Tag Archives: wrestling

Brendan Tries Muay Thai

I tried Muay Thai recently for the first time last week.  I don’t have any plans to become a mixed martial arts athlete any time soon, but it’s something I had to do, both because I feel as though one should constantly challenge themselves to develop in different ways so that the through the crucible of awkwardness and near humiliation they can find themselves transformed into a better stronger more pure version of themselves… AND because I had talked about doing it so much that my wife bought me 10 classes at a local Muay Thai school and if I didn’t take the classes, she was going to be really pissed off at me.

My desire to take up this training is complicated.  The most simple explanation is that several years ago, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that in having lost weight, I had very little muscle tone.  Having had a few on again-off again extended trysts with the gym, in the past, I knew I could do better.  So I started lifting.  Slowly but surely, I became stronger and added actual muscle to my body.  One day at the gym, I saw a heavy bag and thought, I’ll go ahead and punch this a few times.  I’m much stronger than I used to be, I’m going to wail on this thing.  Very quickly, I realized I would get exhausted and really had no idea what I was doing.  Unlike a lot of people in internet discussion threads, when I have no idea what I’m doing, I try to learn more.

Enter months of watching boxing videos, MMA, videos.  Slowly but surely, it became something I would try to learn more about.  I bought hand wraps.  I bought boxing gloves.  I got better, but after a time, I realized I probably wouldn’t really do well if I  were in a physical confrontation.  I was faking it but I had no idea what I was doing.   Don’t get me wrong…

I’m 6’2, 235 pounds and people assume I played football in high school (I didn’t, I wrestled though.  Badly).  People my size generally think it’s not a good idea to pick trouble with me.  It’s a great feeling.  At the same time, I had an older brother who was much more the naturally athletic type, who, though I could easily out-grapple growing up (I sucked in matches but man I could outwrestle most people who had no idea what they were doing), he had MUCH better hands (punching abilities) than me.  Like a Civil War  trauma surgeon’s assistant, I caught so many hands.  I had to figure out what I was doing.

Watching mixed martial arts videos, I generally came to realize that the fighters in the octagon use Muay Thai so much because it’s so damn efficient.  It’s the science of 8 limbs.  There’s no silly forms or impractical stances.  It has basic parts of boxing, but adds kicks, knees, elbows, trips and throws, and makes use of clinching.  In the past, when I watched boxing, I would see boxers lock up and just look like they were hugging because they were exhausted.  It ruined the sport for me for a long time.  In muay thai, it’s not just hugging.  It’s the setup for all of those trips and throws.  And it can be so damn efficient.

So I made an appointment for my first class as this would be a one on one experience.  The impression I got over the phone was that I would just be learning basic things like how to not hurt myself by sprinting headfirst into a cinder block wall.  That’s not part of Muay Thai or anything, but they probably not want me to do that, especially on my first class.  I figured I could get in a quick weightlifting session and a little bit of cardio beforehand and not really suffer any negative consequences.  I took my preworkout supplement, had a good workout and came home with enough time to eat my first real meal of the day and then shower.

I got to the class and my instructor showed me the basics of kicking with my front and rear leg and basics of throwing jabs, crosses and hooks.  Still running high on the tail end of my preworkout, I found myself pouring sweat just standing still.  After a half hour, my instructor said “well that’s the end of the one on one, you ready for your first class?”

Not knowing what I was getting into, I smiled and started stretching.  It turned out I was getting into fighter conditioning.  What followed was 30 minutes of a 60 minute class based in repeating the teacher’s commanded combinations five times and then calling out your partner’s repetitions as they performed them.  I made so many mistakes.  Not just in form and footwork.

I barely ate during the day and hadn’t digested the food I just ate.  I was in the ironic situation of having calories sloshing around my stomach and not having any in my bloodstream.  Being used to hitting a poor heavy bag, I unintentionally put way too much effort into each punch.  Lastly, and possibly worst of all, I didn’t breathe properly.

This sounds incredibly stupid to anyone who has never worked on a heavy bag.  When lifting weights, especially doing squats, one does “valsalva” breathing in which you hold your breath for a time to make your core as rigid and firm as possible.  When throwing a punch, you find yourself attempting to keep your core rigid for the maximum transference of energy from your hips to your hands.  If you ever listen to a boxing match, you will hear lots of hissing between grunts as punches land.  This is because the boxers let their breath out with each punch to maximize core rigidity but not hold their breath so long that they become winded extra quickly from moving around the ring and punching.

After a half hour, I was on the verge of vomiting, my eyes were bloodshot, my face was beet red, and my shirt was soaked in sweat.  My right bicep was so worn out from throwing right hooks that I could no longer hold my arm straight.  My heart would not stop racing and yet I wanted to pass out.  Having made plans before the class, I left at the half hour break.  When I left, I was so exhausted I didn’t even bother putting my shoes back on.  I shuffled off to my car, still gasping for air and started the engine… with my left hand, as my right bicep was still useless.

Before I left, I looked around the room and everyone had a big smile on their face.  Not because they were laughing at my idiocy, that I was some meathead better suited for putting idiotic amounts of weight across my back than fighting.  It was a smile of camaraderie.  Their eyes said “you’re not great yet, but you’re trying so you’re one of us now.  Welcome to the club.”  Before I left, my instructor asked how I was doing.  I told him “it’s the most tired I’ve been in a long time, but it’s the most alive I felt.  This is the hardest I’ve worked since wrestling in high school.”  I then drove home and laid on the floor and panted and asked my wife to rub my cramped arm because I was underfed, overworked and dehydrated.

