Thursday, December 12, 2019

Closing the book on 10 years of face-punching

It’s been over a year since I last stepped in a mixed martial arts cage to compete.

I never shared publicly that it was always my intent for that fight on November 30, 2018 to be my last. I had decided it was in the best interests of me and my family to compete one last time and hang them up--win, lose, or draw.

I’m not sure why I never told anyone this. Maybe I was worried that my team would feel less invested in me. Maybe because I didn’t want that mindset going into the fight. Maybe I was just afraid to admit it. 

I’ve still never once said out loud the words, “I’m retired”. I've only ever said that "I don't have any plans to compete." It is too much finality to admit.

A year ago, I had a great training camp going into my fight, and I lost. I made a single mistake against an excellent fighter and was punished for it.

I am not a gifted athlete, to say the least. I'm neither particularly strong, nor fast, nor flexible, nor coordinated. I don't have great muscle memory or kinesthetic learning. I've been a bookworm and a computer nerd all my life. Never played on a single school team in any sport.

All I have ever had in athletics is tenacity and discipline. I worked hard. I tried to learn everything that was relevant about strength and conditioning, nutrition, sleep, recovery, striking, wrestling, jiujitsu, and everything in the middle. The only reason I became halfway good at MMA was because I was obsessed. I refused to half-ass anything. I only ate the “right food” at the “right time”. I guarded my sleep with vigilance. I took ice baths in the middle of a Canadian winter. I scoured the internet to learn about mobility, conditioning, supplements, and how to throw better knees in the clinch. I had private sessions with boxing coaches, wrestling coaches, BJJ coaches, MMA coaches, S&C coaches, mobility coaches, hypnotherapists, sports psychologists, physiotherapists, and more.

My athletic inferiority drove me.  

Even though I started late (at age 30), MMA came along at the right time for me. I needed MMA as I was leaving the world of professional poker. Obsessing about optimal 3-bet ranges and river thresholds was replaced by head kicks, knee taps and triangle chokes. I needed to start from new and find inspiration.

Sometimes I had the size advantage; sometimes I didn't.

These days, of course, inspiration comes from my daughter, who turns 2 soon. Being a stay-at-home dad is a totally different grind from being a fighter or a poker player. Watching her little brain develop and discover the world around her is a completely different challenge. It might not offer the adrenaline rush of walking out to a cage fight or being all-in at a WSOP final table, but the reward is, hopefully, a toddler, a girl, a young woman that is proud to call me her dad.

I was never a star in this sport. Never the best in the world or the country. My best rank was #7 in Canada. The sport will not miss me; I was an insignificant footnote. But I can be proud of a lot of things. I fought some tough opponents. My last two opponents are a combined 5-0 since fighting me. I can be proud that I worked to give 11 opponents the best version of me possible on that day. I can be proud that whether I won or lost, I never quit. 

I leave the sport without lasting physical injury. My brain is intact and my joints more or less work the way they’re supposed to. A lot of people in this game aren’t so lucky. I never took performance enhancing drugs. I don’t think that makes me better than anyone else, but since surveys indicate that 50-80% of fighters believe other fighters on them, I mention it.

Like with my poker career, one of the more awesome things about MMA was that I got to train and fight all over the world: Vancouver, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Phuket, Manila, Bali, Brazil, and Korea are among just a few of the places I was lucky enough to be punched (or elbowed) in the face.

In the same way that I still appear at the WSOP ten years after my poker-playing prime, I don’t see myself leaving MMA entirely. I go to jiujitsu 2-3 times a week, and I enjoy being around fight camps. I like to think I have a mind for the game, and I would still love to be around the sport in some capacity or another. I’m not sure I was ever a technical enough fighter to be a coach, but I can offer help where I can. I would enjoy doing content around the sport.  If there’s a promotion out there looking for commentary, I would do that in a heartbeat. 

But I don’t think anything will ever change the fact that I will keep wishing I were the man in the arena instead of the man behind the scenes. I loved fighting. It was fucking awesome, and I miss it. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Deleting Facebook: A Small Act That Feels Big

I just deleted Facebook.

It felt so scary, so permanent. Even though I backed up all of my data, and even though there's a 30-day "change your mind", it seems like such a big deal.

And that led me to examine why it was such a big deal. Why in spite of how shitty Facebook behaves as a company and what a massive time-sink it is, that it took me so long to do it.

