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...

...to 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.

Nothing.

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.