Wednesday, December 30, 2009

High Standards or Sandbaggers?

I want to start off by saying that the jiu jitsu standards at Daegu MMA are extremely high.  I've rolled with some really tough dudes back at home. I've rolled with belts of all colours including black and brown.  I've been successful in grappling tournaments.  I trained with the National no-gi champ right before I left for Korea and didn't feel the least bit out of my element.  Things are different here.  Every blue belt in the place will choke me out quick if I'm not right on my game.  There are white belts who give me heaps of trouble.  Purple belts?  Forget about it.  When I'm at my best and they're at their worst I can keep it pretty even... in no-gi at least.

To put hings in perspective, there's an American guy here who had a blue belt from his club in the states.  After a few weeks at Daegu MMA he started wearing a white belt again.  One of the purple belts here won the Korean Abu Dhabi Trials against black and brown belts.  As I said, standards are high. The Jiu Jitsu curriculum here is centered around competition.  Sport Jiu Jitsu takes precedence over self defense techniques, although there is obviously lots of overlap.  It takes a long, long time to advance your belt ranking here.  There are people who have been white belts for years and train almost everyday.

One of the good things about Jiu Jitsu is that a Jiu Jitsu blackbelt still symbolizes years of study nd true mastery of the sport.  Jiu Jitsu rankings haven't been corroded by the money making McDojo's who hand out belts for cash like many other of the traditional martial arts.  The Jiu Jitsu community polices itself constantly and is absolutely ruthless with those who fake or embelish their credentials or Jiu Jitsu lineage.  Daegu MMA seems to hold true to that ideal.  A blue belt from this club really means something. 

The flip side of the coin is that some of the competitors here probably could move up in ranking but haven't taken their belt test.  Having to move into the blue/purple belt division in competition is a major deterent for some people.  At home, people would probably call this sandbagging; competing in a division that you probably should have moved out of so that you can still win.  The Koreans definitely don't look at this as a negative thing the way it's looked at at home.  The common belief is that it keeps the standards for progrssign throught the belts high.  This is true, but at the same time I think it might hold some promising grapplers back a little bit by keeping them from stepping up to tougher competition.

I waffle back-and-forth about whether or not these very high standards hurt or help in the long run.  In the end, I usually settle on the fact that regardless of belt ranking I get to roll every day with a lot of tough dudes and will be much better for it.

Me and one of my homies, Po Kue.  He is a 90 kg stud and one of my favourite training partners.
Notice the blood on me and not Po Kue.

New Vision Quest Movie?!?!
I've posted the dramatic conclusion to "Vision Quest".  Louden Swain's showdown with Shute is pretty awesome, but I wonder what it would look like in an updated version.  We may just get a chance to find out.  Rumour has it the guy who plays the werewolf in the Twilight movies wants to play the role of Louden Swain.  Check it out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Korean hospitals and a mutinous body

Hold it right there... 
Well, that didn't last long.  I'm not fighting in Japan next month.  I accepted the fight on Thursday and pulled out yesterday (wednesday).  Monday afternoon at work I noticed my ankle was getting a little sore.  By the time the end of the day rolled around I could barely walk and my ankle was swollen to the point I didn't want to take my shoe off because I didn't think I'd be able to put it back on.  There's a hospital on the short walk to my house, which was a good thing because I'm not sure I would have made it all the way home. I might have had to knock some kid off his bike, or at least get him to double ride me home.   
I have no idea what caused my ankle to swell up.  I trained hard on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  My ankle was fine until Monday afternoon and I did nothing in between except go to an indoor water spa with some co-workers (don't laugh, it was awesome).
On the positive side I was extremely impressed with my first Korean hospital experience.  I got signed in, triaged, assessed by a nurse and a doctor and X-rayed in a span of about  25 minutes.  There was nothing broken but they couldn't really tell me anything more than that.  They gave me an injection of who knows what (it felt like liquid gold), a prescription for some pain meds and put me in a half cast.  The cast was pretty cool.  It was a flexible piece of plastic and gauze that they injected with some sort of warm plaster.  the warm plaster molded to my leg and cooled and hardened to the shape of my foot.  The plaster is wrapped with bandages to keep it in place and they gave me a walking boot to wear with it.  Unfortunately I don't think the cast formed to my leg as well as it was supposed to.  Sometimes it doesn't keep my foot from moving around and it's a pain to walk around with.  I keep trying to wear it around but I find taping up my ankle does just as good a job.

I guess for the next few weeks I'll be standing in front of a punching bag working on turning my hips and shoulders and keeping my chin down.  I'll also have some time to do some strength work in the weight room, which I'm a little glad about.  I know that the "silver lining" expression is cliched but there's always something you can do, and if I don't do something I'll go crazy.

It feels like my body is conspiring against me to keep me from competing in Asia.  Jiu Jitsu tournament? Sublexed shoulder.  MMMA fight? Mysterious ankle explosion.  I think I'm going to have to keep my body in the dark about these things from now on.  Then again, some people say my body should always be kept in the dark anyways.

After slouching around for a few days and being generally grumpy about not fighting I've cheered up a bit.  First of all, tomorrow is my birthday.  E-mail me and I'll send you the account # where you can deposit my gift.  Secondly, one of my 6 year old students wrote this in her weekend diary. Click on the picture to enlarge and read it.

 If that doesn't make you laugh you've obviously had a successful senseofhumourectomy.

It's the thought that counts:
When it looked like I was going to fight in January I was looking for some sponsors to help cover the cost of travel an accommodations since the fight organizations doesn't do that for it's fighters.  ARMBAR Athletics stepped up right away and offered to pay a good chunk of the expense.  I'm extremely grateful that a small company would do that, especially for a fighter that is just getting going in his career.  ARMBAR Athletics sells MMA gear and fashion and has a lot of the big names in their store.  If you're in the market for something I hope you'll support them... their support for me is greatly appreciated.  If you buy something from them, tell them I sent ya!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

KOTC and Fighting in Japan.

The last few days have been filled with all kinds of MMA related news for me.  I've been keeping in touch with the boys from Ho Shin Sool about their fights at King of the Cage: Title Defense, I watched UFC 107 and had some exciting MMA news of my own.

Ho Shin Sool MMA Rips it up at "King of the Cage: Title Defense:

What else is there to say?
Ho Shin Sool fighters went 5-0 at King of the Cage for the second time this year. Two KO's, one submission and two unanimous decisions.  That's good fishing. Ray, Adrian, Jeff, Trevor and Dalton all came to fight and showed why we're the first and best MMA club in the area.  Big props to Jeff for ending his pro-debut in under 30 seconds.  Here's a highlight video of the event featuring most of the Ho Shin Sool crew.  You can also read some good newspaper articles about the fights here and here.