Why so many people have told me that they want to delete Facebook, but just "can't", because there are too many people on there with whom they want to stay in touch. How many private groups they just can't do without.

When you stop to think about it, it's incredible how much Facebook has managed to integrate itself so wholly in our lives. To many people, deleting Facebook feels like cutting off a limb.

Even the most introverted of us crave human connection. We embrace connection. And Facebook has used that desire to prey on us. Facebook knows us better than we know ourselves. It knows what we will read, and click on, and whose posts matter most to us. It continues to track our web browsing long after we've left the site, so that it can get more information on us and sell us more crap and polarize our views even further.

I've known all of this for a long time, but I still couldn't pull the trigger on deletion. Why?

Facebook has designed a system where you think you can't do without it. People don't text or e-mail any more, they use Messenger. Instead of message boards, BBS, or Reddit, they use Facebook Groups. Facebook Marketplace is quickly replacing Craigslist. And of course, Facebook and Instagram are by far the most convenient way for people to share photos and media to friends and family.

Deleting Facebook feels like severing connections to many people you think you have no other way to contact.

And yet it’s worth trying to break the cycle. There are so many platforms on which you can connect to people. But if you don't use them, you yield that control (and the control over your own brain) to Facebook.

Oh, but you say, "I like Facebook. I like seeing my friends' baby photos and cat videos and their athletic accomplishments and life successes." You can still get those things without Facebook. You just have to work a little harder at it. Yeah, that might mean helping Grandma figure out Skype or e-mail. Rough.

I’m sure I'm going to miss some stuff from deleting Facebook. I’ll be slow to get certain news about my social groups, and connecting with some people will be a bit less convenient. But I think I’ll gain a lot more time and sanity, and I’ll also be doing my own small part to shift power away from a corporation that I think behaves in a pretty shitty way. I’ll do my best to reach out to those people I usually communicate with through Facebook and send them emails and texts instead.

An aside: what pushed me over the edge

It's incredibly ironic, but the thing that finally pushed me over the edge to delete Facebook was an Instagram post, specifically this one.

Earlier last week, members of the Backyard Meat Rabbits group received a message that the group has been deleted after being reported by another group that promotes raising rabbits as companion animals called House Rabbit Society.⁣ ⁣ ⁣ For animals that fall into both companion animal and livestock status like rabbits, goats, and chickens conflicts often arise.⁣ ⁣ ⁣ Should the sensitivities of a companion animal group deprive members of a voluntary group engaging in an educational exchange about animal husbandry of an opportunity to connect and learn?⁣ ⁣ ⁣ Moderation has it's place, but when does it cross the line into censorship?⁣ ⁣ ⁣ Lauren, @whitehoofacres, investigated this incident and reports how these deletions only serve to create more misinformation and hysteria regarding livestock production.⁣ ⁣ ⁣ Read more on my blog. Link in bio.⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ #regenerativeagriculture #sacredcow #sustainablefarming #sustainableagriculture #community #farmcommunity #compassion #backyardrabbits #rabbitfarming #censorship #bettermeat #raiserabbits #knowyourfarmer #farmers #farmtofork #farmlife #foodindustry #livestock⁣ ⁣
A post shared by Diana Rodgers, RD (@sustainabledish) on

The Backyard Meat Rabbits group was a wonderful group of truly helpful rabbit-lovers. And yes, most of them raised rabbits for meat, but they were truly interested in rabbit health, happiness, and well-being. They slapped the "Meat" label on it to gate-keep those who were offended by discussion of animal slaughter. They understood that even people who eat meat often didn't want the nitty-gritty details of how meat actually gets to the dinner table.

The Backyard Meat Rabbits group was such a good group that I remained part of the group even after I gave up my own rabbitry.

Yet Facebook deleted this group due to "community standards". Really? Less than 1% of the world is vegan, yet the community has decided that a meat group fails to conform to community standards? How does this happen? (Rodgers has a theory that has something to do with PETA becoming a major shareholder in Facebook.)

So yeah, while it sucks to lose access to private groups, if Facebook can arbitrarily remove those groups, then what the fuck are we all doing using them for our private groups??

So in summary:

They collected my data and sold it. I complained, but ultimately did nothing.

They manipulated me and hijacked my brain. I complained, but ultimately did nothing.

I realized that I was wasting way too much of my time on the site, but ultimately did very little.

They decided what content I should see. I complained, but ultimately did nothing.

