The tragedy that begets the cage fighter…

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men violence patriarchy - bell hooks

The unified rules of mixed martial arts, or MMA, allow for fighters to continue striking a fighter who’s down on the ground in order to get a TKO victory. Indeed, having good “ground ‘n’ pound” skills is an absolute must for any MMA fighter hoping to make it to the big show.

Occasionally, referees get a little caught up during a fight-ending ground ‘n’ pound barrage and the grounded fighter takes a few more blows to the head than necessary for a fair fight ending. It happens in the craziness that is MMA. It’s part of the sport, as all fighters will publicly tell you.

Sometimes interviewers and journalists question fighters on their fight ethics and sense of fair play if they pound on an obviously unconscious opponent in an adrenalin-fueled rush.

This happened on February 19th 2017 at UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Browne, following the main event.

A few minutes after Derrick Lewis landed one more hammer fist than was probably necessary onto the unconscious, battered face of a supine Travis Browne, he was surreptitiously asked by the post-fight interviewer about that needless final strike.

A tired, sweaty Lewis, fresh from his TKO victory, surprised people by making no bones about the fact that he enjoyed that last punch, huffing, “He calls himself a man, but he likes to put his hands on women…forget him.”

He went on to state his hatred for wife beaters as he “saw that shit growing up.”

This made sense to the average UFC consumer. It was common knowledge that the man Lewis had just tenderized into oblivion, Travis Browne, had been accused by an ex-wife of domestic violence in 2015. The UFC had already established a long, ignoble history of shielding fighters with a history of domestic violence. Many commentators and consumers liked the retributive appeal of Lewis’ honesty regarding wife beaters and sympathized with his childhood experiences.

It was, however, the statement he made right at the end that made the interview go viral.

“Where Ronda Rousey’s fine ass at?” he deadpanned into the mike.

He was referring to the UFC pioneer and trailblazer for women’s combat sport, Ronda Rousey, who also happened to be dating Travis Browne at the time (much to the chagrin of many a feminist combat sport enthusiast who had once hailed her).

That interview and the surrounding bit players encapsulated a lot about the norms of masculinity embedded at the sport’s core, as manifested by the man they were interviewing and his off-the-cuff answers.

For Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis is many things.

He is arguably the most authentic fighter making waves in the UFC elite today; A 6’3” behemoth of a man, with a devil-may-care flair for words, caveman-brawling his way through the upper echelons of the heaviest weight class in the sport.

He is a popular social media figure without seemingly putting in any effort other than just being himself; His unapologetically racial and sexual humor pushing cultural boundaries much to the chagrin of many a white fanboy commentator who secretly wished they did the same.

But he is also someone with a keen awareness of violent manhood, both as a survivor of domestic violence and an unapologetic hater of men with a track record of the crime. Indeed, soon after the Travis Browne fight, Lewis said that for the exact same reasons he would like to also knock out Greg Hardy, a proven domestic abuser whom the UFC welcomed into its fold with open arms.

Lewis makes pains to point out that it’s not a white knight syndrome at play (“I ain’t looking to save no one”)  but rather a deep personal hatred stemming from the abuse he witnessed being inflicted upon his mother by his stepfather.

It is with that same authentic tone that he sees combat sports, in a refreshingly unique and self-aware way, as nothing more than an activity providing him a way out of financial hardship. A rarity among fighters who almost always claim higher purist goals of martial valor or legacy.

Displaying a completely different kind of authenticity is the intelligence-insulting, gleefully sexist, and unabashedly nationalist Dana White – head honcho of the UFC and ardent supporter of Donald Trump.

A former hustler and boxercise instructor, he got into the MMA game by convincing his rich buddies, the Fertita brothers in Vegas, to buy the UFC way back in 2001 during its Wild West days and install him as president. Fast forward nearly a couple of decades and Dana White is the most powerful man-child in the world of MMA today.

A perfect example of what he stands for needs a brief retelling of a sordid story – that of a former UFC fighter who went by the actual legal name of War Machine.

Picture the worst stereotype of a cage fighter, and you have a sense of Mr. Machine.

On August 8th 2014 War Machine assaulted his former girlfriend, Christy Mack, in an attack so vicious it left her with 18 broken bones, a broken nose, missing teeth, a fractured rib, and a ruptured lung. He went on the lam and was finally arrested on August 15th 2014. He was later tried and convicted on 29 felony counts, including kidnapping and sexual assault with a weapon, currently serving life in prison and blogging about how men are currently more persecuted than Jews were during the Holocaust or African-Americans were during Slavery.