Watch live streaming video from soonews at

Who's Fighting in Japan? I am.
I've accepted a fight in Japan for January 9th.  I was a little apprehensive about taking the fight because there are lots of things I still don't know about the fight and some things I probably won't find out until I get there.  When you're dealing with two language barriers (Japanese to Korean and Korean to English) it's tough to get accurate info. Here's what I do know.
  • The fight will be at 70 kgs.  This is a weight class higher than I normally fight at but weigh ins are the same day and I know that most Japanese fighters don't really cut weight.
  • I will fly from Busan to Tokyo with 4 other Korean fighters on Friday January 8th, fight on January 9th just outside of Tokyo and fly home on Sunday the 10th.
  • The rules of the fight are slightly modified.  Full MMA rules on the feet, full ground and pound on the ground but no submissions.  I'm not sure if this is good for me or not.  On one hand being able to take someone down without worrying about submissions is awesome, on the other hand my submission game is a lot more dangerous now than it was three months ago.
  • The organization does not pay travel.  It's really expensive to fly to and stay in Japan, especially Tokyo.  Luckily I've had a few sponsors step up and it looks like I'll be able to swing the cost of travel. More about that later.
Other than that I'm pretty much flying blind.   I don't know much about the guy I'm fighting, but the owner of Daegu MMA seems convinced that this is a fight I should win.  I don't know who will be cornering me.  I'm not sure if anyone from the club will be going.  I know there is a fighter from another Daegu MMA location that is also fighting. Maybe we will corner each other.  Maybe I'll put some feelers out to see if there are any mutual acquaintances in the fight scene in Japan that would be up for it.  I don't know the name of the organization I'm fighting for; it might be an organization I know or it might be a fly-by-night one time promoter tat will never be heard from again.  I don't know how big of an event this is.  I'm prepared for the venue to be a local gym with 30 people watching and I'm also prepared to walk into a big venue with a few thousand spectators.

There were a number of legitimate reasons for me to not take this fight. Wrong weight class, lots of unknowns, bad money etc.. but in the end one of the main reasons I came here was to fight and fighting in Japan is an opportunity that a lot of fighters would kill to have.  I don't want to leave Korea and say, "man, I wish I would have fought in Japan while I was here."

So, as they say, Game On.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Soooooooooooooooo... my computer died.  That was a while ago.  I have tonnes of pics and vids on there that I want to put up on the blog.  Apparently there's an evil computer genius that lives near us that can hopefully recover those files.  Lesson learned; always back up your files. When I say lesson learned I mean, that's what you should do, not necessarily what I'll do from now on.

The MMA Lowdown

I skipped the Jiu Jitsu tournament this past weekend.  I hurt my shoulder a little while ago and hadn't done any real sparring in almost two weeks.  I've had a lot of time to work on some technical things that I've been thinking about so it wasn't a total waste of time. I sparred for the first time on Saturday and every day this week and it feels okay... just a little limited in my range of motion.  Daegu MMA won the team title at the tournament again.

Daegu MMA has undergone a bit of a facelift.  There are huge new banners that pull down from the ceiling everywhere with pictures of team members in action and accolades that have been collected by the team in the last few years.  Some of the pictures that are on the banners are pretty cool.  For example, there's a picture of Jae Hoon (the owner) holding pads for Lyoto Machida.  When I asked him about it he said "Yesh. Lyota Masheeda. Vely good balanceuh."  That's it.  After training with one of the best fighters in the world all he can say is that he has good balance.  Hilarious.

On Monday night we were treated to a seminar by the first Korean born Ju Jitsu blackbelt.  The seminar was good, but focused on how to use the gi against your opponent.  There was some pretty interesting stuff, but there's no real application beyond sport jiu jitsu...  unless of course you get into a fight with a guy wearing pajamas that have double reinforced collars and sleeve cuffs.  With that being said, I am really starting to appreciate the intricacies of working in the gi, even if a lot of it doesn't translate to MMA very well.

I've been training at a new kickboxing gym in my area for the last few weeks.  The guy who runs the gym is pretty young and has fought in some big events.  He has held multiple belts, including one world championship belt at 81 kg.  I don't know how legit the world title is, but all of the guys at Daegu MMA say he's good, which goes a long way in my books.  Because the gym is brand new there aren't a lot of people who train there yet. There are some classes that run on a schedule but I've been lucky to work mostly one on one with the owner.  When I go to the club right after work he's usually the only one there, watching TV or playing video games. I warm up on my own and hit the bag until he decides that I'm ready or until he can't bear to watch my brutal technique anymore.  That's when he puts the pads on and works me through 20 - 30 minutes of technical and conditioning padwork.  His English is about as good as my Korean, which is to say embarrassing.  Luckily we both speak the universal language of dirty beatdowns. When I'm done on the pads I always have to do between 400 and 600 roundhouses on the heavy bag.  Then it's "fwee time-uh".  It's awesome having someone of his caliber to work with one on one and I think he appreciates having someone around who is willing to work his but of and do whatever he says. 

KOTC in Sault Ste. Marie
On Saturday night 5 fighters from Ho Shin Sool will fight at King of the Cage: Title Defense.  This will be the first time that anyone from HSS has fought without me being there.  I was the first HSS fighter to step in the cage, I've fought as the only HSS fighter on a card and I've traveled to support other fighters when they were the only HSS fighters on a card.  I'm extremely proud of what we've been able to accomplish with Jim leading the way and I couldn't be happier with the group of guys that train at HSS.  The last time KOTC was in the area our team went 5-0.  While no one can guarantee that it will happen again I can tell you that every fighter is well prepared and will leave everything they have in the cage that night.  Adrian said it pretty well in his athlete profile on the Catalyst Fitness website.

"...when you step into the cage you stand alone but you hold a piece of each of those people. Every time they have ever pushed you, tried to break you, punished you they make you stronger. They stand beside you because “I” don’t fight on the 12th “We” fight. It’s a family, never before have I belonged to a family as completely as to this one and nobody attacks this family. I hope you all read this and know I love all of you like brothers.
Lastly, I cannot guarantee you a win. It’s a fight and anything can happen, I can however guarantee that everything I have gets laid out for everyone to see and would bet my life that my teammates do the same. In return I ask one thing when a Ho Shin Sool fighter’s name gets called you leave everything you have inside that building. Don’t save it for the next guy, you always have another gear and I want you drop it into fifth. Make the floor vibrate, make the other man tentative to come out, put fear in his heart and fill ours. That’s it that’s all I ask, come 12 – 12 bring the noise."

Give you chills? It did for me.  If you need another reason to go see the fights it shouldn't hurt that Tony Hervey who holds the 145 lb. KOTC World Title will be defending his belt.  Hervey just lost a very close 5 round decision to Takanori Gomi, long considered one of the best fighters in the world, in Japan.  Some people are calling that fight the fight of the year.  Do yourself a favour and look it up, it's one of the most entertaining fights I've seen in a long time.  Check out the commercial for KOTC: Title Defense at the top right of my page.

I'm not going to say god luck to the fighters because I believe when you're skilled, well trained, in shape and focused luck doesn't play a roll.  Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.  The preparation has been done, the opportunity will come along Saturday night.  Do what you do guys, I can't wait to hear about it.

Ultimate Frisbee
I'm surprised that I haven't mentioned this before.  For the past 10 weeks I've been playing in an Ultimate Frisbee league in Daegu.  The league runs on Sundays and there are three or four games every day.  Getting out and running hard every Sunday is great but the best part is that most players show up for the whole day and just hang out.  The expat community here is pretty small so everybody knows each other somehow and it's fun to have everyone in the same place.