It took the removal of a group of helpful, selfless people brought together by a shared interest for me to finally act.

It shouldn't have taken me this long, but late is better than never. The internet's best features are that it brings people together and that it allows for diverse points of view. If we hand it over to those who want to break people apart and heavily control the discourse, then what is it good for?

(A side note on the comments - yes, i know that you can't comment on this blog without a Facebook account. I'll fix that. In the meantime, there's Twitter and e-mail...)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Pushed to the limit: Lessons from my most important pro win

On Saturday July 21, I fought the toughest match of my MMA career vs Bojan Kladnjaković. It was a 15-minute war that left both of us pretty exhausted:

Exhaustion: Who wore it best?

The fight was without a doubt the most satisfying victory of my career because it was by far the hardest. I was pushed to my limits and had to dig deep to come out with the win.

Earlier in my career, I fantasized about this type of fight. Many of my early wins came easily against guys who were simply far less skilled than I was. I was rarely in trouble. So even as the wins mounted, a strange part of me yearned for a fight that would take me to my limits. This is probably a silly way to think, for what it's worth. Training for a fight is hard enough, and actual MMA fights are dangerous enough that one should always be happy with a quick, dominant victory. But in any case, this was one of those fights I used to fantasize about.

I won the fight by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) but I felt was the very clear winner. The commentators on the fight were very surprised it was a split decision. And yet there's no doubt my opponent had his opportunities to win. Even putting aside his submission attempts and good strikes in the clinch, he was just difficult to deal with and made me work constantly. 

There's no doubt that I needed to be the best version of me on Saturday night to pull out the win, and I was. I trained through two tough training camps in 2018 without ever getting booked for a fight. I went to the WSOP without having a fight confirmed, but I continued training and keeping my diet healthy while in Vegas. I skipped the $3000 6-Handed Limit Hold'em, and I never made it to In-N-Out. I spent more money training for the fight than my purse netted me.

And I'm lucky I did all that. My opponent was good enough that I had been in a little less good shape, if I had done just a couple fewer reps in the gym, if I had been slightly less mentally focused, if my weight cut had gone just a little bit worse, I could be writing about my second pro defeat instead of my fourth pro win.

While I'm proud of my work ethic, I'm very unimpressed with myself after having watched the video. I look (to my own eyes) stiff and tense. There are opportunities in the standup and grappling that I simply don't take advantage of. I was hit by strikes that I should have avoided. My goal was to be calm, but active. I was active, but not at all calm. I felt like my technique was largely poor and inefficient. Those are all areas to improve for next time.

On the plus side, while I was not as calm and technical as the high-level guys I admire, I was mentally very tough. I was exhausted at many points during the fight, but I did not let myself rest in the critical junctures. This was the difference between this fight and my loss in 2017. In that fight, I fought with insufficient urgency at the critical points, and that allowed my opponent to chip away to the point where I simply got too far behind in the fight to come back. Last Saturday, there were multiple times where the thought of taking a short break entered my mind, but another part of me just pushed me to throw one more combination, score one more takedown, or advance one position. The self-talk went, "one more explosion, TChan, then we take a break." Like a marathon runner who only worries about the next 100 metres, I broke the tasks down into manageable chunks and put the fatigue out of my mind. I pushed a pace that Bojan wasn't prepared to keep up with. And when the final horn went, I felt like I had left 100% of myself out there.

Overall, I'm happy and satisfied. Glad that I was able to put myself through training camps while still trying to be a good dad to my now-7-month-old. Glad that I stuck through injury and the frustration of not getting booked, and just keeping my nose to the grindstone. Grateful to have the support of everyone around me encouraging me, even if at times they worry about me.

I had a lot of fear and anxiety going into this fight. I've always suffered from a bit of impostor syndrome. In business, poker, and MMA, I've always struggled with feeling that my accomplishments were legitimate. I'd only had one win against someone I felt was a really strong, skilled opponent (Ali Wasuk) and that win was now over three years old. Maybe I had some wins against some guys who weren't very good, but the fear always lingered that I wasn't a real fighter. When my teammates at Toshido MMA started off the night 4-0, I was worried that I would be the first to put up a loss. Worst, I was worried that I would embarrass myself and show the world that I was a phony. I don't know why I had these feelings, but they were there.

To some extent, my performance in this fight has alleviated these feelings. I am a real fighter, and I should tell it to myself more often. This fight brought out the best of me. I fought a skilled full-time mixed martial artist with real experience and I came out on top. That's something I needed in my soul.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the a baby.

