Training Diary, Week 4 to 5 – Loving the athlete’s grind

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Loving the athlete’s grind is in many ways a vastly reduced and simplified mirroring of loving the noble grind of life itself. There are brief moments of joy and euphoria, but always preceded and succeeded by vast time periods of the righteous labor that is at life’s foundation.

The athlete’s grind.

The one who trains daily goes to bed with varying levels of satisfaction. They might even feel a sense of spiritual oneness with the universe at large…depending on the intensity with which they pushed themselves during their workout and the endorphins released (not to mention the quality of their fuel).

A beautiful buzz.

Then they have to wake their rickety, lactic-acid-laden ass in the morning to figure out a way to do it yet again.

And that’s the athlete’s grind. We seek that daily buzz, but we have to walk through the muck every day to get there.

We all have our strategies of taking that first step through the muck. Music. Motivational videos. Maria Juan. Often all three.

Sometimes I’ll even commit the cardinal sin of training at half-ass intensity with my favorite show on.

Sometimes I’ll be pretty honest with myself to just get my ass off the couch.

“Do whatever is needed to get those first 5 minutes out of the way. Just do some push-ups and squats, and take it from there. Forget about your lofty-ass goal of becoming a pro bare knuckle fighter and just get some blood pumping through your depression-prone self. You have to get your ass to work the next day and cook dinner tonight, so you know you’re probably gonna smoke a cigarette on your lunch break and have a couple of beers while the onions are frying…

Make the poisons count asshole.”

I think the athlete’s grind keeps me honest in ways I rarely find elsewhere in life.

The only other endeavor that keeps me truly honest with myself is parenting (even the athlete’s grind doesn’t compare to that).

And so it goes on.

Day after day.

Sometimes I really don’t know why, even questioning the futility of insurmountable athletic goals when I look at the endless, winding path ahead of me.

Then I realize that life can be hard and that I want to feel a little better about myself. So I do whatever I can to get my lazy ass up to do some push-ups, and squats, and oh, maybe a few minutes of shadow boxing to get those endorphins going before I enjoy some whisky with my dinner, and a smoke before bedtime.

This noble grind is perfectly imperfect.

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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

I’m grateful I can put myself out there and have writing to peddle (TGP Musing 14.25)

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I’m grateful I have a brain that doesn’t shut down, multiple streams and flashes firing off simultaneously till sleep renders it temporarily dormant, albeit with frequent vivid dreams about anything and everything.

Why am I grateful for such a seemingly burdensome organic part of my being, you ask, oh random, mythical person I invent now and then for a segue in my musings?

Well, this brain that doesn’t shut down, occasionally can be directed and put to work, thereby providing me careers, experiences, and adventures across nearly two decades of adultish living.

And perhaps even give me a shot at making a living from peddling various renderings of that never-ever-shutting-down noggin via the written word (and eventually maybe even a YouTube show, who the hell knows?)

All to say that I’m grateful I have no problems telling you…

Buy my latest book (please?)

Fresh off the plane – An immigrant diary (Vol. 1 – Pennsylvania to Baltimore)

 

(That’s for the Kindle version – if you want a nice, matte-finished paperback, click on this link to get to the e-store: https://www.createspace.com/7359893)

Stay awesome.

I’m grateful for the Indian women’s cricket team (TGP Musing 12.5)

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The Gratitude Project – Musing 12.5

For paving the way…

For fighting the good fight with all thy might…

For helping shift the cultural paradigm in the subcontinent and elsewhere ever closer towards true gender equality…

Indeed, in the midst of patriarchy’s global and let’s face it, decidedly small-handed, last stand…

I am grateful for the formidable fighters of the Indian women’s cricket team that grace us with their great skill and athleticism in romping through to the final of the World Cup.

Hail the subcontinent’s great warriors as they have taken down, not one, not two, but three favorites en route to a thrilling journey to the final.

England. New Zealand. The mighty Aussies even.

All fell to the chaotic grace and mad brilliance that is my new favorite team of all time.