There are some really good players in the league and lots of first timers and can't throw or catchers.  Some people take it pretty seriously and some show up in their bar clothes from the night before.  The games are competitive (my team played 9 games and 7 of them were decided by two points or less) but they also serve beer on the field.  Here's a few pics of the Sunday afternoon action.

Most of the Daegu Hurricanes... best team in the league

The man known simply as B-Vance stretching for the disc.

Me trying to knock down the disc.  For arguments sake let's assume I was successful.

Things that are awesome in Korea: Heated Floors.
Koreans are way ahead of North America when it comes to Radiant heat flooring. Every building or house is heated this way.  It makes sense in a culture where people sit on the floor a lot.  It's awesome in the morning when you step out of bed ad your feet are on a toasty warm surface.  It's also awesome if you think ahead far enough to throw your clothes on the floor at night. When you wake up your underwear is like it just came out of the dryer.  EVERY DAY!
Things that suck in Korea: Bathrooms that have no heat at all.
Things in Korea aren't insulated very well and the bathroom which is always against an exterior wall has no heat source.  Bathroom tiles on a December morning are pretty much the worst thing you could ever step on.  Sitting on a plastic toilet seat in those temperatures creates a whole different world

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's been a while since I've posted but hopefully today's post will make you laugh and smile enough to make up for the lack of regular updates.

Korean Signs and Translations
It seems like Korean's have been brainwashed into believing that the English language will be the salvation of the country and that to be successful you must understand the language.  There is a strong, depreciating belief in Korea that the English language is somehow better and a symbolizes class and intelligence.  Because of this belief Korean stores and clothing labels love to put English words or translations on their signs and products. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) a lot of the signs and t shirts with English on them are written by people with a poor grasp of the language.  This is strange considering how many English speaking westerners live in Korea.  The hilarious result of the gibberish, konglish and poor translation can be seen below.  These pictures are only a fraction of what you see on a weekly basis.  These are just the pictures I took when I saw a good sign and happened to have my camera on me.  Enjoy.
I'll post more as I see them.

On the right hand side of the page I've also added a couple of videos.  The first is a fantastic vid that really highlights all of the emotional aspects of MMA. 
The second is one of the best speeches (for my money) in any movie.  Just when Louden is starting to think his quest is hopeless his long time buddy and one of his mentors reminds him of why it's important, even if it's just "six lousy minutes on the mat".

   Typical translation on the package of a Halloween costume.

Everything you need, including raping?

Ive been in this store.  It's more like 'Shop and... Meh'

Makes sense since this is how Koreans usually speak English.

Does this mean I can buy ice cream instead of a ring? Nice.

Korea is actually pretty progressive in terms of environmental issues, despite this sign.

This bathroom is only for girls who really, really have to go.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Daegu, Daegu, FIGHTING!

Daegu MMA in Action
The last week has been pretty empty inside Daegu MMA.  There have still been lots of people training but the studs have either been away fighting or helping to corner the fighters.  The intensity of training has been a little lower this week, but to be honest, I feel like my body needed the rest.  I feel refreshed and ready to get back at it full tilt.

Un Sik "The Tornado" Song won his kickboxing fight at "W" by second round KO.  He scored two knockdowns before putting his guy away for good.  Un Sik's fight was the main event, getting top billing over a fighter who has competed in K1.  It sounds like he was all over his opponent from start to finish.  After watching him train and spar (and getting punched around by him a lot) I'm glad to know that his Kickboxing is as good as I thought.

Un Sik re-aranging some facial features

Across the sea, Heung Gull lost a very tough split decision to Akihiko Mori in Tokyo, Japan.  I haven't talked to him yet but it sounds like he dominated the first round with striking and almost finished the fight from the bottom when he got taken down at the end of the round.  The second round was a toss up and in the third Heung Gull got taken down and couldn't get anything going from the bottom.  He didn't take any real damage but he was down there for the whole round.  Sounds like the fight could have gone either way, but I wish I could have seen it since the only info I have is second hand from some biased sources.  As mainly a Jiu Jitsu practitioner, Heung Gull has different ideas about cutting weight than I do.   His Jiu Jitsu competition weight is 62 kg.  while the fight against Mori was at 70 kg.  I was worried that a weight disadvantage might hurt him in the later rounds if the fight went long... I don't know if this was the case or not but I personally wouldn't fight at 70 kg and I'm a bit bigger than Heung Gull.  The cool thing is that I think Heung Gull fights for fun.  He is first and foremost a Jiu Jitsu player and is now busy preparing for the Asian Abhu Dhabi trials, having already won the Korean trials.

The best thing about Un Sik and Heung Gull is that neither guy missed a single day of training after their fights.  They were both right back at it the day they got back to Daegu.  Tough dudes.

Competition on the Horizon
There's a little more than three weeks until  I compete in my first Jiu Jitsu tournament in Korea.  I don't know if it's a big tournament or a small one, if the divisions are separated by belt or if they lump everyone together.  I do know that the weight class is 68 kg.   This is pretty much my natural weight right now, so that's where I'll compete.. there's no way I'm cutting to 62 kg.  I've picked up the amount of weight training that I've been doing and would like to get back up to a solid 70 kg and cut to 68 for grappling and 66/65 for MMA.  There is also the off chance that I might end up fighting an amateur Kickboxing fight at some point.  When Jae Hoon (The owner and coach at Daegu MMA) talked to me about fighting he said "Amateur Kickboxing, no probrem". I trust him, but I'd still rather fight MMA where I can take I guy down if need be. And get paid.
Over the next few weeks I'll be doing the regular jiu jitsu classes as well as splitting time with Un Sik and Jae Hoon, working on my kickboxing and Un Sik's wrestling.

Last week I went into my regular coffee shop, the one I stop in at just about every morning on my way to work.  There were some guys there putting in a new, bigger front window.  As I was leaving one of the guys was blocking my way.  I couldn't help but think "Hey buddy, you make a better window than a door...".   Gold!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Then you really might know what it's like... to fight.

What is it like to fight? I get asked some variation of this question fairly regularly, usually by people that might have plans to step in the cage themselves or sometimes when I have an upcoming fight.  While every fight is different for me and every fighter has different experiences, there are some common threads in what I and other fighters feel in the months, weeks, days, hours and minutes leading up to the fight.  I'll do my best to try and explain the mental, physical and psychological rollercoaster that I go through every time I fight.  Some people might think that writing this down for others to see is allowing others to see my weaknesses, but I don't see it that way.  I'm sure every fighter goes through some version of what I'm writing down.

For me the experience begins when I get an offer for a fight.  Usually the offer arrives via my coach Jim, who usually approaches me walking into the gym for a training session.  There is usually little time to debate on taking a fight or not.  After a few minutes on google doing some preliminary research about the potential opponent a decision is reached.  While the fight is still a long ways off at this point, the moment when I accept a fight is emotionally intense.  It's the moment when things get "real" in a hurry.  Even though you've been training with the intent of fighting, putting a name and face to a person that you know is training to beat you up and putting a date to when it'll happen always triggers an adrenaline dump in my system.