I've come to an acceptance that there won't be an MMA comeback for me in 2017. And with a child on the way, it's uncertain whether there will ever be one. That possibility is so tough for me to admit because it's been such a large part of my identity the last seven years.

Don't get me wrong: I am over-the-moon excited to become a first-time dad. I know there's an excellent chance that seeing a tiny little infant grow into a toddler, a child, and then a young adult means I won't care in the slightest about ever being in the confines of a reinforced caged polygon.

Nevertheless, I love the sport of MMA so much. And if every time I look at my Sherdog record and see the big red "LOSS" at the top of the page, it will always eat at me a little.

(Side note: I'm writing this as I just got back from the gym, doing 1000m repeats on the rowing machine. On my last repeat, the thought, "I want to quit" crossed my mind. My motivation to finish was the memory of Keegan Oliver on top of me, elbowing me in the face. My motivation to go faster was imagining that I had been granted a third round against him, and was down on the scorecards with one minute to go.)

After my loss in March, I took a few weeks off for personal time. We happily conceived (it was planned) and I pushed aside the loss, overjoyed at the news. I have known since very young that I've wanted to be a father, and I finally found the woman I want to be the mother for my child. These two things are without question the best things to ever happen to me. Eventually though, I was faced with the question of whether fighting is still something I want.

And the answer was a resounding yes.

It was probably a month before I redoubled my efforts to become more committed. I determined that yes, I wanted to avenge this loss, take another tough fight against another tough flyweight. I re-focused on the technical aspects of striking, wrestling and jiujitsu while hiring a strength and conditioning coach who would assess all of my strong and weak points. I was excited every time I walked in the door at Lions MMA or the weight room. I stayed the course on optimizing diet, sleep, and self-care.

But the injury bug got me good in 2017. A neck injury I suffered in Vegas during WSOP that still bothers me today. I've re-injured my ankle, and the specialist says it's really not going to get any better. I'm now training at Toshido MMA which has produced four UFC fighters despite being located in a small town of 100,000 residents. But my body has not held up in training, despite the care and maintenance I put into it. I've been getting sick more this month than I've been in years. Even though I've been averaging 10-12 hours in the gym every week, I know that I'm not in fight shape. It will take time.

So the comeback will be delayed until next year, but the future has never been as uncertain, and the numbers continue to look bad. New fathers see their testosterone drop ~30%. Younger fighters consistently have a higher winning percentage.  Everyone wants to think of themselves as an outlier, including myself. And there is a time to say, "fuck the numbers. I am that outlier."

It'll be hard work and the deck will be stacked against me. And that'll make it more fun when I get it done. And if I don't -- well, fatherhood seems like a good deal, too.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A 2-night homestead tour (Marblemount, WA)

First, a major life update: We’re pregnant! Well, at least one of us is. Not sure yet if standard English accepts usage of the word "pregnant" to describe both parents, not merely the one incubating the life form. Anyhow…

A couple weekends ago, we took another step towards our goal of raising our children and spending the rest of our lives in a remote countryside. Looking for things to do, we discovered that the Marblemount Homestead, who run one of the most prominent homesteading blogs on the internet, was hosting a weekend retreat. We took two of the last spots in the 8-person group and made the drive about an hour south and 90 minutes east of Vancouver. 

The five acres that the homestead sat upon was beautifully laid out, a perfect vision of what we want our future to be. The house — fully constructed by the owners Steve and Corina — sits behind a dirt road driveway. The rear of the house faces the open grass where a large vegetable garden is featured front and centre. Their hree children played for hours in the yard, riding bikes through the grass. The chickens and ducks pecked their way freely throughout the wide open space. The goats were around the side, either covered in the barn or gnawing on tree bark behind it. The fig and plum trees were blooming with fresh fruit, on which I would gorge regularly. The tent we were provided had an open roof enabling us to sleep under the huge expanse of stars undisturbed by a single beam of artificial light.

MFing cold lake, even in August
The two days were filled with courses. I took cheese making, wilderness skills, goat raising, and archery courses. Of course, as a complete city boy with no ability whatsoever to work with my hands, these 2-hour courses were hardly sufficient in terms of teaching me actual skills. But I took away something better than the actual skills themselves: an understanding of what goes into the process. For most of my life, cheese and meat were just things that are tightly bound in plastic wrap. Vegetables came from the supermarket. I can’t make fire, chop wood, nor do I have any confidence distinguishing a delicious wild berry from a potentially murderous one. 

