The Eternal Grappling Match

The Good Wolf vs The Bad Wolf

The Good Wolf vs The Bad Wolf

For your listening pleasure, as background music for this post.

Now or never, Face yourself, No one else will do
Face your weakness, Face your past, Let your scars show through
It’s now or never, Don’t look back

– Michael Hedges –

There is a struggle that takes place everyday within us all.

An eternal battle waged between our better selves, our greatest being and our basest incarnations. Sometimes the rivals are confidence and self doubt, other times they are integrity and that part of ourselves that wants to give in because it’s easier to sell out.

The conflicts are innumerable but for me, on the mats, most often the battle is waged between the Ego and the Empty Vessel, the pure artist who is ultimately only there for the impermanent tapestry that is the live go, the free roll, the sparring session itself rather than the outcome or the one-upsmanship that can accompany such a session.

The Truth Hurts

Earlier this year, at the annual CSW Instructor/Fighter Camp, I had yet another opportunity to vanquish that foe. I even had people there for inspiration. Mentor figures who have been there and done that, people who I actively seek out to learn from and glean wisdom.

I remember Sensei Paulson telling all the guys who wanted to spar to go to one side of the room. The rest he told to go work on the heavy bags. I remember standing smack dab in the middle as I looked over at one of my seniors, making his way to the heavy bags. I remember thinking to myself, man that’s one cool customer, smart and experienced I should follow his lead. He even looked at me an smiled and said “I’ve got nothing to prove.” Then I sided up with the sparring group.

First round of the first day, I get into it with a youngster (twenty something). He snaps my head back a little with a punch so I return the favor. His head snaps back an when it comes back down he smiles at me. I think to myself… oh $#!T.

After the round, I don’t know what’s happened but my ankle is really hurting. I can barely stand on it. And of course, the next guy I get paired up with is a big 185er also in his twenties. He’s made a point of coming after me every year for the last 3 years. I’ve been able to hang with him in the past but now I’m a year older and in bad shape with my ankle hurting the way it does. He gets the best of me and I am bitter as Hell. One because I didn’t do as well as I wanted and two because now my ankle is screwed for the remainder of the camp (two more days).

I was even more pissed because I look at camps like that as vacation time. I’m there to have a good time and learn. I don’t like to feel like I’m being challenged. But then it dawns on me. I am the one responsible. I am the one who feels challenged because I am the one who has an ego and who gets upset when that ego is challenged. I could have gone over and punched the bags. I could have backed down and let the youngsters have the upper hand willingly and in so doing preserved my body and my vacation.

A Turning Point In The Battle

I vowed right then and there to put up twice the fight next time my ego came a knocking and two months later it did. I had decided to take advantage of an invitation one of my instructors had extended to me to come to his other school and train with a bunch of his guys that I am familiar with but haven’t spent much mat time with. Right off the bat I get paired up with a bigger guy who’s one rank ahead of me.

Speak into the microphone Ego

Speak into the microphone Ego

He says “Hey, I’ve watched your show.” He slaps hands and then begins to wrestle. I hate when people say that kind of stuff to me. I never know what it means. It could mean that they are a genuine fan, but I swear, most times the thought bubble I read over their heads says “And I really don’t think you’re all that good… And now I’m going to prove it to you boy.”

Anyway, his intensity level starts to rise quickly and I think to myself, I could make this a lot tougher on him if I wanted to (not to say that I could have beaten him, tapped him or even escaped) but whenever he got close to a submission I tapped.

I maintain this mindset for the remaining 5 partners and get through the day uninjured and really actually having one of the most enjoyable, fun learning experiences of my career. I didn’t know if that first guy was just trying to defend his belt or if that’s just how he rolls or whatever but later that day, I hear a loud snoring sound. I look over and see him convulsing on the ground. Above him is a bigger white belt who had choked him out. I think to myself. That could have been me, but today I left my ego at the door and it was a good day.

On the drive home I was reminded of an old Cherokee fable:

A wiseman was speaking to his grandson:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a long minute, and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed the most.”

Kneego my Ego!

Kneego my Ego!

Next time I am at CSW Camp I will be along side my mentors on the heavy bags. My ego will be inside those bags, and I will be feeding them my fists and this time, it won’t be able to punch back. And if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll pick up a tip or two from the wisemen.

How goes your internal grappling match?

20 replies
  1. ST
    ST says:

    Nice. Well said. It’s really about the bigger picture, isn’t it. Last night I opted for the non-sparring group and felt good about it, but still had that little nagging self-doubt: why didn’t I get in the ring and bang? The feeling I had reading this blog entry confirms for me that I made the right choice–at least for last night.

    “Kneego my Ego!” Ha ha ha!

