Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Phuket Top Team training, take 2

I've been in Phuket since last Thursday, once again training at Phuket Top Team. Since the last time I was here, they have even further improved the training schedule. This is what Monday and Tuesday look like; every other day except Sunday (when they close) looks pretty much the same.

I really like that I can get up at dawn (6:30am here), go train Muay Thai, be done by 9, get breakfast and nap, get some sun by the pool, then do another afternoon session. The best part is the flexibility; if I feel like doing Muay Thai in the evening I can do that, or I can do MMA, or wrestling, or no-gi grappling. As you can see, the day finishes very early (one of the unfortunate things about MMA gyms in most big cities is that the classes go very late because people come in after work). When I was training for my fight in Vancouver, I often didn't get out of the gym until almost 11pm, which really messed with my sleep.

PTT has grown since I was last here 11 months ago. The instructor-to-student ratio is still pretty good so I still get a decent amount of personal attention, and now there are more sparring partners as well. So the growth has actually been a good thing. They have also added MMA wrestling which is great, because my wrestling is still fairly terrible. The wrestling is headed by Andrew Leone who was a decorated collegiate wrestler and also a 125-pounder! Before I came, I was excited to train with a guy who is at the elite status of my weight class (he holds an MMA win over a guy who is now in the UFC). I haven't gotten the chance to actually roll or spar with Andrew yet but I've enjoyed taking his wrestling class.

So I am definitely enjoying this trip a lot more than last time. Last January, I had a good time but I lamented the poor internet (which meant I couldn't get any work done), the lack of social interaction, and I also got sick/injured a couple times which further perpetuated my boredom. I think this time I'm coping a lot better: I'm more physically fit and I've also learned a lot about hacking my body to improve recovery, so I can spend more time in the gym productively without overtraining. I'm using a heart rate variability monitor and my scores are better than they have ever been, even better than during my last fight camp. My digestive system is handling the food a lot better, and I'm a nice crispy shade of golden brown. Between training, eating, sleeping and getting massages, I only have about 5 hours a day of downtime, which I can use to catch up on various things. (The internet is also somewhat less terrible where I'm staying this time, though still not great.)

It really is fighter paradise here. I feel like this is possibly the place where I would really be able to optimize everything and fulfill my potential as a fighter. If I had absolutely nothing else on the go, I might consider being here very long term (like 3-6 months or even more), but alas I'm only here until Thursday. The only thing that would get to me about staying here would be not having any of my friends around. The fellow fight tourists seem cool and all, but the friendships you build are necessarily ephemeral. And it's fairly unlikely I would ever have a girlfriend here - most of the foreign girls don't stay very long, and while Thai girls are attractive and nice, I think there's far too much of a cultural barrier to find an ideal companion for me here.

But in terms of being able to optimize and tailor my own training with no real limitations, and stay healthy, this would be a great spot. And while I have some projects planned back on the other side of the Pacific, you shouldn't be terribly shocked if you end up reading about some sort of semi-long-term relocation to Phuket.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Having your buttons pushed: Western perceptions of Hong Kong manners

I spent last night in Macau, an overnight trip to celebrate the wedding of two good friends. In the elevator of the Landmark Hotel Macau, I snapped this picture with my phone:

The camera photo heard around my Facebook feed

The next day, I posted it to Facebook with the very simple description, "I feel like this photo tells you so much about Macau/Hong Kong/China." To my surprise, the picture was an instant hit, receiving an inordinate number of Likes. The Likes were also disproportionately representative of my expat friends in Hong Kong. Clearly, the picture and what it symbolizes resonates with westerners who have spent a lot of time in the southeast China region. Below are a couple of comments from the thread:

There's no doubt about it. Chinese people love to mash the close door button. Often before you've had the chance to get in or out of the elevator. And they are absolutely unapologetic about it. To a foreigner unaccustomed to the Chinese ways, it is definitely shocking that a person would mash the button with such apparent disregard for others, but no local will ever bat an eyelash. People are always on the move in Hong Kong. Get to where you are going, and be quick about it. 