Following War Machine’s arrest, Dana White was asked about it and the horrendous brutality suffered by Christy Mack. His response in a nutshell?

“It’s horrible! Every time I have to see ‘Ex UFC Fighter’ when the stories are written…Ever heard of Viacom? That’s who he fights for. He fights for Viacom. Not the UFC.”

Hey, at least he was honest about what mattered to him.

Indeed, many say that what sets Dana White apart from most other fight promoters is his inability to utilize a filter. He speaks his mind, almost as if he’s pure id. He regularly throws fighters under the bus, contradicts himself, lies about his lies, and otherwise acts in ways generally reserved for spoiled middle schoolers. But he’s rich and powerful, so people pay attention to him.

After all, boys will be boys, and men will be men.

Dana White and Derrick Lewis, boss and employee, offer contrasting lenses into the cultural milieu of combat sports, and in doing so reveal a lot about themselves and the sport they participate in. White lays bare the toxic foundation of commercial combat sports by vehemently trying to deny its existence, whereas Lewis reveals the contradiction of cage fighting by being unabashedly broken.

Lewis is a popular fighter who speaks his mind because he would be bored otherwise, holding a very personal hatred for women beaters, and acknowledging that he fights because he needs a paycheck. In his uniqueness, he exposes the UFC for what it is at its core – a marriage between violent masculinity and vulgar commercial power – mirroring what is still valued the most in our society, nakedly enacted by White.

However, the cultural lenses that Lewis with his authenticity and White with his id provide go a bit beyond that.

Look deeper and one spots the underlying childhood trauma and neglect that is at the foundation of pretty much every serious combat sports practitioner and consumer out there. Childhood trauma that fuels the masculinity and finds succor in the commercialism. Childhood trauma that is always seeking resolution in glory or power. Childhood trauma that will never be accepted as anything other than an obstacle in the way of said glory or power.

Therein lies the rub that someone like Derrick Lewis inadvertently exposes when he stays true to himself on the mike.

Therein lies the rub that someone like Dana White inadvertently exposes when he tries to cover up his inadequacies with bombast.

It is at this internecine fissure that prize fighting reveals the vulnerabilities of its masculine cultural foundation. An activity that valorizes violent masculinity being performed by men and women who have likely been on the receiving end of violent masculinity at some point in their lives, and probably came to said activity because of it.

‘tis the tragedy that begets the cage fighter…

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Training Diary, Week 1 – What is it about combat sports and athletic endeavors for me?

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Sunday.

Rest day.

After grunting my way through two-a-days for 6 days, I’m happy for a rest day. The body is sore, and the mind is figuring out how to get motivated to repeat the 12 workout-goal for the week ahead, starting with maybe some roadwork and shadow boxing Monday morning.

I’m trying to lead the life of a legitimate athlete right now. I’ve set myself some fairly difficult athletic goals to keep myself motivated because it’s hard as fuck and I don’t know why I’m trying to put my body through this. I work full time and have the most amazing family to care for. I could just exercise a little bit every day to stay fit and call it a day.

But there is something in me that I’m trying to find in the athletic grind. It’s a pain-filled journey that calls to me. A lactic-acid-flooded path I must navigate.

Right now, its boxing, which I hope to expand to other endeavors as well. I’ve had a love for combat sports as long as I can remember. I think there’s a rawness to the competition that makes it unique. Yeah, two white dudes can grunt for four hours tapping a ball back and forth across a net and call it competition, but everyone knows that the fear of getting legitimately hurt in a fist fight adds an edge to things in a way that just can’t be replicated in other athletic endeavors.

In all likelihood, my own inexplicable predilection for combat sports has something to do with toxic masculinity and getting the ever loving shit kicked out of me as a kid. In my current situation as an immigrant man of color married to a white woman and nurturing an inter-racial family in alt-right-influenced America, I guess it’s also a way of blowing off some steam.

The endorphins you get from the training sessions are pretty cool too.

So, I’ve decided to dive headlong into it for a bit.

The last time I lived like a part-time athlete was over two decades ago, when I was 15-16, training for the 400-800 like someone possessed. Two-a-day workouts. Competition. Dreams of Olympic stardom. The works.

Then I had to throw it all away to focus on my studies. I guess I’m happy I did so. A decent, fulfilling career in health and social services. A condo in Toronto. A house in Minneapolis. Both nice, progressive cities with diverse populations. Family fairly well set. Easy, fulfilling job now. Pretty sweet life with loved ones, friends, beer, and weed.

What more could a man ask for at the age of 38?