And after this weekend, I still can’t.

But what I do come away with is an appreciation that it can be done. By regular people who do not have appreciable experience in this field. That it will be hard and there will be many inglorious and unpalatable parts of it. 

I also come away with the idea that it is worth it. Not just for the nutritional value of a home-grown carrot vis-a-vis a store-bought one, but for the satisfaction of it. If nothing else, even a placebo effect of the home-grown carrot might alone be worth it. The appreciation of having meat on the dinner table that you remember being born and raised by its mother, and that lived a happy life before its death. A building that you built with hammer and nails.

Chickens eat figs. Then they poop.
Then new trees grow.
But probably most relevant to me is the desire for my future child(ren) to live in this environment. My inner health nut wants to provide my incoming infant with the health benefits of pristine water and farm dirt on their grubby little hands. But more than that, I want my children to learn in this environment. The children we met on this trip (aged 14, 12, and 8) are remarkable. The elder boys could build a shelter out of twigs and sticks, build a chicken coop, cook an excellent lasagna, assist in the delivery — or the slaughter — of a farm animal, and much more. And yes, they can probably also build statistical models in Excel, discuss the fall of the Roman Empire, and know their periodic table far better than their peers, though I have no direct evidence of it. The two teen boys were kind and sweet to their extraverted, precocious little sister.

Getting to goat second base
What I did see from the children, furthermore, was how thrilled they were to be outside for hours at a time. Before I had met these boys (and yes, I’m aware of the bias involved with this one meeting), I thought there was a good chance that children raised in the country and home-schooled might quickly get bored with such a lifestyle. I even thought they would rebel against it. But these children played outside for hours on end, patiently as peers (even the 4-year-old!) and in a tremendously well-behaved, respectful manner. When they retreated indoors it was for chores, or an actual book. Their time is devoid of Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, television, or screens in general. In a world where many grown adults are failing on their resolutions to turn their screens off an hour before bedtime, these children have turned screens off almost entirely.

If I had to chose a word of inspiration from my time at Marblemount Homestead, it would be mindfulness. Living off the land has given these people tremendous mindfulness, whether they are playing on bikes, milking goats, planting vegetables, stalking deer, or starting a fire. And with that mindfulness clearly comes true contentedness. They have what they need, and they are happy with what they have. They live fulfilled, enriched lives with amazing food, play, and social bonds. I’m not sure how many more things you can check off the list of the good life.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What I learned from getting my ass kicked

Six days ago, I entered into the Hard Knocks cage full of excitement and confidence. I was amped up, more full of energy than I had ever been for any fight. I expected to be in for the toughest fight of my career, but I was prepared. I went in injury-free, after three great months of training in Thailand. I was not overtrained; I was not undertrained. I had a smooth and easy weight cut. I felt strong. My cardio felt great. I knew what my opponent brought to the table. I was ready.

And after eight minutes and fifty-seven seconds of combat inside that cage, my opponent raised his hands in victory while I protested to the referee that I wanted to keep fighting. While Keegan Oliver circled the ring in celebration, I got into a debate with Andy Social about the definition of "intelligent defence".

How quickly it went from this... this

It's hard to say where it went wrong, but the most honest answer is that I was beaten by a better fighter. I think that's the only real way to look at this, the honest way. I wish I had done a lot of things differently. I could have done different things in the fight that could have reversed the outcome. If I had done those things, I would have been the better fighter on that night. But I didn't do them. And so I got my ass kicked.

As I said, I was prepared. But in everything. there is a gap between preparation and execution. That gap is what we commonly refer to as "following the game plan".

The X (perience) factor

I did a lot of sparring in preparation for this fight. Most people who have sparred -- whether boxing, kickboxing, jiujitsu, wrestling, or MMA -- remember it as a complete blur of chaos and anarchy. People respond with both fear and aggression. What's noticeable from my many years of watching beginners spar is that they almost always forget virtually everything they have learned, and flail wildly. Their brains tell them they are in a fight for their lives. Everything is reactive, and often panicked.

Over time, people get better at sparring. They remember technique, stance, and fundamentals. They develop composure. Their brains tell them, "we are safe. We are having fun. Let's explore. Let's learn. Let's develop."