I can’t wait to go back.

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Illusions of Grandeur: Thoughts On Being a Big(ger) Person

While on my blog, I’m usually limited to the mere size of your monitor, leaving me the possibility of being technically limitless in size, but of varying clarity, depending on the resolution of the monitor with which I’m being viewed. In real life, (“IRL” as the kids call it) I’m actually about 6’2, 230 lbs. Taller, but not freakishly tall, and heavy, but, again, well within the middle part of the bell curve. I’m tall enough, where if walking through a grocery store, shorter geriatric/arthritic women are likely to ask me to reach up and grab things for them, which is nice and gives me a feeling of accomplishment, as though the genetic attributes that have given me a higher view of the world were somehow my doing. However, being six feet, two inches isn’t all that tall. There are still basketball players and plenty of other people who are taller than me. The net result of this is that I exist between two worlds, that of larger people, and that of the shorter normal world.

It started in middle school, where I was 6 feet tall in the seventh grade. Of course, everyone suggested I go out for basketball. Everyone. Now I was overweight and had the coordination of a stroke victim, but everyone to told me I should do it because I was tall. After not making the team, due to a devious policy the school had about giving the players with the most athletic talent the opportunity to be on the team. Later, I tried out for football and found that my middle school’s team practiced this evil policy as well.

In high school, I decided I would go out for wrestling, as I was a big guy, and should figure out what to do with my all of my bigness, or at the very least consolidate it, and wrestling seemed like a good place for that. Unfortunately, wrestling pairs you with people of your own size, and thus my main advantage was rendered useless by being set against individuals in the 215 weight class who were actually gifted athletically. And, nothing makes you feel smaller than someone bigger and more skilled than you picking you up and throwing you on your back with more force than you’d like, or as it’s called on some college campuses, “rape.”

So, after high school, I still tried to fit into my own skin, to reconcile the body and the mind, the unwitting pubescent Buddhist that I was. It’s strange, you feel like a normal person, but don’t realize how you appear to some people who are shorter than you. I went to one of my first college parties in a place called Floyd County, an Appalachian community-turned hippie colony, a town adjacent to both Radford University and Blacksburg’s own Virginia Tech. It was a field party. The landowners had a natural ampitheatre, and so on 4/20, they invited several bands to play, and charged people five dollars a head. While at the party, I actually managed to strike up a conversation with a girl, no small feat considering I’d been drinking half the day. We’d really hit off. She thought I was charming and had rescued her from a creepy burnout townie local. I thought she was beautiful. I finished my beer and she finished hers. And then it came to that special moment that occurs whenever two people are about to hook up at a college party.

We needed more beer.

Being that this was a field party, all of my beer was inconveniently located at a campsite deep in the woods. So, to get the beer, I would have to walk through about a quarter mile of a thickly wooded trail to a clearing in the woods. Now, being in the middle of Southwestern Virginia’s wilderness, I did not want to get beer alone, as it increased the likelihood that an a bear, a sasquatch, or worse yet, an invisible woods demon monster, could chase me down through the woods and devour my immortal soul. All I needed was someone to go with me, so I could settle my fears. So what I said to this girl at the party was “come with me to the campsite to get beer.” What she apparently heard was “I’m a giant man who can overpower you like a more athletic wrestler would overpower me, and if you come to my campsite I will rape and murder you, but it’ll be too far away for your friends to hear.”

Or something like that. Because, rather than wander through the woods for beer, she said no thanks and found her friends.

The illusions of grandeur experienced by those who see me are not only experienced by women. For example, whenever I attend a party, it is often assumed by many that I will am the de facto bouncer. Here is a common scenario:

Person A begins shouting and knocking household objects around.
Person B: Someone ought to stop Person A
Everyone at party looks at Brendan.

And that’s how it goes. People often assume that in being of slightly more mass that you are a certified doorman, skilled in throwing people out as needed. In truth, if you ask me to throw someone out of your party, chances are, I’m going to go up to him, and in a very tall and broad-shouldered way… ask him to “just keep it down because this isn’t that type of thing, man. Just be cool, please?” Nobody ever has these expectations of short people. If you’re of a certain stature, people just think you’re just naturally inclined to help them move a couch, or beat people up as needed. No one ever goes to short people and says things like “Hey, I want to have a chip on my shoulder, could you help me with it?”

In reality, the best friends to have when you are a bigger guy, is just other large people. Number one, chances are, if the shit goes down, if you have enough friends who are big guys, that one of them will be a good asset in a fight when one eventually occurs. Better yet, they will tell you when alcohol has allowed you to believe that you have an advantage when you, in fact, do not. Recently, I was at a bar, and felt as though I’d been slighted by a guy who was in our general group. I approached a friend of mine and said to him “I think [so and so] has been giving me the stink eye. I’m going to go talk to him.”

He replied “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

The muscles I imagined I was covered in swelled in pride. “Oh? And why is that?”

“Homeboy does the P90x like every day, and I’m pretty sure he’ll beat the shit out of you.”

“Thank you.”

It was then that I remembered, finally, I’m exceedingly average. As I reconsidered my slow reaction times on the wrestling mat, the failures of my tryouts in middle school, it all became clear. Yea I’m 230 pounds. Yea I’m 6’2. But no, should I ever think that makes me anywhere near qualified to engage anyone in combat. I might have a little more altitude than some, but in reality, I’m not a fighter. I just happen to be better than some people at reaching the really good hot sauce they put above the rest.

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