Win or lose this final, (and on behalf of my warrior daughter who at 16 months shows the raw athleticism of an Olympic decathlete) thank you, thank you, and a million times forever more, thank you…

Capitalist workaholic cultures in the non-profit industrial complex

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My alleged career in public health, social services, and education in various North American cities has spanned almost a decade and a half. If you take into account work that I did in India prior to and alongside that career in the States and Canada, then that’s a good two decades of labor in these sectors that I can claim as a badge of honor and failure in equal proportion. Essentially this was work in various organizations that exist within what INCITE! brilliantly classified as the non-profit industrial complex.

From anecdotal evidence it feels safe to say that a lot, likely the majority, of social justice activist-type people tend to find paid work in social services, health, education, or some combination thereof. Many, like me, thus end up building low-wage careers in the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC from here on out), which for me includes both public and private organizations and those pain-in-the-butt, dual ones. And like me, many also build these careers kicking and screaming because really what other choice is there for so many of us in a capitalist economy?

For the most part we do this to the detriment of our health and personal lives…all in the name of finding a job that at least partially enriches our souls.

I am of the opinion that the major reason for this hit on our well-being is the shitty, pro-capitalist, Jesus-complex-bearing, workaholic culture that exists within vast parts of the NPIC.

This is not nurturing for our society and communities.

Now make no mistake, I’m not dissing the work done by many of the organizations within the NPIC. There is genuinely good work happening with quite a few of these non-profits, whether in subversive manners or not.

But why oh why can’t this good work be done without adopting oppressive work cultures?

It is so very rare to find a non-profit that adheres to the simple truth that having a nurturing, caring, anti-capitalist, and anti-perfectionist work culture – based on building egalitarian communities – will in reality benefit the cause in the long run.

I will say this though. I do believe that this self-aggrandizing, oppressive, workaholic mentality is a manifestation of settler-colonial patriarchy. Not only are we better of without it, we must actively fight it for the sake of our children, families, and communities.

Because it’s the people we love who suffer the most when we’re forced to spend the overwhelming majority of our waking hours selling our labor for sustenance.

I have said it before and will say it again:

Fuck capitalism.

Fathers who don’t fear love – The Aka community of central Africa (and other hunter-gatherers)

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As is likely the case for any new parent, I think about parenting a lot. Even, or possibly especially, during times when I am not at my best.

Now, even though I consider mothers and motherhood to be the greatest and most liberating of human pursuits, I nevertheless find myself equally drawn to stories of loving and nurturing fatherhood.

Unfortunately in settler colonial cultures, both pop and otherwise, as well as parasitic colonial cultures, again both pop and otherwise, the bar for fathers is set so very low that I often have to seek inspiration elsewhere.

Thus, I try to seek out stories and narratives of honorable, caring father figures in my own indigenous roots and other indigenous communities  – especially among matriarchal or once-matriarchal societies  that have existed across the earth.

Like the Aka community of central Africa.

These amazing fathers hold or are within arms reach of their children, from birth till young adulthood, a whopping 47% of their time. This means that barring hunting, gathering, housework, and sleep – Aka fathers are either carrying their children or actively engaged with their children, and always within arms reach. No other society in any part of the world comes anywhere close to the kind of nurturing and caring parenting that Aka men undertake as part of their role in Aka families. They often do this in community with other Aka fathers and mothers, and gender roles are rather seamlessly interchangeable, with a democratic, flexible, and fundamentally egalitarian division of labor.

Joanna Moorhead, in speaking to anthropologist, Barry Hewlett, writes thus:

Another lesson the Aka have for us – and this is for all of us, mothers as well as fathers – is about how precious children are, and how lucky we are to have them in our lives. If it sounds a bit schmaltzy well, that’s exactly why we need to hear it: the fact is, says Hewlett, that we’ve strayed into believing that our kids are a burden rather than a blessing and that’s something the Aka never do. “To the Aka, your children are the very value of your life. The idea of a child as a burden would be incomprehensible there … children are the energy, the life force of the community.” A saying from another tribe he’s studied, the Fulani, sums the sentiment up: they say that you’re lucky if you’ve got someone who will shit on you.