The months and weeks of training leading up to a fight is when the ups and downs of fighting really show.  You have good days and you have bad days.  A lot goes into preparing for a fight.  You need to prepare your body for any conditions it might encounter... a long, drawn out war that will tax your cardiovascular system and muscular endurance or a fast paced fight where you will have to rely on explosiveness, speed and power. Running, intervals, powerlifting and periodized physical training are all part of the prgoram.  You have to make sure that your technical skills and timing are sharp. You drill and work out the details in your kickboxing, wrestling and jiu jitsu and work on smooth transitions and combinations of all three.  You prep your strategy and game plan. You watch tape of your opponent and  work out situations that you can exploit in the fight and how to get to them.  You anticipating and train for bad situations and "worst case" scenarios. You prepare  "Plan B" in case the original game plan goes out the window the first time you get cracked in the melon.
You have days when you feel like you could knock anybody out on the feet and you have days when rookie grapplers are taking you down and submitting you.  This is all normal; It's the nature of physical performance that you can't always be at your best.  Even knowing this, the ups and downs of training coupled with he physical abuse that your body takes can make even the friendliest fighter cranky and moody.  It becomes hard to keep an even keel through practice.  If you push yourself to failure you sometimes feel like you're body isn't ready.  If you don't push yourself to failure you feel like you're not working hard enough.

The physical ups and downs are one thing, but I find the mental rollercoaster can be just as bad. In the extended time leading up to a fight I flip flop from thoughts of being invincible to thoughts of being hopelessly overmatched.  Going from "This guy is a chump, there is no way he can beat be, I'm a better athlete, I'm in better shape, my skills are better in every area, I have a better game plan, I have the better training partners and coaches."  To thoughts like "I'm not ready, I'm not in good enough shape, I can't fight with this ---------- injury, I haven't sparred enough, his jiu jitsu/wrestling/kickboxing is too good, I'm in over my head." and back again is par for the course.  These thoughts will flip flop several times before a fight, sometimes in the matter of a day or even hours. A good training session can leave me feeling invincible and a tough session will often have me leaving the gym with shaken confidence.  Luckily I've experienced these emotions many times and have come to accept and expect them.

The last week of preparation before fight night is time to taper down the training intensity, let your body heal, fine tune some small technical and strategic details and make sure your weight is on point.  This always feels like the longest week; you're used to training and sparring hard and just want to fight.  During this week I always feel like I could fight at the drop of a hat.  Let's do it,  lets' get it over with.   You feel like a wild animal that 's been caged and muzzled.  Because your training volume is lower, there's more time for crazy thoughts to burrow into your head.  You realize the absurdity of what you are about to do and question why you would ever think that it was a good idea.  Around this time my internal monologue always sounds something like this: "I'm going to step into a steel cage with a guy who's only goal is to do physical harm to me.  Why on earth would I do this?  I'm a smart guy, I have a good job, I don't have to do this. I'm never doing this again. This is stupid, this is going to be my last fight."  This happens all the time, but again, it's a lot easier to deal with when you know that it's going to happen.

The night of weigh ins is always a fun night for me.  All the hard work has been done at this point, the journey is almost over.  All there is left to do is step on the scale, flex for the camera and relax until fight time.  This is usually the first time that you see your opponent in person, which is always something that makes my heart jump into my throat a little bit. I find the post weigh-in face-off hard to take, but probably not for the reasons you'd think.  I'm not generally a mean person and standing in front of someone trying to look mean or tough cracks me up.  I can barely keep a smile or laugh in. I usually try to go say hi to my opponent before the weigh ins to make that moment a little less strange.  Some opponents are friendly, some aren't.  I always have to laugh at some of the fighters who try to "walk tough" at the weigh ins.  There's always a few who are posturing and trying to intimidate their opponents. I feel like saying "Guess what guys? Everyone here is a fighter, everyone knows your tough, you can drop the act, we're all going to have a drink together when it's all over."

Some fighters find fight day to be extremely stressful, but not me.  In my mind the outcome of the fight has already been determined by the way you've trained for the fight; all there is left to do is go out, implement the game plan and giv'er hell.  I don't like to think too much about the fight on fight day; I've already done weeks of visualization and mental preparation, nothing I do at this point is going to change much.  Having lots of downtime is when your mind starts to wander and all kinds of  thoughts creep into your head. To avoid this, it's good to have things to do and a good group of people to hang out with.  On fight day I like to sleep in late, get up and have a big breakfast with all of the team members that are at the event.  This is usually followed by a team walk to loosen up the legs a little bit. I'm lucky to have a great group of fighters, trainers ans support guys that travel with us most of the time and make this part of the adventure a lot easier and more fun. Throughout the day I'll probably watch a movie, read the newspaper, wander around the venue and chat with other fighters, spectators or coaches... anything to keep occupied.

I can't speak for every fighter, but for me the emotions really start to get going when the fighters are called to the referee's meeting on fight night.  It's hard to keep an even keel when everywhere you go fighters are warming up, hitting pads, grappling and getting themselves psyched up in their own  way.  Realizing that I'm so close to fight time really gets the juices flowing.  I can feel the knot in my stomach start to grow.  I tell myself that this is normal, dumping adrenaline and other chemicals into the system is the bodies way of preparing for a dangerous situation.  Imagine experiencing every intense emotion you can think of; excitement, hate, fear, anticipation, relief, sadness etc...  Now imagine experiencing every one of those emotions on a constant loop with the intensity dial cranked up to 11 out of 10. Sometimes the things I feel don't even make sense. That's what fight night feels like to me. 

I try to stay as loose and calm for as long as possible.  I listen to some comedy or mellow music that I've loaded onto my Ipod and I find someone to play cards with for a while.  I start warming up with some light shadow boxing/wrestling three fights before mine.  I gradually pick up the pace until I'm in 5th gear with one fight to go before I step into the tunnel.  As I'm in the tunnel I tune down the intensity a half notch and focus on some mental cues and visualization that I've been rehearsing for the last few weeks.  When my name gets announced the adrenaline gates open and I step out towards the cage.  It sounds cliched, but when I climb into to the cage I feel like my senses are heightened.  I feel ultra aware of the physical stimuli that affects me directly.  The lights are extra bright.  I can feel every grain of the canvas under my feet.  I can smell the vinyl of the mats and coated fencing.  Then my opponent climbs into the cage and the world closes in on itself, leaving only the cage.  My vision actually seems to narrow and I can only see my opponent.  I can't hear the crowd anymore, my coaches voices being the only thing getting into my head.

When the bell rings I always have a brief instant of thinking "Holy *%$#, this guy is going to try and punch me!"  That passes quickly and all of the training tunes me into the things I need to be aware of.  Circle away from his power side,  watch his lead leg.  square off the cage,  move your feet, stay engaged...

When the fight is over the rest of the world opens back up with a rush.  I realize how big the venue is, or how loud the crows is, or that I recognize the guys in the front row seats.  The relief that I feel when a fight is over is hard to describe.  There is nothing like standing up and pumping your fists to the crowd in celebration after pouring every ounce of skill and effort you have onto the cage floor. It's the moment that you realize that all of the mental and physical punishment you put yourself through was worth it and all of the self doubt and questioning of yourself was for nothing.  You remember that the fight itself was important because of what you went through to get there.