That’s where unrequited childhood dreams of athletic glory come in to keep one from going soft.

And week 1 was successfully, albeit painfully, completed.

Whoop dee fucking doo for soreness.

The assassination of another great warrior-poet…long live Gauri Lankesh

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Yet another voice stamped out by the forces of fascism and farce in India.

This hits a little closer home.

The city of my childhood is beautiful Bangalore no more, but is now officially McTrumpuluru, clad in saffron, choking on it’s own polluted contradictions, infused with an abominable lack of humanity.

But the cold-blooded assassination that took place yesterday in Bangalore, is part of a violently depressing pattern across towns and cities in South and South West India; Bangalore just marks another nail in the coffin of the fascists; the assassination of yet another great voice of progress and reason. The martyrdom  of a warrior-poet who never took a step back in her glorious fight against the venomous right-wing forces that plague our times, Gauri Lankesh’s legacy will blaze a path forward for many, many others who will rise in her stead.

The forces of fascism and farce keep martyring great minds in various cities and towns around the Southwestern coast and inland in a curiously similar fashion. They seem to target those who light the way for others in life and death, particularly those who work utilizing vernacular media forms and are involved as rhizomatic figures in regionally strong, grassroots progressive movements in South and South West India, particularly Maharashtra and Karnataka (both states that the central, ruling BJP party, curiously enough, has established regional presences in but not as dominating political forces, which is what they desire.)

All the martyred warrior-poets were those who could clearly influence large numbers of people.

Narendra Dabholkar, anti-godmen and anti-superstition activist, martyred August 20th 2013, Pune. Shot at point blank range by gunmen on a motorcycle while on his morning walk.

Govind Pansare, leftist activist and best-selling regional author, martyred February 20th 2015, Mumbai. Shot at point blank range by gunmen on a motorcycle on Feb 16th, 2015 along with his wife, Uma Pansare, also a leftist activist, while returning from their morning walk. She survived the assassination attempt and continues to do courageous work in the area.

M.M. Kalburgi, progressive literary scholar and anti-superstition activist, martyred August 30th 2015, Dharwad. Shot at point blank range at his home in the morning by gunmen on a motorcycle.

And now Gauri Lankesh, progressive activist and editor of an influential regional weekly, martyred September 5th 2017, Bangalore. Shot at point blank range when returning home at night after work by gunmen on a motorcycle.

Oh, and did I mention that there are reports of cops thinking that the same fucking weapon might have been used in more than one of these murders? Not to mention the fact that they already have an organization as a prime suspect in the first three of them? Yeah, the Sanatan Sanstha, a fringe, Goa-based Hindu nationalist organization (with the most benign fucking website on the planet) but with direct ties to the mothership of Hindu nationalism, the RSS, via some militant group called the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.

If this doesn’t smell of some larger conspiracy to bump off voices of freedom and reason, I don’t know what does. And it took me all of two Google searches to get the above information.

I don’t have all the answers. Clearly the authorities who seem to move at the lightning pace of thick, viscousy molasses when it comes to these investigations don’t either. Or maybe they do and are just corrupted by majoritarian fascism – something the South Asian subcontinent is well susceptible to.

But at least I’m part of a growing majority in India and within the diaspora who will not allow ourselves to be cowed down by the ignorance and malevolence of the Hindu nationalist supporters infesting the diverse and gorgeous global ethos of the subcontinent. We will follow, in our own humble ways, the paths that have been blazed by our great warrior-poets.

Indeed, if I may cynically paraphrase the breathtaking lack of vision and intellect shown by the Hindu fascists and their running dogs as they keep martyring our great lights…

How dumb are they?

What the hell were they thinking?

That fear and intimidation would actually work?

Idiots.

Right now, as I write this, there are thousands upon thousands of budding journalists, activists, intellectuals, truth seekers, and bearers of free thought who are fired up to be the next Gauri Lankesh, the next Dabholkar, the next Pansare, the next Kalburgi across the length and breadth of India – with a spark lit in their souls that no text or philosophical thought could have ever achieved.

Hindu fascists, like fascists everywhere, are too stupid and cowardly to realize that by martyring our lights, they do nothing but sow the seeds for thousands more to rise in their stead, super-charging the advancement of social and cultural progress.

Destroying toxic masculinity, delivering a death blow to racism

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My daughter is a brilliant soul of pure light.

I know that she will, in the years and decades to come, face the stresses and struggles of a sexist, racist world held together by a historic colonial-dominator-guided patriarchy and oppressive social order. I know she will face it with a lot of courage and determination (not to mention breathtaking chutzpah).

