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.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The perils of fighting a winless fighter

As a fighter at the regional level, there's tremendous variance in whom you might fight. The range is huge. First, record-keeping is also not great at the regional level. My opponent back in April was listed on Sherdog at 0-1 (now 0-2), but I've seen videos of him winning by both KO and submission, and a saw a poster listing him as 10-6, so clearly there are fights that aren't on his record.

There's also a tremendous range is skill and dedication at the regional level. You might get some wannabe tough guy who just wants to say he was in a cage fight. Or you might get a superstar in the making whom nobody knows about just yet.

I know that my next opponent isn't either of these. Fighting since 2011, his Sherdog record is 0-2. On paper I should be a favourite given that I am 2-0. But his losses are to legitimate regional fighters, and his last fight was up a weight class at 135 against a former Battlefield titleholder.

When you're fighting an 0-2 fighter, it can mean you're fighting a wannabe who doesn't take it seriously (like when I fought this guy), or it can mean he is very hungry but has just had tough opponents. I'm assuming that it's the latter; based on his Twitter, he's in the gym, and even travelled to Montreal recently to train at Tristar under Firas Zahabi.

Every day that I haven't wanted to show up, and every day that I haven't felt like training hard, I remember that he is desperate. I think about what I would do and how I would be training if I were the winless fighter taking on the undefeated fighter. I am training like am the one who is winless. I am training for him like his record is 15-0.

I can honestly say that I have put my full 100% into this training camp. It's 12 days away, and they can't come fast enough.

It's a fight. Never, ever, underestimate anyone in a fight.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

How I lose weight and keep energy up during fight camp

Professional poker player Dan Smith, gave me the following feedback on Twitter as to what he'd like to read about:

It's a great question -- how can a person who is already fairly lean lose 10-20% of his bodyweight in 4-8 weeks and still manage to fuel something as demanding as an MMA training camp?

Well, I've been messing with this stuff for a while and put a lot of thought into it. But first a disclaimer: in the past I've been accused of broscience and being sloppy with "shit i read on internet". What follows is just what has worked very well for me when we're talking specifically about diet and nutrition the context of a mixed martial arts camp.  Now I've studied and read and re-read obsessively. But I'm lazy and this is just a personal blog, so I'm not going to be providing citations. This is all simply the result of n=1 experimentation and yes, it involves shit I read on the internet. People are free to disagree and tell me I'm an idiot for doing what I'm doing, and I'm very much open to the possibility I'm wrong about things (which I have been on many occasions in the past).

Okay first up, BMR (basal metabolic rate). The calculator suggests 1557 calories for a person of my size and age. Estimates of my daily caloric burn in a day (even with the "heavy" exercise multiplier) usually fall way below my usual intake, and yet I don't gain weight. Caloric burn is a function of so many things going on inside bodies that until they actually start putting microchips inside our bodies, I don't worry about it too much. But I would say on a typical training day I'm eating/burning between 3000-3500 calories.

Cutting weight over a training camp

Anyone will tell you that it's better to shed weight throughout camp than it is to simply cut a ton of weight. Losing 15 pounds in the sauna is a terrible experience: it's dangerous, it hinders performance, it creates the potential for getting sick on fight day. All kinds of bad stuff. And yet there is basically no one at the elite level competing without some form of water manipulation in the last 24-72 hours. And that's because if you've dieted down to a point where you are losing zero water, you're going to come in as the much smaller guy, simple as that.

But yeah, back to cutting weight. My philosophy is that prevention is better than solution. As a 125-pound fighter, I'm never letting myself get over 145. Ever, ever. This is rare. I know many 135ers who are hovering around 170 when they're not near a fight, and 170 lb fighters peaking well over 200. I pretty much never eat garbage and let myself go completely because I don't want to be the guy running a huge caloric deficit during a tough camp.

Most of my vegetable intake is organic and all of my meat intake is grass-fed/pasture-raised. When I'm eating out a lot and being social, I have some cheats but I'm still being reasonably selective off the menu. My girlfriend jokes that I am orthorexic. I don't actually think that I am, but I admit I'm more strict than basically anyone I know. Something like pizza or cake is around a once-a-year proposition for me, which even I have to admit is a bit strict.

Eating like this keeps me between 141-145 most of the time. When it's fight camp, becoming even more strict gets me usually about 1-2 lb of weight loss per couple of weeks. So ideally i'm around 135-137 when i'm 7 days out while doing not much caloric restriction. I don't count calories at all until the final two weeks, although I'll make some small adjustments (I'll talk about that shortly).

Beyond Calories: Winning at the Micros

Everyone is obsessed about calories, but here I want to focus more on micronutrients than macronutrients. For the uninitiated, micronutrients are basically the vitamins and minerals that make the body work. When you see a label like the one below, the micronutrients are in the bottom section:

There are a shit-ton of important micronutrients, many of which are presented here in a word cloud for some reason:

Compared to micronutrients, macronutrients are simpler for most people to understand because they know them all: protein, fat, carbohydrates, and alcohol.