Some fighters say they aren't scared.  I think those guys are lying, stupid or maybe complacent. If I don't get an emotional rush from fighting, fear included, I don't want to do it.  The intensity of feelings I get from fighting is something a lot of people won't ever get.  I get scared to fight all the time, but I'm not scared of being scared.  I don't let it cripple me.  I like it.  I think that part of the beauty of fighting is that by intentionally putting yourself in harms way you are doing something that goes against some of your deepest instincts.  You are stepping far outside the normal range of the human comfort zone and challenging yourself to do something you weren't sure if you could do, and to me that's what it's all about.  That and I like to win.

**I posted the video of my first amateur MMA fight in the top right corner of the page.  After writing this post it was interesting to watch this fight and think of how far I've come in the physical, mental and technical preparation of fighting.  It's also interesting to watch me as I get into the cage and compete... I look fairly calm and collected but I really can't remember being more scared. Having seen dozens of amateur fights in the last few years I think I can honestly say that this fight was better than 99% of them, but I'd still love to run into this guy as a pro.

Interesting note: This fight was at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit in front of about 6000 fans.  That's still the biggest crowd I've fought in front of, even 6000 people in a facility that holds 25000 feels a bit empty. 

Things Koreans have figured out:  Glasses and Optometry.
I might have a hit put out on me by the eyewear industry bigwigs in North America after posting this.  If you are buying glasses in North America you are getting ripped off.  Today I bought a pair of cool glasses from the local glasses store (they're everywhere here).  They cost $10. That's $10 as in TEN.  That price included the lenses.  I gave them the glasses I was wearing and they matched the prescription and had my new ones finished in 10 minutes. With my purchase I got a coupon for $5 off my next pair. And a complementary gift choice of some socks or a towel.  Oh yeah, and 10% of my purchase price gets added to my membership towards another pair of glasses. Did I mention this wasn't a sale?   Go back and read that all again and try not to get mad about paying $250 for a pair of glasses and waiting 3 days fro them.

Things Koreans don't have figured out: ATM's
In Korea you can stay out all night.  The bars and restaurants don't close as long as there's people in them, and there always is.  Make sure to bring a stash of money though... the ATM's here don't work after midnight.  This makes it tough to catch a cab home when you've turned your pockets into bunny-ears looking for loose change.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ho Shin Sool MMA Fighters Gearing up for King of the Cage Dec. 12th

On July 25th five Ho Shin Sool MMA fighters, including myself, stepped into the cage at King of the Cage: DisputedDisputed had some match-ups that would settle some regional rivalries and Ho Shin Sool proved again that not only were we the first to bring MMA to our area, but we were, by far, still the best.  The night ended 5-0 for HSSMMA with 3 KO's and 2 submissions.  Those who had questioned our legitimacy, dedication or talent were left to eat their own bitter words.

    Ho Shin Sool Fight Team celebrates going 5-0 at KOTC: Disputed

If you were at Disputed and want more (or if you missed it and are mad about it) you'll get your chance to see the HSS boys in action again on December 12th at King of the Cage: Title Defense. Four HSS fighters will be in action at Title defence, which will take place at Vegas Kiwedin Dreamakers Theatre.  If you've never been to a KOTC show, don't miss this one.  The atmosphere when HSS fighters get in the cage is something not to be missed. The Sault area is lucky to have a quality promotion like KOTC coming back so don't miss out.   Coach Liguori will guide  Adrian "So Young He's Almost Sperm" Vilaca, Trevor "The Tremor" Manchester, Ray "Broken Parts" Gowlett and Jeff "The Big Caboose" Elliot into battle.  I might have to check the accuracy on those nicknames, but I'm pretty sure I got them all.

          Poster boys Jeff Elliot (far left) and Adrian Vilaca (left).  Trevor Manchester
and Ray Gowlett didn't make the cut due to aesthetic issues.

Tony Hervey will also be defending his 145 lb KOTC title at Title Defense.  Hervey just lost a close 5 round decision to Takanori Gomi, considered one of the best lightweights in the world, at Vale Tudo: Japan. 
Tickets are available at Ho Shin Sool Martial Arts and Fitness Center, Brody's Bar ad Grill and Sportscenter Bar and Grill.  Brody's and Sportscenter are also HSS sponsors so show them some love!

P.S.  Boy have I got a treat for you!  Every once in a while I'm going to post a clip from the movie "Vision Quest" on the blog.  If you're a wrestler and have never seen this movie I'm calling you out right here and saying that you're not a real wrestler.  Boxers have "Rocky", Football has "Rudy", Wrestling has "Vision Quest".

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lost in Daegu, Turkey Day and a Bit of Payback Wrestling Style.

There's no 'Bed Bath & Beyond' in Korea... But a nice little Saturday nonetheless.

Saturday I got up early and headed out to meet up with a friend. Armed with the most basic Korean language skills, a couple of dollars in my pocket and some directions written in Korean that I copied off the interent I set out for my rendezvous. If you know me and my sense of direction you probably already know I never found the place or the person I was looking for. No matter though, I decided to cash in the silver lining and explore a cool new part of Daegu that I had never seen. I walked through a lot of interesting traditional shops and found the Daegu music district where I priced out a few guitars for a later date. Eventually I stumbled across a subway station which meant I was home free. Good thing too, 'cause I had no phone, was lost and had apparently copied my directions down wrong. I decided to hit the Seomun Market where you can buy just about anything for really cheap. The place is huge and there are different sections for produce, textiles, shoes, clothing, seafood, housewares, hats, bags and all sorts of other stuff. You could easily spend all day there just walking around, checking out the cool foods and vendors (check out the video of the pig "snack bar"). After a while I made my way back to Daegu MMA where I had a good Saturday workout and then hit the neighbourhood Jimjillbang, something I'm glad to say is becoming a Saturday tradition with some of the boys.

Picking up the pace at Daegu MMA
Everyday at Daegu MMA Heung Gull tests the limits of the connective tissue in my arms, neck and legs. I get submitted a lot. Without the gi I'm happy to keep it even, in the gi I have to set smaller goals such as "don't die". Wednesday was different. Heung Gull is fighting a wrestler soon so we've been doing more wrestling. On Wednesday we scrimmaged. Just the two of us. Ten 3 minute sessions. I beat him like he was the bully who picked on me and stole my lunch money in elementary school and we were meeting 10 years later after I grew two feet, hit the weights and figured out that I was good at inflicting pain on people. I tried to steal his soul. Heung Gull is just good enough at wrestling that I can use some of my really good stuff on him. He reacts properly, which allows me to set up and hit some of my best techniques. I threw everything in my repertoire at him and then some. Doubles, singles, high crotch, shoulder throw, front headlock, stepper, hip toss, whizzer, over under, inside leg trip. I hit them all and I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel gooooooooooood. Unfortunately, as every fighter knows, Some days you're the hammer and some days you're the nail. The next day was back to Gi Jiu Jitsu. With Heung Gull I'm more often the nail than the hammer.
Things have been ramping up at Daegu MMA. Un Sik has a kickboxing fight on Halloween night, Heung Gull is fighting in DEEP in November and there is a Jiu Jitsu tournament in early December. There are a lot more guys training a lot harder these days and more sparring partners to choose from. Wednesdays no gi class has had more of an MMA slant to it lately and people have been doing more MMA based drills and conditioning during open mat. It's a good atmosphere.
Heung Gall's opponent in DEEP is Mori Akihiko. Akihiko's record of 7-6 doesn't tell the whole story. He's fought in Sengoku, DEEP, K1 and many other quality promotions in Asia. He's been in the ring with some some very tough hombres. I've been working on the wresting clinch with Heung Gall quite a bit as Akihiko seems to like to bully people into the corner, tie them up and try to drag them down to the ground. From what I've sen I think Heung Gull's Jiu Jitsu and striking are better than Akihiko's. Even if Heung Gull does get taken down, this might not be a bad thing as long as he doesn't end up mounted or in side control. It's an interesting fight, I hope I can make the trip to watch.