Daya’s a mixed race child of Tamil-Germanic heritage, whose skin gets darker and hair gets lighter as she moves into full-blown toddlerhood with a firecracker mind and ancient soul. When I think of the learning, security, and community that Sus and I are trying to ensure for her, I also think of the different contours of oppression our little one will have to face as she charges through life. She being my daughter, me being a bumbling feminist, I always lean towards addressing the sexism and structures of patriarchy she is going to have to fight, indeed already is fighting.

She might face some forms of racism that her father faced. Maybe. I don’t know. She’s likely going to live in a mishmash of transnational American urbana. And she often looks like a white toddler with a really deep tan, you know, like one of them Mediterranean types so meh, I really don’t know how traumatizing the racial microaggressions are going to be in her life. I know it’s something to guard against and develop learning around, but in this current day and age…

…let’s face it, she is far more likely to face the myriad forms of patriarchy and sexism her mother and my mother, and all of our mothers and sisters and aunties faced. More even. Hopefully less, but misogyny is making its last violent stand, one that could last for many, many generations. She’s going to be waging epic battles in the midst of that shit for a while to come.

Because when I see the nastiest and vilest parts of this world, including all the violence, hatred, and destruction…yeah, some of it is couched in religious nationalism or ethno-racial supremacy or whatever (like a few thousand man-babies thumping their pale pigeon chests behind internet chat rooms is the real problem with structural racism in America)…all of it is led, savored, and sustained by men. Cis men. Men with some ridiculously overblown and self-aggrandizing crisis in masculinity, when what they should be doing is looking deep within themselves to undo that toxic crap if they truly want to find love and belonging in this world.

That might take a while.

(Now, you see why I think patriarchy and sexism are at the root of all evil?)

But I see no other way forward and it is as clear a truth as I have ever realized, especially as a father to a brilliant warrior soul and a man of color. We must destroy the toxic masculinity within us all in order to suck the life out of the historic racist structures that still plague our world today. Then our children can finally be free of all this crap.

My daughter speaks truth.

To power and the world around her.

I and my fellow dudes need only follow the light of higher souls like her.

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The alt-right are entitled man-babies, their symbolic leader a predatory rapist (so isn’t patriarchy at the root of the problem?)

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Entitled dudes from privileged ethno-national classes accessing the worst of themselves in order to garner more power and privilege for their self-described “people” have been a pain in humanity’s ass for a while now.

Of course, in the process (and very much by design as has been documented) these whiny little shits incite anger and violence with progressive forces who fight them with no small amount of courage on the streets, albeit tragically ensuring more whiny little shits gravitate into their hateful embrace with the subsequent rise in polarization.

Just to be clear, I’m not coming down on organizing tactics or whatever. For starters, what the fuck do I know? You think fighting these whiny little shits in street battles is going to drive them away, by all means, go ahead and fight that fight. I used to think that way too until I realized that political street fights in America don’t really work out too well for folks who ain’t young cis white dudes. For me it’s less to do with tactics and more to do with egalitarianism within the resistance movement.

What happens to those who don’t have the social privilege to take part in such battles (who are also likely to be the most vulnerable to the kind of hate propagated by right wing forces)? Why is it primarily the over-romanticized tactics of street violence that are given “cred” and progressive media attention?

Antifa type fights have great imagery and symbolism, but they only privilege a particularly masculine, and for the most part Western/white-dominated, form of resistance. Something that hasn’t worked for damn near a millennium of this colonial, capitalist shit apart from some very temporary and fleeting victories. Why then is this the primary form of organizing that’s highlighted and valorized?

It is alienating for large numbers of people, including families with young children, undocumented folk, other vulnerable communities, our community elders, and more. It further prevents us from addressing what I believe lies at the root of this giant steaming pile of inequality and injustice we call our society, even with a cursory glance.

The whiny-ass white supremacists who are occupying media air time right now are almost solely man-babies. Their symbolic man-baby leader and megalomaniac-in-chief is a rapist and unabashed misogynist. It really doesn’t take much to probably deduce that toxic masculinity and patriarchy are at the root of the problem. Shouldn’t our resistance to this oppression then privilege the words, actions, and needs of mothers, women, trans folk, and children – i.e. those who face the worst that patriarchy has to offer? And especially those voices from black, latino, and other communities of color?

It has been documented time and time again that far-right forces across nations and societies provoke violence to further their own recruitment needs. Wouldn’t our mothers and wise matriarchs fight this in more nurturing, egalitarian, and multi-generational ways (albeit with less angry flash)? Might looking into the eyes of our children give us a more sustainable vision for fighting this good fight?