  2. Dr Sick
    Dr Sick says:

    I’d like to quote Marcellus Wallace from Pulp Fiction. I see you’re from BYU and I hope I might have some younger people reading this, so I’ll give you the edited version (and I mean it as a sign of respect, not an act of condescention):

    ” think you’re gonna find, when all this [poo poo] is over, I think you’re gonna find yourself one smiling [Oedipus Complex Sufferer]. The thing is, right now you got ability. But painful as it may be, ability don’t last. And your days are just about over. Now that’s a hard [Oedipussian] fact of life, but that’s a fact of life your [bum bum] is gonna have to get realistic about. See, this business is filled to the brim with unrealistic [Oedipussians]. [Oedipussians] who thought their [bums] would age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don’t. Besides, how many fights do you think you got in you anyhow? Two? Fighters don’t have an Old Timers Place. You came close but you never made it. And if you were gonna make it, you would have made it before now.

    Night of the fight, you might feel a slight sting. That’s pride [Fornicating] with you. [Fornicate] pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps. You fight through that [poo poo]. ‘Cause a year from now, when you kicking it in the Caribbean, you gonna say to yourself, ‘Marcellus Wallace was right.'”

    ST, that “nagging self-doubt”, that’s pride fornicating with you. I hope someday, you find yourself on a beach, kicking it in the Caribbean and saying to yourself, “yeah, I was right.” and then have a chuckle at the expense of the dudes who got broken noses that night.

    God Speed!

  3. Kiser
    Kiser says:

    Damn, I just had to drop in and comment on the picture. I can’t wait to read this article but I can barely keep my eyes open right now and I want to give it my full attention but damn that picture is cool as hell.

  4. kensei sato
    kensei sato says:

    That was a great artical, everyones ego was hurting the first couple of days at camp and we just kind of let it go and ejoyed the rest of the days learning.

  5. Kiser
    Kiser says:

    Wow, what an awesome article! I love the wolf story. My wolves are always at war.I wonder if I’ll be on the bags or throwin down with the badger next year at camp.

  6. Dr Sick
    Dr Sick says:

    No way Kiser. Badger has a price on his head an you’re collecting. You don’t get to sit around and talk about the good old days until you crest the double treys (that’s 33 for you less hip jive talkers). You’ve got a long way to go before you’re as decrepit as I am.

  7. KevinDillard
    KevinDillard says:

    Well said Brian. I find myself playing the “I’m about to be 41 card” more often these
    Esecially when nursing naggin new and old injurys (miniscus, rotator cuff, neck fusion plate.)
    Sometimes that pride thing just bites me right in the butt and the next thing you, I’m right in the thick of someplace I probably shouldn’t be. I always seem to get out of it.. and usually wishing I’d just swallowed that pride the next morning when trying to climb out of the bed.

  8. KevinDillard
    KevinDillard says:

    ..yeah.. agreed.. ALL over rated..besides we ALL KNOW that once you’re as old as I am.. you should just realize that its all over with .. its downhill from here…should probably brush up on my dominos and checkers and just the rest of the old guys down at the park benches! lol.
    Just remember.. it ain’t the years.. its the mileage.;0)

  9. Poneyboy
    Poneyboy says:

    I’m going to echo everyone’s comments here, in that this story is well writen and proves to be timeless. There will always be someone trying to prove something. I was one of those D-BAGS and all I got for it was a blown out shoulder and burnt bridges between old friends.

    When I first worked in the clinch with you Dr. Sick I was an @SS. I felt I had something to prove and was tossing people in the dirt 🙂

    Needless to say that Muay Thai Camp was very tough for me, I was in pain, didn’t get not enough sleep and was bruised up. This year I almost didn’t come because, of my previous experience. But I was glad I did atttend because, as it turns out this past Muay Thai Camp was the most enjoyable for me. And what made it enjoyable was leaving my ego in NJ and let the youngsters get off with their techniques and teaching them new ones.

  10. Dr Sick
    Dr Sick says:

    WoW! How strange it is that two people’s experiences and perspectives can be so different. Poneyboy I couldn’t have disagreed with you more. I remember that camp and I remember you being my favorite partner to Prumb with… By FAR! I liked that you were going for it, taking chances and really trying some stuff out. I learned a lot and had a blast. I feel like that’s why I go to those camps, to be challenged (on a mental level, which is what you did for me, in what I felt like was a very friendly and respectful manner) and to see how others play when using their A game. I hope I wasn’t the one who busted your shoulder up.