Turkey Day & Pumpkin Carving
Being away from home on the holidays is never great, but lucky for us we have some awesome friends that hosted a Canadian Thanksgiving Day to make everyone feel a little more at home. Karen and Brian prepared a full thanksgiving spread and there were contributions from everyone else as well. There were no turkeys to be found anywhere in the city, but it's just as well, they probably wouldn't have fit in the toaster oven like the chickens did. Ovens don't really exist in Korea.
About 15 people took part in the festivities; most were Canadian but there were a few Americans and an Irishman stirred in for flavour.
The same friends, Karen and Brian, also hosted a pumpkin carving night as a low key alternative to our regular Friday night festivities. Unfortunately the pumpkins were carved pretty quickly and what followed was a 4:00 am Noraebang session. Some people should sing. Some people shouldn't. Sometimes Soju convinces people from group 1 that they belong to group 2.

The Contradictions of Korea

Before I left for Korea I had some friends who had been there tell me that I would run into all sorts of things that just didn't make sense. So True.

Example #1:
Being caught behind a Korean girl on the escalator is awkward; they wear skirts that have shorter inseams than some brief-cut underwear I own. Suffice it to say that girls would not be allowed to wear skirts like that in a Disney film. This seems to be perfectly ok with everybody. On the other hand, Koreans find it absolutely SCANDALOUS for a girl to show her shoulders. How dare they!?

Example #2: Blowing red lights is ok. Driving on the sidewalk is ok. Cutting off cyclists and pedestrians is ok. But don't you dare jaywalk, Koreans will yell at you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The MMA Update

An Improved Mental State, a Battered Body.

The last two weeks of training have been much improved, despite my body feeling beaten and run down. I have added a few hours to my weekly training but the real difference has been not in the hours I train, but in the intensity and focus that I'm bringing with me to the gym these days. I push myself harder in sparring, I use my time better and squeek out more reps during technique and I use the open mat time to pick the better grapplers brains and work on things from the last class. I spar more on the feet and have added a little lifting back into the equation. I've also become more selfish. I almost always pick the most skilled guys to work with during technique and sparring. It might not help them a whole lot but hey, this is about me.

Everyday day at the club there is an hour and a half jiu jitsu class at 7:00 and another at 9:15 with 45 minutes in between where people relax, eat, work on technique or spar if they want to. I normally stay for one of the classes and the open mat time. Wednesdays is no-gi night so I've been staying from 6:45 to 10:45. The no-gi is much more MMA specific so I've been trying to take advantage a little more. Because of the length of training, I can't maintain the same intensity on Wednesdays as I do the rest of the week. I treat the first class as a technique class. In sparring I sometimes work with younger guys, give up positions and try to work out of them using movement instead of strength or speed. During open mat time I drill technique, stretch and stay warm. When the 9:15 class starts, it's on. I only scrap with the studs. I push myself to failure during conditioning. I yell, I bleed, I tap people out and I fight off chokes and submissions until I'm almost unconscious or broken. My body hurts a lot right now, but I feel like I'm working at a higher level than I have in a long time.

Some of the guys from the club think that I'm bat guano crazy because I bleed so much but keep sparring or training anyways. "Kinchanaieo", meaning "it's ok", has become a verbal staple for me. I say it about 10 times a night. The truth is that I just bleed a lot. One time I got cut by a stiff breeze. I briefly contemplated Brent "stretched out saran wrap skin" Fryia as my professional nickname. When I wrestled in university the trainers were always at matside with gauze, tape and cotton balls ready to go. I know that having thin skin is probably not the best characteristic for an MMA fighter, but it is what it is and the fans love blood right?

I realized recently that I haven't posted anything visual in regards to Daegu MMA. To remedy the situation I took a few videos last night to show you what the place is like. The videos are from after all of the classes for the day are done. Most people have gone home but some have stuck around to roll or work on a few things. A lot of the people in this video have already been at the club for more than four hours.

Cast of Characters: These are a few of the guys I train with every day
Hyung Gull (young gal) is a a purple belt, but that's misleading. I've been told more than once that he should be a brown belt but won't do it here because his master is a brown belt. He plans on going to Japan to get his brown and pursue his black belt. He's an unbelievable athlete. Strong fast, flexible and smart. He recently won the Korean regional qualifier of the ADCC against brown and black belts. In the semi final he faced his teammate, Un Sik and nearly broke his arm clean in half. Un Sik is just back training now after having minor surgery on that arm. Sounds like a jerk move on one of your buddies? Keep in mind Un Sik could have tapped at any point. You can see Hyung Gull in the red shorts in the second video.

Un Sik (oon shik) is an unbelievably skilled fighter. He is 7-0 and had developed quite a following before he entered the military and was forced to put figting on hold. All Korean men have a two year mandatory military service. During this time you can work one other job, but not two. Un Sik has a part time job that pays the bills, meaning if he gets paid to fight, he would face military charges and punishment. Raw deal. Un Sik is also a purple belt, has awesome Muai Thai and is picking up wrestling very quickly. One of the reasons I like him a lot is because he didn't like me right off the bat. While everyone else accepted me right off the bat because I was Mitch's brother Un Sik couldn't have cared less who I was, who I knew or what I had done before. He made me earn it. I like that because I'm the same way at home at Ho Shin Sool... don't tell me how good you are, show me. Un Sik has an amateur Kickboxing fight at the end of this month. You can see Un Sik wrapping up for sparring in the first video.

John is an 18 year old highschool student. That's him pretending to do something and throwing punches at the camera in the second video. he has an English name and speaks the language pretty well because he took several years of English in school. He likes to show off his knowledge of English slang by swearing at inappropriate times which is often hilarious, but only to me. I use him as my translator a lot. He has real sharp standup and is pretty slick on the ground. He likes sparring on the feet with anybody, guys who are better than him, guys he can work over without sweating or guys who give a him a solid challenge. Next year he'll start the first of his two years of military service after which he plans on beginning his fighting career.

