Training Diary – Time to be grateful again

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While on the job yesterday, I was inadvertently and fortuitously reminded that I had a lot to be grateful for.

It’s been a while since I put it out there and I know it’s a practice that helps deal with life’s tougher times. Since my training is just as much about balancing mind and spirit with heart and body, it feels like it’s time to be grateful again.

I am indeed grateful for the life the goddesses have blessed me with. For while life’s struggles will always present themselves from now till the end of time, I swim in an ocean of love while dealing with those struggles head on…

Every day I’m reminded of just how lucky I am when I see the brilliance of my partner’s soul, the glory of my daughter’s spirit, the impishness of my cat’s being.

Every day I am in awe of the plenitude of our first world lives even as I navigate the guilt of wallowing in it with nary an understanding of poverty or hunger.

Every day I live with the unbearable truth that tomorrow it could (and indeed, eventually will) all come crumbling down to the never ending march of time.

So I guess I’m grateful for the timelessness of today.

Kaliamman Vazhgai

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Training Diary – When the poisons start upsetting the balance

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Dang, when you work full-time as a grunt for your city’s school district while navigating life as a bumbling family man, daily workouts occasionally present themselves as a challenge.

Motivation is so very easy to lose.

More pertinently, numerous daily poisons always present themselves as such easy aids to help deal with the struggles of life.

It’s always a tricky act, maintaining that balance.

Occasionally, the poisons start upsetting the balance.

Coupled with an injury, it’s enough for a person to take stock of lofty, but undying, athletic goals.

And focus on the more immediate, and likely far more important, goal of finding balance in life again.

Training Diary – when our inherent fragility sucker punches us

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Threw my back out this morning.

Not badly, but still.

It really sucks.

A combination of trying a new workout two days back with a ground ‘n’ pound bag, shitty hydration, daily poisons (of course), the sudden onset of below freezing weather in Minneapolis (thanks climate change), and a shitty nights sleep had me get that humbling, literally breathtaking, twinge while I got up wrong from the couch this morning after my morning coffee.

It’s healing better this time around (seems to be an annual thing).

But I get depressed when I don’t train and get soft around the midriff.

So I decided to slow dance to music with some defensive movements inspired by kalaripayattu (look it up if you care). I could only manage about 15 minutes. Really all I wanted was to just confirm to myself that despite the shortness of breath, the ribs getting tightened, and the clearly torn muscles and tendons of my middle back…that I could still move with a moderate amount of grace and confidence (helps with defense I feel).

And I daresay I might have just found another workout. A physically less stressful one for sure, but one that actually requires more focus on breathing and balance due to the temporary fragility imposed on my back.

It still doesn’t justify the beers I’m going to swig or the ciggie I’m going to smoke to numb the daily demons.

But whatever…at least I drove away fear for a brief moment.

Training Diary, Week 5 – Do I just have a crazy goal so I’ll workout every day?

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I’m weak in a multitude of ways.

Like all humans I guess.

But I just don’t feel like I have the mental strength to workout every day unless I have some goal to commit to. And when I say workout, I mean something that gets that heart rate up, a sweat going, and some muscular stress. Even if it’s just for 15 mins. Hopefully more like 30-45.

Every day.

I don’t think I’d do it in a way that keeps me honest and true unless I had a goal to keep my lazy ass motivated. Because really, when I think about it, laziness and the need for relaxation is a critical baseline from which humanity operates from. If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we work the week to enjoy the weekend, we labor in order to enjoy the fruits of relaxation after, we sweat so we may later rehydrate with a crisp honey lager.

We struggle so we may feel joy in all its glory.

So then why can’t I workout every day just for the sake of feeling those endorphins and post-workout treats? Why this goal of becoming a pro fighter?

I really can’t say. What I do know is that unless I have a genuinely hard athletic goal in front of me (that also doubles up as a spiritual quest to figure out this toxic masculinity shit), I’m gonna get lazy with my workouts. And I haven’t exactly gotten the healthiest grip on all the pleasurable poisons I indulge in to help me with the struggles of life.

So I have to keep imagining a beast wanting to beat the shit out of me to get a good sweat in.

After all, we must dance with our demons to defeat the devil inside.

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┬áthat).

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.

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

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.