Training Diary, Week 3 to 4 – I now know I must become a bare knuckle fighter

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Well, it didn’t take long for my training to face some hurdles. Certainly the two-a-days took a bit of a hit once I resumed my duties as a pedagogical ninja in the service of Minneapolis Public Schools (you know, a proud, committed, full-time sub).

That’s the excuse anyway.

But all was not lost. Frustrating though the last couple of weeks have been, I kept up as best as I could and averaged a workout a day. I even got back to two-a-days over the weekend (but back to one-a-days during the more hectic week days…blah). I should clarify that my workouts usually never last more than 35-45 mins, but I try to keep them as intense as possible. I’m trying to lead the life of a serious, part-time athlete but also a smart one whose primary purpose in life is to be the best family man he can be. I like the fact that my athletic goals have to revolve around my responsibilities towards my loved ones and not the other way round. Training rarely becomes stale that way cos I’m fighting for it.

Getting to this sporting springboard itself has been a few years in the making. My 5’10” naturally wiry frame used to walk around at 200 lbs through my late twenties and early thirties, probably as a result of eating and drinking way too much while often doing nothing more than push ups and strength training. Following a fundamental shift in understanding food, addictions, and the need to get that heart rate up every day (as opposed to just building easy, useless muscle mass), I rapidly trained my way down to about 155 lbs, a weight I’ve been walking around at since my mid 30s.

After all, weight is everything for a fighter.

And now at the relatively ripe old age of 38, I’m ready for that next phase. Training for competition. I’ve already mentioned that combat sports is where it’s at for me, but which one?

For the past few years of general conditioning work, I’ve been struggling to settle down on one of traditional boxing, mixed martial arts (MMA), and kickboxing – catering my daily conditioning work to what was striking my fancy at the time. (Striking… get it? I crack myself up.)

But the ultimate resolution to that question has me traveling in a direction that pleasantly surprised me. To the point where I wrote it down as a goal on paper (and I rarely write shit on paper any more). Hell, to the point where I’m blogging about it for self accountability.

You see, I wanted to find something similar to the kinds of hard-sparring, fist fights I participated in as a teenager (the last time I was leading the life of a serious athlete). I also wanted to find a combat sport that necessarily needed wits and strategy in equal measure to strength and conditioning, while also minimizing mindless, brute power.

And I believe I’ve found it.

A sport that is as old as the ages but struggling for full sanction and acceptance.

A sport that just recently staged its first legally sanctioned bouts in the States in over a century.

Yes, I’m talking about bare knuckle fighting.

And no, I’ve not lost my mind.

These words got scribbled in my notebook a few days back to keep me honest:

“I want to become a bare knuckle fighter and champion.”

That’s a tall order. Practically speaking, I want to participate in at least one legally sanctioned bare knuckle fight in my adopted homeland and take it from there. (Did I mention that I get to define “champion” in my own head?)

Now, I still don’t know how I will do it. As already mentioned, the sport just garnered legal sanctioning very recently. And from my research it looks like the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) and the World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation (WBKFF) are a couple of promotions looking to get some action going. It’s very likely more will follow suite as the sport takes off.

(Note that worldwide a lot of promotions claiming to do bare knuckle fighting still wrap the hands of their fighters, thus converting fragile fists into clubs, which as I suggest below is counter to the credo of bare knuckle fighting).

Now, getting back to me, me, me. I have some ideas on how I might do this, but bare knuckle fighting is a different animal. I best be prepared for the journey cos it’s a long road ahead.

For starters, it’s grossly misunderstood and there are absolutely no avenues for training and zero local fight circuits to participate in. Indeed, the fact that I must walk this journey alone is probably the most enticing and scary part of it. (Which is likely why I’m writing about it too – so other restless souls may bare witness to my antics).

Let’s begin with how it’s misunderstood. The term “bare knuckle” conjures up images of bloody, beat-up faces for the entertainment of boorish, drunken revelers in back alleys and post-blight warehouses.

Well, that’s actually quite accurate…but there’s a lot more to that narrative. I want to break down some of the finer facets of bare knuckle fighting I’ve discovered on my nascent journey.

1. Combat chess rather than power striking.

Bare knuckle fighting, done properly without wraps covering the knuckle is more akin to unarmed combat chess rather than balls to the wall power striking. The key difference being that in all the other striking sports I mentioned above, a general mantra seems to be “more power is better” which is why there are ridiculously stupid levels of weight cutting. From what I can gather and my own personal experience fighting without wraps, this changes to “more technical, pinpoint striking is better” simply because if you’re not careful and technical it can be so easy to break your hands in bad ways. Just look at what happened to “Felony” Charles Bennett in a recent bare knuckle fight. Now, I’m not suggesting some laughable notion that technical striking isn’t important in boxing, MMA, and kickboxing or that power isn’t valued in bare knuckle fighting. I’m just suggesting that wraps and gloves over knuckles make a huge difference in training, strategy etc. No concussion-inducing looping overhands to the dome of the skull for instance. A targeted focus on the meatier parts of the body and face is often what’s needed.

2. Bloodier but safer, maybe even purer?

Stemming directly from the previous point, I feel confident in getting behind the argument that while bloodier, bare knuckle fighting might actually be a fair bit safer for long term health because of a significant reduction in concussion risks (and possibly less emphasis on weight cutting). Sure, bare knuckles cut the skin easier, but they are also less likely to knock you out. A friend made a similar comparison between rugby and American football. The lack of gladiatorial armor in rugby makes concussion-inducing tackles and checks less frequent, but often makes for a bloodier, more abrasive sport. Personally I also believe bare knuckle fighting makes for an organically “purer” sport with less accouterments. Indeed, I think the next big step is bare knuckle MMA, which I think would be a safer, more organic version of the current hand-wrapped/gloved version.

3. Legally and promotionally in its infancy (so a bit, um, wild).

This is one of the reasons for some of the more morbid misunderstandings I’ve noticed floating around about bare knuckle fighting. It’s such a fringe, visually gory sport that there is much cultural fear with the average person and much skepticism with the average combat sports fan. This will change and change quite rapidly as it’s exactly what MMA went through in its early wild days. As the purity of bare knuckle fighting takes hold (and I’m of the opinion that there is more than enough room in the combat sports market for it) many of these cultural misunderstandings will melt away towards mainstream acceptance. I do believe the true combat sports aficionado will appreciate this amazing martial art.

4. Getting back to me, me, me.

Yeah, the egomaniac in me ain’t going anywhere. All the points mentioned above are the primary reasons I’ve settled on this weird and wacky journey. I’m trying to find a spiritual side to me that only comes with fear and adrenaline. Toxic masculinity has a better chance of being smashed with the humility that comes from any true right of passage. Bare knuckle fighting might just be one of many such passages for me. So I’ll try to rip this shit while being the best family guy I can be.

The rest is up to the goddesses.

My name is Shree Varuna and if you’d like to get in touch please email me at:

forthematriarchy@gmail.com

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