"Super Babies" is what some of the older guys call the young kids who train at the club all the time. I think they are genetically engineered to be jiu jitsu machines. They're mostly in middle school and early highschool and spend ALL of their time at the club. They don't train super hard all the time but their skill level is pretty amazing considering how young they are. One of these kids first introduced himself to me as "Young Korean GSP". I thought that was pretty funny until I rolled with him. In the next 5 to 10 years I think you'll be watching one or more of these kids. In the second video you can see the two kids with no shirts on rolling. It might not look like they're rolling real hard but when that video was taken they had already been doing it for four hours. Pretty wild.

There's a bunch of other awesome guys at the club that I roll with on a regular basis, but I'll save them for a later date.

Things Koreans have figured out...
Cell phones. Every cell phone has the same charger and you can charge your phone at any store, restaurant or cafe for 20 cents. You're phone is essentially never dead. There is also one cell phone store for every3 people in Korea. Maybe a bit of an exageration, but not much. Think Starbucks and then multiply by a millionbazillion.

Things Koreans have not figured out.
Clearing your throat discreetly. You know when you wake up in the marning and are feeling really flemmy? And the only way to clear your throat is by making making a sound something like "HRANCHKXXXXXXXXT" and then hocking a loogey that could probably make into the next time zone? You know how you always try to do that secretly with no one around. Koreans don't. It's perfectly okay to do that anywhere in public. Kids, moms, dads, old ladies, small dogs... everyone does it and it's kinda gross.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Happenings Keep Happening!

A new approach, a renewed commitment
(edited, click on the pics for high quality, full size versions)

I had an interesting day at jiu-jisu today. When I walked in, the club manager approached me right away and took me by the arm. I figured she was going to hassle me about club fees since I hadn't paid for this month yet (I had the money in my bag). Instead the conversation went like this.
"There is competition in Japan.. you compete?"
"Yeah, sure."
"It is MMA."
"Oh... when and where is it?"
"November 1st, Tokyo"
This puts me an interesting position. I do want to fight while I'm here and what better place than Tokyo, considered by many to be the mecca of MMA? I'm also honoured that Jae Hoon and the rest of the guys would ask me to represent their club as a pro. There are two problems. Number one is that my current visa is a one entry visa only. If I leave Korea I can't come back. I can get an addendum to my visa to allow me to travel, but I'm not sure how long that would take. To fight in Korea I also need a special "entertainers visa"... my current E2 teaching visa doesn't cut it. A few North Americans have been busted on this in the last year and fined heavily. Korea is also in the middle of a crackdown on foreigners working illegally. I'm assuming there is a similar type of visa that would be needed to fight in Japan.
While these are problems, they are probably solvable. The second problem is the big one. I'm not ready. And that's embarrassing. I've been here for almost a month and a half and while I've picked up my training a bit, and my jiu jitsu is much better already, I am not ready to fight and don't think I could be in less than a month. I discussed my concerns about the visa issues and my preparedness with the guys at the gym and thanked them for the opportunity but declined. I told them that I do not want to represent their club unless I am at my best and can represent them the way they should represented.
There is a jiu jitsu tournament on the first weekend of December. I plan to keep upping my training to compete at this tournament. I also decided on the spot that I wouldn't let a lack of preparation keep me from an opportunity like this again. After this tournament I need to be able to fight at just about any time. I've heard lots of stories about fights being offered on very short notice in Japan. Even in the days of Pride many fighters never found out who their opponents were until two weeks before the event. I need to take better care of my body, do some more MMA specific training each weak and start hitting the weights and conditioning a little harder. Don't get me wrong, I'm in good shape, I'm about 5 lbs. leaner than when I left from Canada. It won't take a lot to get to where I need to be, but I need to start now.
P.S. As I'm writing this I'm watching Dream 11 live on cable TV. All of the UFC and K1 events are also free on cable here. So awesome.

Chuseok Weekend

Last week we had Thursday and Friday off for Chuseok, which is usually called Korean Thanksgiving even though that comparison isn't entirely accurate. Wednesday at school we had some Chuseok celebrations. We got to wear Hamboek, traditional Korean clothing, make songpeon, which I like to think of as a Korean pirogi. We got lots of good pics so here's a few.

There sure is nothing wrong with a four day weekend and we took full advantage of it. Thursday Lisa and I climbed Gatbowi Mountain. It's about 2.5 km up and very steep in for the last half. At the top is an amazing Buddhist sculpture that was carved around the year 620. There is a Buddhist village, lots of monks around and a large prayer area at the top of the mountain. We got some awesome video and pictures and were able to buy some beads from the monks. Probably the highlight (or maybe lowlight) of the trip was when we were buying the beads the monk got a text message on his cellphone. I am not kidding. It kinda ruined the effect for me. I think Korea is probably the most wired country in the entire world. ou gt service everywhere; at the top of the highest mountains, deep underground in the subway and anywhere in rural Korea. Grandmas and Grandpas rock their Ipods on the subway and every six year old has a cell phone and can text faster than you can talk.
Friday afternoon a bunch of us left for Incheon, the second biggest city in Korea. We had booked a deep sea fishing excursion and were pretty stoked. This was our plan. We would leave Daegu at 5:00 pm, and get to Incheon around 9:00. Since the fishing people were picking us up around 4:00 am we would not bother with a hotel, and instead carry our gear around downtown while we explored the nightlife. When the shuttle picked us up we would just get on the boat and start fishing, which would go all day until 6:00 pm the next day. What could go wrong right? Believe it or not, nothing did. We had an awesome time all night (the bus ride could be a separate post in itself) and made our connection with no problem. From there things got a little shaky.
Our driver took us to the wharf which in the middle of the night was one of the sketchiest places I've ever seen. The roads where rough, there was garbage blowing across the streets like tumbleweed and stray dogs were wandering all over the place. The place we stopped at looked like it was once a convenience store but was now half covered with a tarp instead of a roof. The lights that were actually working weren't throwing enough light to see anything, but just enough to make the shadows look extra scary. This is when our guide got out and disappeared. He probably only left for a few minutes, but in a place that looked like the set for a bad horror movie, it felt very, very long. We eventually got down to the boat landing where we had to wait about 20 minutes for a boat. While we were waiting I heard "thump, thump" and looked over to see two south Korean soldiers, fully armed and outfitted for taking care of whoever needed taking care of, crouching down after coming over the wharf fence. Two other soldiers quickly followed and the entire unit came out way. These guys had some serious firepower with them, but turned out to be very friendly. They did not want us to take a picture of the door that they were heading towards though... I guess this is the reality of living so close to the border of two countries that are essentially still at war.
Once we got on the boat we had to motor out of the harbour, a trip that took about an hour and a half. This trip was really representative of Korea for me. Amazing natural beauty scarred by major industrial development and waste. We moved through an entire fleet of rusted out tankers and barges and past shore based refineries that blocked the view of the nearby mountains. It looked like something out of 'Waterwold' or some other cheesy, post-apocalyptic movie.
When we busted out the fishing rods I was pretty jacked. They were heavy duty and were spooled with 30 lb test fishing line. We were going to catch some serious fish here. We thought. About five minutes into fishing I caught what looked a lot like a rock bass and was about the same size. I wished the little fella bon voyage and sent him back from whence he came. About 40 minutes later depression set in as I noticed that the Korean guy with us was keeping all of these fish and that's all we'd be catching. Check out the video above to see what I'm talking about. Overall the trip was great, it's just too bad we paid a bunch of money to catch a couple fish that I wouldn't keep at home.

