Sunday, July 31, 2011

Should a poker pro be getting punched in the head?

Two separate commenters voiced concerns about the idea of me taking a lot of shots to the head. First, Lee Jones writes:

[I]s there any long-term danger to routinely getting punched in the face? I mean, I understand you can suffer an acute injury, but that can happen doing damn near anything.

My question/concern is if you're (e.g.) scrambling your gray matter over repeated punches to the face?

and "chloepear" (whom I also know irl) doesn't bother to beat around the bush and more candidly writes:

Consider that I say that in light of the fact that I love MMA and that I've trained in multiple martial arts.

I think that[...]from a financial point of view, your particular brain is valuable enough that seven weeks of your head being a punching bag sounds incredibly -EV.

I understand the allure of fighting [but] surely there's another way to be physically challenged and mentally tough without doing irreversible damage to your brain.
First of all, I should say that I am very glad to have friends who are concerned about my well-being. It is very tempting to be sweepingly dismissive of such blessings.

Certainly, everyone agrees it's a bad thing to get hit in the head too much. But I think there is an issue of perception at play here. MMA looks really dangerous and savage and so the presumption is that it is really dangerous. And it is more dangerous than most sports, especially considering that the majority of sports are actually non-contact sports. But it's also probably not as bad as it looks.

Bear with me for a hypothetical. Suppose I were the same person I am now, with a few different characteristics. This version of me smokes cigarettes, and every two weeks I go out to the bar and binge drink until I throw up. I also eat too many sweets and trans fats.

Now, as it turns out, I do none of these things. But if I merely blogged that last night I went out, had two Big Macs and an apple pie, then went to a club and drank all night, would commenters be concerned about my long-term health? (You might be question what I'm doing with my life, but that's a different story.) Probably not. Eating unhealthy, smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol are considered "normal" activities in our society, whereas MMA fighting is clearly still a little bit out there. I would contend though that bad food and heavy tobacco and alcohol use are probably more deleterious than MMA training, albeit in a very different way.

The point I'm trying to make is that every day, the vast majority of people make decisions that fail to optimize their physical (or financial) health. Even very smart people. Yeah, you could, day after day, wake up, jog 8 miles, eat a spinach and salmon salad, go to work, do your weight-training, have another spinach and salmon salad, meditate for an hour and retire for your 9 hours of sleep. Every. Single. Day. Can you conceive of that life? If you're like the vast majority of people, probably not. Don't get me wrong; self-improvement is righteous, but virtually no one maximizes solely for self-improvement all the time.

People will do dangerous or unhealthy things out of the pursuit of mere pleasure. This is a fact of life and a part of humanity. People will choose to ride motorcycles instead of taking the bus. They will run with the bulls in Spain or traverse treacherous mountain passes. They will become investigative journalists in Mexico. They will smoke cigarettes, eat too much refined sugar, listen to their iPods too loudly, or take pills from strangers at parties. When these decisions are met with the corresponding disastrous outcomes (whether lung cancer, obesity, going deaf or being left for dead in a ditch), we call them stupid and say "I told you so." But when nothing bad happens we say, "oh, they had a great time doing that."

Are there risks to fighting and training for fights? Unquestionably. How severe they are is something that is still being studied at this time. But to say to myself, "I will not do this thing about which I am passionate because there are potential negative consequences" is simply not acceptable. What is life, and particularly youth[1] for if not risk-taking? Where would I be now if I had never walked into that south Vancouver casino in 1999 and sat down at the $4/$8 hold'em game without even knowing the rules? I mean, I did lose like $120 that day, but it is hard to argue that decision was ultimately a mistake.

Now, despite what seems like some keyboard bravado, I should probably note that I do consider myself fairly conservative when it comes to life decisions. But the point is not to express my acceptable level of risk/pleasure tradeoff, but the idea that different people will have different such tradeoff values. You think the successful poker player fighting going into cage fighting is a bad idea. I might think being a pro race car driver is way too dangerous, and I would never do that. The race car driver wonders why anyone would become a contractor in Iraq, and so on.

Members of my family have been concussed while snowboarding. I had dinner last night with someone who suffered multiple concussions in hockey and soccer, and is currently a poker pro. I've never been concussed in my training, or even really lost my bearings due to a blow. As I responded to Lee, we don't know the extent to which non-concussive head trauma is dangerous or affects the brain, so I certainly don't want to understate it. But in full consideration of what science does exist, and my own personal experiences, it is a risk that I'm totally and utterly at peace with.