Macronutrients get all the play because they are generally easier to talk about in sound bites and blog posts, but micronutrients are massively important and I focus way more on getting micronutrients in a bioavailable form. (This is the tricky thing about micronutrients; basically every micronutrient is available in a bottle, but it may or may not be well-absorbed by the body.)

I don't pay too much attention to calories and macros. I don't really care if I'm 40/40/20 or 50/35/15 or whatever. But I do pay attention to micronutrients and if I'm going to do a food log, it's mostly to ensure I'm getting enough minerals and vitamins. Usually I do a pretty great job; here's a randomly selected day out of my food log:

(Hope it was sunny outside today.)

Regardless of what my protein/fat/carb looks like, if I'm hitting well over 100% RDA on most vitamins and minerals and my digestion feels good, I think everything is dandy. And I feel great and energetic.

I make it a goal to choose really nutrient-dense foods, which is usually in the food department. The biggest single thing I do is choosing vegetables over grains, since gram-per-gram and calorie-per-calorie, vegetables destroy grains. Note the comparison of the three leftmost columns to the three on the right.

Even in the case of more similar comparisons, sweet potato and squash destroy rice and pasta.

Another thing that sets me apart from most athletes is that I tend to avoid over-reliance on sports drinks. Not drinking calories is one of the best things you can do for nutrient density, since liquid carbs in general are very low in nutrients.

That said, I sometimes use a few high-end sports drinks, like Superstarch and Vitargo, as well as coconut water. I think it's useful to think of simple processed carbs like sports drinks and white rice as performance-enhancing drugs (except of course, not illegal). They're great for optimizing performance and endurance, but they are not providing much nutritional benefit, and a significant side effect (weight gain/insulin spiking). The regular public doesn't fast carbs at all (in much the same way the public generally doesn't need steroids), but athletes in high-intensity sports benefit from a quick, easily digestible way to shuttle glucose into muscles. So I don't avoid them completely, but as much as possible, I simply drink water. When I need to lose weight quickly, the sugar drinks are the first thing to go.

Talk more about carbs!!11

Carbs are not necessarily the enemy of weight loss when it comes to the high-intensity athlete. As I mentioned, I don't really track this stuff, but I probably used to be too low on the carb side, clocking in around 20-25% carbs. I've increased this to 40-50%, especially deeper into fight camp where I'm doing a higher number of high-intensity rounds and my muscles need this fast fuel.

When do i eat those carbs (and fat)?

On days and weeks where I am not training, or it consists of either low-volume or low-intensity training, my carb consumption is back down near 20-25%. This improves three things for me personally:

a) body comp (I stay leaner)
b) brain function
c) better digestion (slightly)

On days I do train, I will load up on carbs+protein in the 2-3 hours after training, and eat mostly protein+fat the rest of the day. I try not to have very many meals that have fat+carbs together, because those can really cause weight gain (think of most things people overeat -- pizza, ice cream, potato chips -- and it's notable how many of them are this simple fat+carbs combo).

During fight camp, where usually I am mostly doing light workouts in the morning and lengthy high-intensity activity in the evening, I do a cyclical carb or a "carb backload", meaning I eat very few carbs before dinner, but eat a ton of them (and less fat) after training.

This day was 40% carbs, but 80% of those were during/after training.

Final hacks:

I do a daily 12-hour fast, so I do not eat from 10pm to at least 10am, usually past that. Obviously I'm sleeping a lot of this time, but doing a little light aerobic work in the morning in a fasted state helps me burn off a little belly fat.

I also do a 24-hour fast once a week, usually Saturday dinner to Sunday dinner, so I do not eat before 8pm or so once a week. This is just a good practice to give the digestive system a break, and losing weight is just an extra benefit.

So how do I feel?

Losing the first 8-10 pounds in 6-8 weeks, even on a lean frame like mine, requires discipline. But it isn't horribly hard. I feel pretty good most of the time. My energy levels are high most of the time, and when they're not, it's not because of lack of calories but rather because the intensity of the training has worn me down. Fasting, a lack of junk food the rest of the year, going high-carb only after workouts, and keeping nutrient numbers high gives me tons of energy to train at a high level throughout the camp.

The hard part is the last 8-10 pounds on the final week. Once I'm 7 days out from the weigh-in, the carbs and eventually the entire meals start getting reduced, to deplete glycogen from my muscles (which I don't need too much anyway since I am not training intensely in those days). Then we get into sodium loads, saunas, and all the water manipulation. This is the part that really feels awful, and so ideally you do as little of it as possible. In a perfect world, I might be something like 130 with seven days to go, but it's hard to lose that kind of weight and train as hard as I'd really want to.

Questions or comments? Comment below (may require you to click on the title of this post).