    I felt like you went for it a little still this last camp and again, I really enjoyed training with you. I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box but I do my best not to pair up with guys I don’t like training with. I was happy that nearly every 3 on 1 prumb session I got to have you in my group. I did feel like you weren’t as agressive this last year but I figured it was because of your shoulder. If we ever get a change to prumb again, I want you to go after it. I love feeling that energy. I don’t care if I get put in the dirt, I’ll learn something from it. You’re a great martial artist and a bad@ss Muay Thai fighter, I am so glad you came to camp this year.

    I have to say, being able to joke around with you and train our @sses off together was one of my favorite parts of my trip. You more or less single handedly made this last camp one of my favorites. Now do me a favor and tell me if this smells funny.


  11. Poneyboy
    Poneyboy says:

    lol if I could smell through cyberspace, I would have to say yes.

    In the past I didn’t know I had such a huge ego. I was all about myself and I didn’t care about anyone in the gym. Especially if you couldn’t beat me, I wouldn’t even talk to you. It wasn’t until I was sidelined with my injury that I realized I was a D*CK. When I stated “all I got was a blown out shoulder and burnt bridges between old friends.” I was referring to my old gym.

    The story goes like this; I couldn’t train so, I just hung around the gym and watched the guys train. The routine was the same, fighter and nonfighter group, with the former getting all the attention. I asked my trainer at the time why are these guys, who have been at the gym for over a year still look like crap. And the reply was well, this person has this and has that hindrance…so, I suggested that perhaps they (instructors) pay more attention to the rest of the members instead of just the fighter group, which until then I have been a part of. That’s when my relationship with the gym turned for the worst. They took my suggestion as an insult. I was basically told to F*&k myself 🙂

    It’s funny to talk about it now, but at the time it really bothered me. It was Sifu Rick Tucci who got me off the negative mind set. He told me to stop sulking about the past and move on and move on I did. I learned two things about myself at the old gym; One was that EGO will blind you. The other was I realized I wanted teach and help others more than fighting.

  12. Poneyboy
    Poneyboy says:

    Yes sir. After my surgery I started training at PAMA and was invited come to Ajarn Chai’s Muay Thai Camp. So, I look at my injury as a blessing in disguise, not as a “career ending” injury.

    The original members at my old gym has since left and we get together once in a while when someone has a fight, but that’s all the contact I have with them. One instructor who trained me personally for my first fight also left the gym. I believe they forced him out. Like Ajarn Chai say’s “Martial arts has more politics than the White House.” “Stay away from politics, sir.” LOL

  13. Albo634
    Albo634 says:

    Awesome points made all around.

    It’s a funny dichotomy that exists in martial arts, particularly in areas that are more performance/sport based, such as Muay Thai, BJJ, and now MMA. For the longest time, we would hear all these stories about how the truly humble guys are the ones that get on the mat and spar all the time, whereas the ones that hang back and “avoid” it do so because they are insecure. So they are truly the ones with the ego problem, or so we’ve been told.

    The fact of the matter is, there is nothing inherently “character building” about sparring, rolling, competing, etc. If there were, then NBA and NFL players would all be model citizens.

    What it comes down to, as you put it, is whether or not you “have something to prove,” what exactly that is, and to whom you think you’re trying to prove it.

    I didn’t attend the camp, but like I’m sure a lot of other people did, I watched a lot of the sparring and rolling footage on youtube, and it seemed pretty obvious who in the group was there to learn and have a good time, and who was there to flex their muscles and feed their own ego. Ironic how only half the group seems to listen when they have instructors as accomplished as Sensei Paulson and Khuen Kru Nelson telling them to “preserve your trianing partner” or “leave your ego at the door.”

    Anyway, Kru Yamasaki, keep up the great work. I really get a lot of info out of the instructional videos and am loving the blog posts as well.
    All the best.

  14. Dr Sick
    Dr Sick says:

    Albo634, thanks for stopping by DamageControlMMA! You know it’s funny you bring these points up. I continue my eternal Grappling match even as we speak.

    I came across an article at:

    And it got me thinking… again…. about the same old dichotomy. According to Frank Mir, “I think everybody, every morning should wake up with something to prove. The minute you think you don’t have something to prove, retire, go home and disappear.”

    It kind of got to me, lit a fire under my @$$ so to speak. Maybe I should be in there banging it out. I’ve still got some stuff “down there… in the basement” as Rocky Balboa once put it. I don’t want to hang it up, retire, go home and disappear… just yet anyway.

    He makes some valid points, I think. And yet, so do the others in this debate.

    I guess my Ego wasn’t out just yet. It just took a standing eight and is coming back for round 2. Time to knuckle up.

  15. Dr Sick
    Dr Sick says:

    CSW Camp is fast approaching and everyday, I have put in rounds with the Mr. E. Can’t say I won every one of them, but I’ve fought the good fight in preparation for this years camp. I think I’ll have him in check come zero hour. Practice makes habit.


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