The Aka community (and apparently many other egalitarian indigenous societies) consider children a blessing rather than a burden or an unproductive member of society. The happiness, care, and nurturing of children remains the most life-affirming endeavor for the Aka community. This then results in egalitarian and fairly unstructured free play as the baseline for learning and education. Thus, caring for children doesn’t just foster love in the family and community, but also joy, laughter, music, fun games, generational knowledge, and labor-turned-into-play.

(No wonder then that Marshall Sahlins postulated hunter-gatherer societies as the “original affluent society” – not because they had accumulated material things, but because they had mastered the art of great happiness from desiring and needing very little for their sustenance while basing their lives on community, love, and living in harmony with the earth.)

For me there is another major takeaway lesson from the Aka and other matriarchal or once-matriarchal societies.

These are fathers who don’t fear love.

They don’t fear the great (and glorious) task that is love.

And care.

And nurturing.

They don’t shirk from the very organic and beautiful process of fatherhood, and just as organically link it to gender egalitarianism and tight knit communities.

And they do so for a very simple reason.

It makes sense.

Because really when you think about it – it makes sense to lead a life where you prioritize love and care and nurturing and egalitarianism and joy and laughter and play and simple living and community and solidarity.

There’s not much to argue about there.

I imagine they themselves would be quite amused that I am speaking about them with such reverence and awe.

(On the other hand, they might be wondering why the men in our society look so much more miserable than the men in theirs.)

References:

Hewlett, Barry (2009). “The Cultural Nexus of Aka Father-Infant Bonding” in C. B. Brettell and C. F. Sargent (Eds.),  Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective (39-50). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Moorhead, Joanna (2005). “Are the men of the African Aka tribe the best fathers in the world” in The Guardian. June 15, 2005. (Link: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/jun/15/childrensservices.familyandrelationships)

Sahlins, Marshall (2005). “The Original Affluent Society” in M. Sahlins, Stone Age Economics.

Sahlins, Marshall (2009). “Hunter-gatherers: insights from a golden affluent age” in Pacific Ecologist. 18: 3-8.

What is it that makes babies so spiritually powerful?

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I will never forget that very first feeling I had when Daya was born.

That rush of spiritual energy.

It was indeed immense – throughout the entire process of birth – filled with no small amount of love, high emotions, gratitude, focus, relief, and pure joy.

But at the very root of it all, there was one particular feeling that stood out when I first held my daughter in my hands, all gooey, and sticky (and ever so calm, come to think of it).

Awe.

I was in awe of this being  that had a spiritual power far superior to anything I could ever hope to possess or be.

I was in awe of this entity that seemed to be able to look right through me and calm me down when I started getting scared.

I was in awe of this tiny little baby that felt like I was holding the spirit of the earth herself.

So fragile.

Yet so radiant and powerful.

This feeling of awe has never left me. But it has also resulted in some strong spiritual beliefs.

For instance, I am of the firm opinion that the souls of babies are quite possibly the closest we will get to a living embodiment of divinity.

(Of course those souls will eventually get the ever-loving shit kicked out of them, especially in boys, due to patriarchy and sexism…but you know, I’m in a happy place here, so am going to focus on the cute and cuddly side of life for now.)

Needless to say, I am and continue to be in total awe of my daughter and the strength in her soul. I doubt that will ever stop being the case.

My little baby warrior and freedom fighter.

I have often thought long and hard about why Daya is so spiritually powerful. Indeed why all babies are so spiritually powerful.

And I realize that they are the embodiment of the very essence of humanity.

They teach us that love is the only entity that can save us from ourselves.

Equally importantly babies teach men that love should never, ever be taken for granted.

They tell us, in no uncertain terms:

I don’t care about the way things have been all these years.

I don’t care if you’ve lived your life taking the love that has been showered upon you from birth for granted.

I don’t care about the unearned privileges of patriarchy nor the pyrrhic benefits of sexism that have swaddled you for thousands of years.

Love me, and love me properly.

Because I and humanity deserve nothing less.