions now with some techniques I’ve learned and I don’t get choked out anymore (well, most of the time anyway). This may sound corny, but in some ways when you do this type of shit, the “animal” inside you wakes up. As dudes, we’re hardwired for things like competition and fending off others. I’m not talking about walking around looking for fights (you actually learn the opposite), but more of that natural hunter/gatherer shit that we did hundreds of years ago.

I will say that it also gives you a new perspective of “Gym Dude.” You know who I’m talking about: the 'roided-out dude who is growling and grunting with each bicep curl while staring in the mirror and jamming to Pantera. Don’t get me wrong: lifting weights is a great way to stay in shape and attract vag*na. But there are a lot of dudes who think that if they can bench press 280, it somehow translates into knowing fighting techniques. It’s like the running back that runs a 4.2 40, has a 50-inch vertical, and can squat 1,000 pounds but can’t hit the hole, break tackles, or block for shit. As Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers once said, “You can look like Tarzan but play like Jane.”

My biggest takeaway, however, is that all the dudes who go to the MMA gym (with the exception of a few) are the total opposite of what I expected. Everyone is down to earth, humble, and pretty cool. I think that type of demeanor arises from a “quiet confidence” that you start to develop when you do this shit. When you’re exposed to or taught some of these things, you realize how violent and dangerous it could become in an environment where it’s not controlled (like in the gym). Once you learn how to knock somebody out, choke him, or break his arm, you actually don't want to do it unless you had no other choice. You start to realize that if you got really good at this stuff, you could become lethal and really f*ck somebody up if you had to. The fact is, you actually learn to avoid violence or a fight because if you know what could happen (especially if the other guy is wasted and running his mouth), you look to avoid it at all costs. Just because you know this shit does not give you a reason to use it. So, at least at the gym I’m going to, nobody’s looking to learn this stuff to beat people up. Rather, they want to learn the discipline and techniques associated with MMA while getting into shape. Pretty cool.

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