I've sparred enough that I think I am fairly composed during sparring. I have been blessed with many sparring partners whom I trust. In sparring, I see things. I take my time and see openings and opportunities. I can carefully pick my shots. I am aware when my defence isn't solid, and when I'm making mistakes.

But sparring is not fighting. Fighting is chaos. It is reaction. The adrenaline is blinding. Without a lot of fight experience, a fighter can revert to that first day in sparring, where everything is purely reactive, and none of it is measured.

Thanks to my excellent coaches throughout the years, I understand technique and fundamentals. But last Friday my lack of experience in actual fights showed. I didn't do the things that I practiced and drilled. I made technical mistakes. My stance was too tall facing a wrestler of Keegan Oliver's calibre. I overcommitted on the feet. I didn't control my dominant positions well. I let him control his dominant positions too well. I settled for the bottom position and did not scramble with urgency. The list goes on.

I did some good things, too. I did certain things very well. I just didn't do enough good things, and he did a lot of them. His experience and skill shined.

Looking forward

Again, the tough part is that I felt really well-prepared for this fight. I truly believe that on March 17, the best version of me to date was ready to step into the cage. There's no question that today I am a better fighter in every way than every other Terrence Chan that has ever stepped into the cage. But it wasn't enough to win last Friday, and that's tough to swallow.

I've been asked how I feel about things, and the truth is that despite the loss, I don't feel too much different. I still love the sport. I look forward to going back to training. I still hope to compete. I cannot erase this loss -- nor would I want to -- but I am anxious to vindicate myself, to show that I can do better. Most of all, I never want to put the thought in my head that I gave up once I met resistance. I want to prove my own grit to myself.

At the same time, I know my loved ones had a hard time watching this fight, and I know they will likely not want to see me step in there again. That is honestly and truly my only hesitation. I took some ugly superficial damage in this fight, but I did not suffer a concussion. The average skiing accident or fall off of a ladder likely causes more damage than I took last Friday. Physically I feel like I could compete again next week. I would happily accept a rematch next month. Hell, if the gods came to me and said I get fifteen more minutes in the ring with Keegan right now, I would power down this computer and put in my mouthpiece.

But I do have to balance my decisions between my selfish desire to avenge this loss, and the concerns and desires of those who care about me and have supported me for so long.

I want it. I crave it. But you can't get everything you want in this life, and sometimes you have to live with that.

I don't want this to be the last fight photo ever taken of me.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

How I defeated jet lag in 24 hours

I just got back from Southeast Asia (Thailand, Hong Kong) and landed in Canada (Vancouver) last Thursday. Typically when making this east-west trip, I suffer from at least 4-6 days of jet lag, but this time, I basically got over it in 24 hours.

It was thanks to the advice given to me by researcher Ian Dunican ( @sleep4perform on Twitter) who was kind enough to give me a free analysis and sleep prescription.

My flight was less than ideal. I woke up at 7am Hong Kong time for a 10am departure in Hong Kong. I flew for the first part of my connection from Hong Kong to Tokyo, where I had a 3-hour layover. The Tokyo flight departed at 6:43pm and would eventually arrive in Vancouver at 10:30am local. That's 2:30am at my point of origin, so that's a rough one - I'd be arriving in the morning, at what would be a couple hours past my bedtime in Hong Kong.

On the flights I consumed no caffeine and very little food. I slept at much as possible on the plane using eye shades and headphones and probably got about 4-5 hours of total sleep between the two flights.

Upon arrival in Vancouver I had some coffee and walked around. We opened all the windows in the apartment to let in as much sunlight as possible. At around 4pm I succumbed to a 30-minute nap, but forced myself to wake up after it. I struggled until about 7pm when I went down to the gym for an hour of cardio and 20 minutes of sauna.

After exercise, I took a 5-minute ice-cold Canadian shower (my own idea, not Ian's) and ate dinner. I tried to stay up until 10pm, but could only make it until 9pm.

I'd hoped to sleep in late, but my body woke me up at 5am, but not bad considering that's 9pm Hong Kong, right when my body would be starting to get tired.

On day 2, I went back off the caffeine. I did some light morning exercise (low-intensity kickboxing and BJJ session at the gym), came home, ate breakfast, and promptly passed out for two 90-minute naps. I was pretty worried that this would affect my sleep at night, but it didn't. At 7pm I did a moderate-intensity kickboxing class, came home, had dinner, and slept all the way to 9:30am, granted, with some wakeups in the middle of the night.

