Last year I was working as a Security Guard at a Hospital in Tacoma, WA. For the most part, it was a fairly chill job. However, sometimes we had to deal with someone who was out of control. One day I found myself in a situation where I witnessed one of my coworkers get punched by a patient. As the patient drew back to swing again, I dropped my shoulders, lunged forward, and tackled the guy. There was a scuffle on the ground as some of our other coworkers came to help control the patient. Eventually, we restrained the patient. The one coworker had a black-eye. I may have had some scratches here and there. It was a brief, but intense, encounter.
As the situation calmed down, people checked in with one another. Understandably, some people were a little shaken up. As I walked away from the area to continue patrol in other parts of the hospital, I couldn’t help but realize how alive I felt. I felt good! Prior to that day, the last time I felt that way had probably been 2015-2016 when I was doing Judo. You don’t need to know what Judo is. Just know it’s characterized by aggressive hand-to-hand combat. It’s a Martial Art.
I hated that my coworker got punched but I felt so damn good that day at the hospital. It was undeniable. As I pondered the incident in the days that followed I realized that I had been missing something… I needed to get back into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Extreme Circumstances Produce Extreme People
At that time I had just turned 37 years old. I had wanted to participate in MMA when I first left the military in 2012 but I got derailed for a multitude of reasons that are for another post. This happened last summer (2019) and something was missing from my life. Speaking was going well. I had some good gigs lined up pre-pandemic but I was honestly thinking of canceling them. I just wasn’t feeling it. I was restless. I had stopped participation in Martial Arts several years earlier and didn’t see it as reasonable thing to pick up again. That day at the hospital made me realize that there was still something in me that needed an aggressive outlet.
It was one of the things that had been so restorative about serving in the Military. Being in the Army gave me a safe space to empty out all the aggression and frustration that I had carried with me from childhood. This was the grand mistake I had made when I left high school. I thought I could simply walk away from years of bullying and verbal abuse and be fine. If I just moved away from Birmingham, AL, I could leave all my troubles in the past. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. I think that most of my trouble with engineering as a career came from the fact that it was such a cerebral activity. Everything happened in the head, at a desk, in an office. It was a drag. I hadn’t realized how working out was not only for my physical health but it played such an instrumental role in my mental health as I look back.
In recent years I have come to find out that lots of people who come from troubled backgrounds find their way to extreme sports. David Goggins is a prime example of this. He is the first service member to complete Air Force Tactical Controller Training, Navy SEAL Training, and Army Ranger School. He then went on to become an Ultra Marathoner and Broke the record for most pull-ups in a 24 hour period. He grew up dealing with an abusive father, poverty, bullying, learning disabilities, explicit racism etc.
As I got back into MMA training before the pandemic, I found myself feeling more calm than I had in a long time. Maybe since the Military.
As I started training again the obvious question I got from people is, “Why are you doing this?” Of course, it seems crazy to people. Why would anyone in their late thirties want to fight in a cage? My return question would be, why would anyone not take medicine that would help cure their anxiety or depression? Especially if that medicine has the added benefit of keeping you in shape and giving you more self confidence and self discipline. I’ve seen numbers between $60-$200 per session for mental health counseling. The MMA Gym I went to in Tacoma cost $150 per month. For a small business owner with no health insurance, I’ll take the later. Someday when it’s more within my financial reach, I’d like to see a therapist. For now, Martial Arts is playing the role of therapist and doing a good job, I would argue.
This situation in my life touches on several macro issues in our society:
- What does it mean to be true to yourself? – As much personal work as I do, nobody knows me like me. I have to have the courage to believe that MMA is good for me even when the world thinks I’m crazy for it… What is it that you want to explore that people will deem you crazy for?
- What does it mean to be self aware? – I discovered this accidentally. I was caught in a societal narrative that says ‘by a certain age you have to stop doing silly things like Martial Arts and get serious about your life’. It took a chance encounter at work to shake me out of that mindset. Self Awareness is a skill I talk about a lot. How are you practicing self awareness and will you have the courage to go ahead and explore the things you discover about yourself?
- What is the appropriate age for anything? – If I chose to invest myself in something, I’m going to try to be the best at it. Assuming I can get licensed here in the state of Arkansas to fight, I’m going to compete in MMA. That’s who I am. There may be legal challenges because of my age, but I know I’m probably in better shape than many 20 year old’s and I also have vast wells of knowledge in terms of how I take care of my body. Also, I’ve actually experienced real combat. I would say that these are valuable experiences given the task at hand. Why should age preclude you from doing anything that you are willing to do the work to be prepared for?
When I stopped fight training after the military, I never stopped wanting to fight. I attempted to ignore, suppress, and snuff out the little voice in my head that was telling me that their was something missing. Eventually, I had convinced myself to be done with it. That was something for other people but that ship had sailed for me. I think the thing that’s scary about this situation is thinking about how many of us have potentially suppressed something that could totally change our life if we just let ourselves fall into it. Fighting was right there for me to whole time. I’m calmer because of it. I’m more productive with it. I’m less anxious with it. I’m better with it, than with out it. Hadn’t it been for a random incident at work, I might still be suppressing it and still be full of frustration about where my life is today.
It’s the thing that you should do and, for whatever lame reason, you’re not doing it. It’s frustrating you. It’s making you anxious. It’s taking your peace. Go dip your toe in that water. You don’t have to tell anybody. Just go see how it tastes… it might be nothing or, you might feel better.