So the main thing I'm concerned about at this point? Winning the fight. :)

[1] I am at least "young" in some context, I hope!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Everyone's got a plan until they get punched in the face

In my first legitimate post of this new blog, I'm excited to announce that I am booked to make my MMA debut for the Battlefield Fight League promotion's 11th event. I've attended a number of BFL events and they run extremely professional regional shows and have some really top-notch fighters. There are a lot of legal and political barriers thrown at MMA in Vancouver, and in spite of that, they've put themselves out there to put on some quality shows. If you happen to be in Vancouver on September 17th, I hope you'll check out the event and watch me fight! For days, I've been on a total high because of this fight, and I know these next seven weeks are going to be among the longest of my life.

Because I'm the kind of guy who doesn't want to give too much away, I won't be writing in detail about my upcoming training camp. But one thing I can divulge is that it's going to be torturously hard. My academy, Universal MMA, gets its fighters ready. When you're just a recreational guy or girl coming in to hit the pads or roll around on the ground, then you can train as hard as you want to. But when you fight under the school banner, you're going to be prepared.

And I have a lot to learn. I've been training striking, wrestling and grappling for a few years now, but my combined MMA experience to this point totals less than a month, and so it will total less than 3 months when I step inside the Battlefield cage. It is insufficient to say that MMA is striking, wrestling, and grappling. I think it is better to say that MMA is striking while wrestling, striking while grappling, grappling while wrestling, and the reverse of all three.

"Everyone has a plan, until they get hit in the mouth."

The above quote is actually attributed to a boxer, Mike Tyson. But I think it applies even better to MMA. When I train standup, I have a plan. An example might go something like, "Okay, I am fighting a southpaw, I will use straight right hand counters, or rear inside cut kicks." If I am grappling, I have plans. "I have the guy in side control; when he turns into me to take the underhook, I can use it to spin to the back."

Well, I'm not the most experienced MMA guy in the world, but I've learned one thing in my short time: Having a guy on top of you punching you in the face will fuck up even the best plans.

It sounds obvious, but it's really not, if you have a little experience. This is one of those cases where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Like anyone else, I have armchair quarterbacked many an MMA fight. Why doesn't he do this? Why doesn't he do that? Often, it is simply poor strategy on the part of the fighter. But sometimes he simply can't do any of these things. He's getting punched in the face.

It's not simply a matter of punches to the face hurting. It's a variety of factors. The bottom guy in MMA is not necessarily losing, but he is expending a lot of energy bearing the weight of the other person. His breathing is impaired because of the weight of the man on him. His breaths are interrupted every time he is punched, which is always a jarring event. Sick of this situation, he fights to escape that position and expends more energy, and if he fails, he has wasted some of the energy in his reserves. Every second he is on the bottom, every punch he takes and every failed escape depletes his energy. And not only that, he is expected to formulate a plan -- a counter-attack -- under these circumstances. It's a lot to ask of him.

It is little wonder why excellent grapplers give up passes, dominant positions and even submissions when they've been getting beat up. People often say wrestling is the most exhausting part of MMA. I think getting beat up -- in any position -- is the most exhausting part. It messes with your breathing, it makes you tense, and it threatens to break your desire to continue fighting.

And if you understood the preceding, you have a pretty good idea of how my 8:30pm-10:30pm went tonight. I took an absolute ground-and-pound beating from one of my teammates, Zach, one of our undefeated 145-pounders. Zach is a grinder, a guy who gives no space and works at a tireless pace. And by "works", I really mean "punches you in the face". For the first time in my entire life, I am icing my face. Cheeks, temples, orbital bones, jaw -- everything above the neck hurts. I don't mark easily so it's not really visible, but I really feel like I tried to stop a moving vehicle with my face. Make no mistake, this is the not-so-glamourous side of MMA; these is what fighters go through for what can be anything from 10 seconds to 25 minutes in the cage. It is an absolute meat grinder. And it's what I've signed up for, of my own volition, for the next seven weeks. I will take seven weeks of beatings so that when September 16 comes, I won't take one. Taking beatings so that you won't take a beating. A delightful paradox, isn't it?

Terrence's new blogging home

After putting up with their many outages, I've left my old LiveJournal behind. LiveJournal was good to me, but the frequent DDOS attacks and their ability to handle them were, in the end, just too annoying to put up with. I've also wanted to use this domain that I've held for four years and never put to use, and with Blogger I can easily do that.

So, please re-direct your bookmarks, reset your feeds, and tell your friends! Thanks!