Mission accomplished! Thanks to Ian for the free analysis; I recommend you follow him on Twitter if you're at all interested in sleep and performance.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Discipline, obsession, freedom, and 1% better

Originally published in 2014, a story entitled "Tom Brady explains why he goes to sleep at 8:30" recently come across my social media feed. I haven't watched a football game in many years, and I didn't even know Brady was still playing football, but I couldn't resist the clickbait headline.

I'm glad I did, because I feel like I found a kindred spirit.

I think that the decisions that I make always center around performance enhancement, if that makes sense. So whether that's what I eat or what decisions I make or whether I drink or don't drink, it's always football-centric. I want to be the best I can be every day. I want to be the best I can be every week. I want to be the best I can be for my teammates. I love the game and I want to do it for a long time. But I also know that if I want to do it for a long time, I have to do things differently than the way guys have always done it. 
I have to take a different approach. Strength training and conditioning and how I really treat my body is important to me, because there's really nothing else that I enjoy like playing football. I want to do it as long as I can.
I wanted to bold every sentence in that paragraph. Finally, someone who gets me. Replace all instances of "football" with "MMA" and this is my attitude. Tom Brady is an elite, world-class athlete. I am far from it. But in this way, we are the same.

People often give me great tips for amazing restaurants all over the world. I thank them politely and never end up eating there. Because I know the ingredients they use, while assuredly delicious, won't be as healthful as the ones I have in my kitchen.

My girlfriend generally wants to watch "just one more episode" of Netflix in bed. Unfortunately for her, she almost always loses this battle, because I know how losing an hour of sleep affects the next day's performance.

Do I enjoy the treadmill, the rower, the exercise bike, or the elliptical? Nope. Neither do I particularly love squats, chin-ups, bench presses, medicine ball throws, or box jumps. It's all boring to me. And mobility work is even more tedious.

I sure as hell don't love jumping in ice-cold baths or pushing to discomfort in hot saunas.

But it's all essential to what I love to do, which is to train and compete in mixed martial arts.

I crave a big gooey pizza or a hot chocolate brownie out of the oven just as much as anyone else. But if not eating it will make me 1% better in training the next day, then it's an easy decision for me. Turning off all the electronics at 9pm and taping up the blackout shades in our hotel room is an inconvenience, but it will make me better.

People laud me for my discipline. It's not discipline. It's merely a choice. Choices are easy when you realize what's important.

I spend 2-4 hours a day with some kind of coach: an MMA coach, a wrestling coach, a kickboxing coach, or a jiujitsu coach, or a strength coach. But the other 20-22 hours a day, I'm the coach. If I have poor technique on a head-inside single or my left hook/right low kick, I need them to fix it. But if there's any part of my physical and mental conditioning that's subpar -- that's on me.

Does this sound obsessive? You bet it does. Obsessive is the only way in this sport, and even more so if you're an aging athlete like me - or Tom Brady - trying to keep up with competitors 10-15 years younger. Young athletes are very good at being very obsessive in the gym or on the field. But generally aren't as disciplined those other 20 hours a day. They also don't need to be.

Every time I give an MMA-related interview, the interviewer asks me: What's my goal? What am I training for?

Here's my answer.

My goal is to know -- not believe, but know -- that if I fail, there is absolutely nothing else I could have done.


I need to be able to say, "I couldn't have done anything more. I couldn't have done anything better."

This is my great truth. It's my code. It's empowering. And it's what sets me free.

This is beauty to me. Fighting is more than just facing your opponent in combat. It's about yourself. Can I be the best possible me?

And no chocolate brownie, no episode of television, and no night of debauchery can compete with that beauty and that truth.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Illusions of control and superstitions of the non-superstitious

This morning at 9am, like most mornings, I went down to the gym in my building for some cardio. As the door to the elevator opened, I prepared to smile, nod, and wish good morning to the person already in the elevator. I'm not naturally an outgoing or friendly person, so this is one of those micro-improvements of the self that I've decided to undertake.

Vancouver is one of the least friendly/neighbourly cities in North America, so maybe 30% of the time, I do the smile/nod/greet thing, and people awkwardly avert eye contact, or rush to mash the "Close Door" button. I nevertheless am committed to smiling/nodding/greeting not just as a micro-improvement exercise, but also because I believe in a world where people should be -- at a minimum -- cordial with their neighbours. It's not like I feel we need to invite one another over for dinner parties or anything like that; but if we are staying in the same building, we are at least going to see one another regularly, so there might as well be some modicum of positivity in these interactions, right? Right.