But perhaps the button-mashing mentality is representative of one of the greatest parts of Chinese culture. No one ever questions that the Chinese culture is one of diligence and hard work. In a sense, the jamming of the elevator buttons, the desperate cramming on to the MTR, and myriad other examples of chaos is what gives rise to the incredible skyscrapers, exciting commerce and success of the great harbour city. These people hustle and grind so that slackers like me can reap the rewards of a leisurely walk around town.

Yet from a mathematical standpoint, the button mashing makes little sense. The difference between mashing and waiting for the person to be comfortably situated in the elevator is probably 0.5 seconds at best. Even if you are constantly in an elevator throughout your work day, it is fairly unlikely you can even save a full minute per day. So this behaviour earns the performer well under 0.1% of their day. Hardly seems worth the number of bruised shoulders caught in elevator doors, not to mention the unfortunate souls who have to wait minutes -- full minutes! -- because they didn't get through the doors quick enough and were left to helplessly watch the elevator depart without them. Can't we just take that 0.5 seconds and lower our collective stress levels?

To be sure, the practice of slamming elevator doors in the faces of your fellow men is certainly one I would remove if I were given magical powers (a good indication that if there is such a thing as magical power, it would be a waste to bestow them upon me). Though an ethnic Chinese, I've spent most of my life in Canada and such practices offend my Canadian sensibilities of politeness. Hell, I'm so Canadian, I usually don't even hit the button until the person exiting the elevator is far enough they can't even hear me hitting the button.

But allow me to propose an idea: perhaps politeness is simply a form of currency. If that is the case, then it follows that overt politeness is simply a form of conspicuous consumption. Here, let me hold the door open for you; I am in no rush. The implicit message is: "I have plenty of time. I can afford the time." If politeness is a form of Canadian currency, then is extra politeness to Canadians what abalone, shark fin soup and Johnnie Walker Blue Label are to the Chinese?

In Chinese culture, we give money as gifts, be the occasion a birthday, a wedding, or a holiday. It's always money, and the more the better. In North America the practice of money as a gift has fallen into disfavour; instead gifts are more valued if there is the feeling the sender put a great deal of thought and/or effort into the gift. The divide thus comes down to time versus money; in the Chinese tradition, the value is measured in the money spent by the giver whereas in the West, the value is indicated by the the giver's time.

Time versus money. Two sides of the same coin. It is an interesting paradigm in which to view the East/West divide. Or at least, that's how I'll try to look at it the next time someone slams the door in my face.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Twelve weeks for 70 seconds: thoughts from my latest fight

"So when are you gonna retire undefeated already?"
-- "North Shore" Mike McManus, my friend of 12 years, over dinner last Tuesday night.

This is a common question from many of my friends. Especially, of course, the ones who don't fight. The opposite feeling is best summarized by a conversation between two of my cousins, Calvin and Derek, back in September 2011. The conversation occurred a couple weeks before my first fight:

Derek: "So do you think this will be Terrence's only fight?"
Calvin: "No way. If he wins, he'll be addicted to it. If he loses, he'll want to redeem himself."

And so here I am, fifteen months and four fights later. I still haven't tasted defeat in an MMA cage or ring. And it is still an amazing feeling to be able to step into a cage after what seems like endless weeks of preparation, and emerge victorious.

As I wrote in my last post, I could not have felt more ready to fight on this past November 24. I had absolutely zero doubt in my mind that even as I approach my 32nd birthday I am a better fighter now than I have ever been. The fight would be at flyweight, meaning for the first time I would be the larger combatant.

The cut to 125 was difficult, but not exceptionally so. My subsequent rehydrate and refuel went great and I was back to about 138 by fight time. I was in a great mood all day. I'm all smiles when I get to fight. I only do this because I love it, and I'll quit when I stop loving it. The preparation is the horrible part. It's where all the true pain lies. If you can survive the training camp – if you don't get injured, if you don't break down mentally – the fight is the easy part. So there's no reason not to be all smiles on fight day.