When you have to worry about nurturing those who will live long after you, your ideas of resistance and revolution must also necessarily be nurturing to those who will live long after you.

If we have the community, the love, and the solidarity to weather the storm; They will scream their hatred from their rooftops and no one will listen. They will brandish all the guns and they’ll shoot into empty air. They will choke on their own ill-gotten falsehoods as they wait endlessly for a fight, for we would have moved on to better things. Eventually “they” will be reduced to nothing more than the trauma of the past we all had to endure to toughen our souls for a brighter tomorrow. Rather than continuously sowing that hateful seed onward for future generations, their hate will die with them.

And our children will laugh and play together.

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The path of the male nurturer (and the struggle to prevent easy complacency)

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There is a way in which my ongoing struggle to ensure a nurturing core as a parent has helped me reflect on my internalized and toxic masculinity in a way no other endeavor or life experience has. It isn’t enough to just be a “good guy” (a title for which the bar is set so shockingly low across this globe that it barely qualifies you as a half-decent human being). It isn’t enough to just love in the lazy, entitled (and often infantile) manner that so many guys do with their life partners, something that is celebrated across pop culture as cute and charming rather than being highlighted for the damage it creates. It isn’t enough to just show up and compare ourselves to guys who are more dickish and ignorant than we are to make ourselves look good.

I know now that the male nurturer has to have the humility to start from scratch, to pay heed to the matriarchs around him, and actually learn from the times he messed up. Often it feels like suspended animation. My ego is both my worst enemy and best friend when it comes to parenting. He is a scumbag when it comes to dragging me down from evolving further, but he is also my most honest counsel when it comes to dealing with my shit so I can be a better father.

I’ve realized that us men cannot hope to love and nurture by just following some passive dictum of doing no harm. Our mere existence in this patriarchal world causes harm. Yes, even all us “good” and occasionally feminist men. Reflection is not just some smug asshole we see in a fucking mirror.

For if I’ve learnt anything from the last 17 months as a parent to a brilliant and liberated soul like Daya, it is this:

If loving and nurturing well isn’t the most important thing a guy’s doing with his time, he ain’t living right.

Not in this patriarchal world at least.

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Loss, suffering, and gratitude

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Recently, someone I knew took her own life.

She was a talented artiste who endured much trauma and pain throughout her life with great courage. She now rests in peace. Despite not being a close friend or family member, her death hit me at a very core level. I think the reason it shook me as much as it did is because loss and suffering, both personal and vicarious, are constant reminders that our bodily lives are ephemeral.

Unsurprisingly it’s particularly painful to think of loss or suffering in the context of our loved ones.

The tragic death of a beloved family member over a decade ago, alongside some past experiences with political violence, has me constantly fearing for the safety of my immediate loved ones. This fear is a permanent source of anxiety for me. Like an ever-present hum of white noise in the background, it’s always there no matter how hard I try to ignore it or rationalize it away. It can be quite crippling at times and also places a major roadblock to life fulfillment. It can take on all kinds of crazy shapes and forms. For instance, I get morbidly afraid of potential societal violence and collapse, despite the fact that I live in friggin’ Minneapolis, probably one of the safest cities in the world today. I get worried when Sus and Daya come home late from an outing, or if Sus has to go anywhere at evening or night alone. It’s an irrational fear, stemming from very real experiences of loss and suffering.

In other words, it’s a giant pain in the ass.

Now whenever this happens, I remind myself that we are all connected through spirit, and that the love we share will last forever, even beyond the inevitability of death. It’s a metaphysical philosophical framework that works for me.

All well and good…

But along with that spiritual grounding (or hokey mumbo jumbo, depending on your sensibilities), I feel I need a life practice that roots it in the here and now.

Which is why I’ve taken to practicing gratitude on a daily basis via simple journaling. Whenever I’ve done this in the past in some way or the other, it has really helped. This time around, I’d like to keep it going as a regular life habit to help ward off stress and anxiety.

On some days my gratitude journal might have no more than a sentence, even a very snarky one, but nonetheless a sentence describing something I truly am grateful for. On other days there might be a bit more. Regardless, they will always be a reminder that as I journey through life with my beloveds, our feline bffs, and our larger transnational community of loved ones, I have a veritable fuck ton of stuff to be grateful for.

I cannot control all the good or bad things that might happen to me and my family, nor am I ever going to completely heal from the painful anxiety I have over their wellbeing.

But I can certainly be grateful that I have an amazing family to worry about.