So imagine my surprise when as the elevator door opened, the lady in the elevator immediately started mashing the Close Door button. I mean her finger was on the button not just before my vocal cords could warm to form the first syllable of my greeting, but before I had even began my motion to walk through the threshold of the elevator. She didn't so much jump the gun as jumped before the invention of gunpowder.  I am not generally good at hiding my emotions, so I imagine I was quite the sight with my mouth agape and eyes wide open in disbelief. Indeed, when the elevator arrived at the gym floor, she was noticeably slower in putting her finger on the trigger.

The funny thing is that the elevator in this building is actually fairly quick. The lag between the door fully opening and the door auto-closing is perhaps 2-3 seconds, which I consider a solid time. The close door button is functional (as typically the case in newer elevators) but the benefit of pushing is mostly psychological given the short lag time. As I mentioned in a previous entry on elevator manners, it's unlikely that all the elevator button mashing in the world could save much more than one minute per day.  Considering how blatantly unneighbourly and downright stressful trying to mash that button is, it hardly seems like the benefit is worth the cost.

In the end, elevator button mashing (and its cousin, pedestrian crosslight button mashing) is one of those weird illusion-of-control things. It's almost like modern-day superstition for people who aren't superstitious. I don't think that any of the people who mash buttons are say, fearful of black cats, throw salt over their shoulders, or buy balance bracelets. Yet they do this, because it's a tick that makes them feel like they have control, when they really don't.

What are other modern examples of tedious illusions-of-control, or superstitions for the non-superstitious?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Country air, sustainability, and the end of the world

I'm a city boy, born and raised. I've always loved the city, and the bigger the better. The first time I was old enough and had enough money to travel (age 24), I did as so many do: I went to the big cities of Western Europe. Then I started to see the big cities of the USA, Asia, and Latin America. I've been to a few dozen major metropolises now.

I bought a home and moved to Hong Kong in 2008, taking advantage of residency opportunities there. I loved living in central Hong Kong, despite the constant noise and air pollution. When visiting Vancouver, I strongly prefer to stay downtown despite higher rents and less space. Not only is my gym there, I think it's really the best part of Vancouver. Tremendously walkable. All the amenities you could ask for. And yes, insanely expensive, but you can see why.

But in the last year or so, I've been yearning for a simpler and greener lifestyle. I've never lived in the country, or even spent more than a few days there. I don't know how I would enjoy it. But lately I have been fantasizing about acres of sprawling farmland, chickens, goats, vegetables, clean water, and country air. And my antisocial side likes the idea too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On fighting hurt

This post was written on Friday, September 9, but will not be published until a later date, for reasons that are about to be obvious. I've mentally committed to myself that I will hit the publish button on this post whether I win or lose this fight, and regardless of whether or not it happens.

Friday, September 9:

On Wednesday - two days ago - I sprained my ankle in practice. It was an unlucky accident. My partner and I were doing fairly light wrestling drills with only 50% resistance. He attempted a takedown and I stumbled backwards and just fell with all of my weight on my bad ankle.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A strange weight cutting decision

Today I woke up to a strange announcement for the promotion I'm fighting for in two days:

Summary: In the last 18 months they have had three fighters hospitalized due to weight cuts. So for this card they have decided, with about 30 hours before weigh-ins, to increase everyone's weight amount by 3.5%. Instead of fighting at 125 lbs, I am now fighting at 129 lbs. Guys scheduled to fight at 155 are now fighting at 160, and so on.

This is really bizarre. If you watch the video it's a claim about fighter safety, but if they just start implementing this policy frequently, you'll simply have people moving down two weight classes instead of one. What I suspect has actually happened here is that there are a small number of individuals on this card who expressed that it will be difficult to make the weight, and that they were worried about those fighters' specifically having to cut a bunch of weight.

On one hand, I'm always happy to cut less weight. It means I won't have to be in the sauna tonight, and 129 is a very easy weight for me to make. On the other hand, it encourages guys who should certainly be fighting at 135 to drop even further. On the gripping hand, if other organizations aren't following suit, then I might not get fights at my proper weight class.

Weird stuff. In general I'm very happy to see a movement towards less weight cutting in MMA, but this is a very bizarre way to go about it. Will be interested to see how it goes forward.