For those who haven't seen it yet, the video is below; my apologies for the lack of sound. The fight begins about 4:00 into the video.

Without giving short shrift to my opponent, you can see that this was pretty decisive. I was better in the standup and better on the ground. I launched a steady volley of knees in the clinch, but my trip takedown was countered and that's how I ended up on my back. I certainly didn't anticipate being on my back in this fight and I didn't anticipate winning by submission off my back. But being the smallest fighter in the gym usually means you learn to be aggressive off your back.

A lot of people asked whether I wished it had gone longer, whether I wish I'd gotten more out of it considering how much I'd gone through to get to that point. And I admit the thought has crossed my mind at times. I went through a hard second half of 2012 getting ready for this fight. I got beat up every single day. And going into the fight, I wanted a tough fight. I wanted to be pushed, simply because I knew that I had never been as ready for a fight as I was on that day. And I didn't really get it.

But at the risk of stating the perfectly obvious, fighting is dangerous. It may take weeks or months to prepare for a fight, but it only takes seconds to lose one. Any time feet and fists are flying, there is the potential to lose a fight in a split second. I've been submitted in grappling competition in matches that I should have won. That's why when you get an opening to finish a fight, you don't fuck around. I didn't intend to throw up that armbar. I really just wanted to sweep (reverse positions) or get my opponent off of me. But as I rotated perpendicular to him, I noticed I still had his arm trapped. With his arm trapped, I was in a great position for the armbar. And once I had that armbar locked in, I cranked it. I had it in deep, and I ripped it. Anyone who trains with me can tell you I am not an aggressive person in the gym. I don't “get mean”. On the continuum of sparring too hard and not sparring hard enough, if anything I am on the side of the latter. I've let up on more submissions and pulled more punches than I can count. But this time, when I knew I had it, I yanked on that arm like I was trying to take it home and frame it on my wall.

I confess to a certain level of satisfaction with one aspect of this particular win. As I said, I wasn't trying for the armbar. I was trying for something else, and the armbar was there. There was no conscious thought on my part. It's nice to know that I've put in enough repetitions now that under a scenario of extreme stress, my body will just do what it has done so many times in practice. When I scored an armbar victory in Legend FC earlier this year, the last thing I heard in the fight was “switch to the armbar!” Taking it on pure faith that my corner saw something there – as you simply have to do during a fight – I switched to the armbar, and it worked. But this time there was no command from either an outside voice or my own. This time, the armbar simply happened.
So I am happy for the win. Seventy seconds or otherwise, difficult opponent or otherwise. After all, I have always maintained that I fight to become a better fighter. Perhaps that borders on an iterative tautology which might not make sense to anyone else, but it makes sense to me.

But I also admit that part of me searches for that war. It seeks that challenge, the one that pushes me to the edge, where I am forced to empty the reserves and dig deep to a place inside me that I didn't know existed. A fight where I feel deep down that I am 100% prepared and where I need every last ounce of that preparation to emerge victorious.

I want to break someone, although I don't mean in a a sadistic or necessarily even violent way. A knockout or a submission is great, don't get me wrong. Finishing the fight should always be the goal. But there is something I haven't experienced in a fight yet, and that is the feeling of overwhelming someone. To overwhelm that person to the point he quits. Fighters like to say that they will never quit, that they will never stop. But everyone has a breaking point. People have varying levels of toughness, but everyone will break. It's just a matter of at what point. In my first fight, I beat the daylights out of the guy for two rounds, but he never quit; the referee had to jump in to stop him from taking further punishment. Since that fight I've made two opponents submit, but I've never made anyone quit. There's a big difference. I wanted this to be the first fight where I made someone quit. But I'm still searching.

But now I have to cut this train of thought short. I am encroaching the borders of hubris and arrogance. I am still a no one and a nothing in the MMA world. I am a babe in the woods. I am not in a position to decide whom to fight; that is the responsibility of my coaches. Keep winning, and you get tougher opponents. That's how it works. My job is simple: train hard, shut up, and keep winning.

And so, it's on to the next one. Sorry, Mike.