P.S. Does anyone know who this blond girl is? Every time I mention getting some pics for my blog she jumps right in there. Photo stalker I guess.

Shinya Aoki is an absolute wizard! He just scored full mount with a guillotine, added a top side body triangle and transitioned into an armbar to beat Joachim Hansen with 2 seconds left in the fight to win the Dream light weight title. I think he was losing the fight until that point.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Punching, Kicking, Rocking, Relaxing.

Punching the MMA timecard
A few people have asked how much I've been training and what kind of training I'm doing. To tell the truth I'm only training about 4 times a week right now. I usually go to jiu jitsu three times a week, either 2 days in the gi and one no-gi or vice versa. I usually go a little early or stay a little late to hit the bag or do some lifting/conditioning. On Saturdays I go in to do some light sparring, hit pads and do some rolling. Saturdays is mostly foreigners, most who don't know much, but there's always a few quality guys to work with.
Now that I've been here a month and am pretty well settled in I'll probably start gradually increasing the number of hours I train each week. Looks like our first pay check will be coming this week which means I'll also have some cash to join a gym. The gyms are everywhere here but they are pretty much garbage. And expensive. I've actually never paid for a gym membership in my life so I find paying anywhere from 70 - 100 bucks a month for some treadmills, weider machines from the 80's and a smith machine a bit hard to swallow. The gyms here actually have those belts from the 1960's that wrap around your stomach and shake like crazy to try and "break up the fat cells". Hilarious to watch.

World Class Athletes and Koreans Who Can't Clap
Friday night Lisa and I went to Daegu Stadium to watch the Daegu Pre-World Championships track meet. The stadium is only a 20 minute walk from school so we left right after work and got some street meat on the way there. Korean street meat is awesome, by the way.
The stadium wasn't filled but I bet there were ten thousand people there to watch.
The format of the track meet was cool. They only ran about half of the normal track events and only four field events. There were no heats or prelims. Only world or olympic medalists and placers were invited to this event. Where there was room, the the field was filled out with Korean athletes. Unfortunately most of Korean competitors got dusted. The only exceptions were a women's long jumper and a women's javelin thrower who both grabbed bronze medals.
The crowd was awesome, they knew who all of the big names were and they cheered hard for the foreign competitors and the Koreans, even when they were crossing the finish line dead last.
Koreans are love and are fascinated by anyone with blond hair. Some of the biggest cheers were reserved for a women's pole vaulter from Germany. She definitely wasn't one of the best vaulters competing, but when she was up she always got the biggest cheers. Another interesting thing about Korean spectators is that they just don't know how to do the "slow clap". You know the one where everyone starts off slow and gradually gets faster until some crucial moment in the sport where everyone erupts into general applause. They do it at baseball games before the pitchers delivers a pitch. A few of the long jumpers and pole vaulters were trying to get the crowd involved by starting the slow clap before their jumps. It just wasn't happening and I was getting a kick out of it. Maybe next year they should have a slow clap instructional seminar for spectators before the world championships.
The 100m final was by far the major attraction of the night. Tyson Gay and Atto Bolden were both here and finished one - two. Gay ran a 9.89 and Bolden ran 10.00 on the money.
The picture quality from the track meet is terrible because we forgot to bring a camera and took the pics on our cell phone. The pic here is of the 100m.

Saturday's Alright for Fighting, Jimjilabangs and Rockin' Out
Saturday Mitch took me and Scott, another guy from the club, to our first Jimjilbang, something that goes pretty high on my "list of things Koreans have figured out way better than Canadians". A Jimjilbang is a public sauna/bathhouse. For you Thunder Bayers it's kind of like Kengas Saunas, but way better. You go in, pay five bucks and get issued a locker key and a uniform. The first part is gender specific. You go into the guys or girls section to get washed. The washing/ relaxing area is HUGE. There are about 6 different pools. There's a cold tub (great for healing injuries), a cool tub, a lukewarm tub, a hot tub and what I can only describe as a molten hot magma tub. There's also a big sauna and lots of showers. You can hang out here as long as you want. There were some old dudes sleeping in lounge chairs when we were there (They probably didn't want to go home to their wives, which is pretty comon here but a whole other post altogether). When you've had your fill of the tubs you go put on your uniform and can go into the main area. here you can get a bite to eat from the restaurant, a beer if you so desire or go into any of the hot or cold rooms. The guy at the restaurant was loving that there were some foreigners at the Jimjalbang. He thought we were Russian for some reason (maybe the ears?) and watched us eat very closely. The hot rooms in this section are pretty cool. They have a pretty low ceiling, straw mats, stone ceiling and wooden pillows if you want to take a nap. This area is co-ed and there are lots of people wlking around ad going from one room to another. You can also get a haircut a shave and a massage if you want. The jimjilbang was awesomely relaxing and since it is just down the street from the club there was some talk of making it a Saturday afternoon tradition after training. I dig it.

The Jimjilbang was great, but Saturday had more to offer. The 14th annual Daegu Rock Festival (or something like that) was going on all day. We made our way down at about 11:00 to catch the last 4 or 5 bands. The bands were good, even though we couldn't understand what they were saying. There was every kind of rock band from ska and screamo to straight up rock. It was a nice change from the K pop that is everywhere in Korea. Think overly produced boy bands and from the mid to late 90's and that's pretty close to what you hear here all the time. The crowd wasn't huge but they all seemed to know the words to the songs so I'd have to guess the bands were at least a little well known. The last band of the night even singled us out in the crowd. It was a Korean Emo/Screamo band (not kidding) and the lead singer knew some English. Or he at least knew a few punk rock catch phrases that he heard English bands use like "Lets rock and roll!" and "Everybody SCREAM!!!!!". Regardless, at one point he looked at us and said "You Americans like EMO?!?!" I think that telling the truth and saying "Meh... it's okay, and we're Canadian by the way." would have ruined the vibe so we just put our hands up and and said "YEAHH!"

I Need THIS MUCH [------------------------------] Space!
Since I already told you about something that Koreans have figured out better than North Americans, I'll tell you about something they don't have figured out. Personal Space. If you're waiting in line for something Koreans will squish right up against you. Even if you're the only two people in line. If you are sitting on the subway and it's busy it's pretty normal for someone to stand in front of you, facing you with their crotch right in your face. I don't mean a foot away from your face, I'm talking about if the train stops quickly you're getting a face full of Korean baby maker. I've been violated so bad on the subway I feel like somebody owes me some money or something.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Miscellaneous Miscellania (Miscellanii?)

Train Time
One of my favourite things to do in Korea is ride the subway. It's 14 stops from my house (about half an hour) to the MMA club. When I get on I put my I pod in and watch everyone come and go. It's interesting to watch all of the different types of people come and go. Businessmen, students, market salespeople, mothers, kids and fashionistas. It's interesting to watch how they interact with and treat each other. I often make up stories in my head about where they're going and what they're doing. I love people watching.
Plugging into my Ipod is also one of the only times that I can tune out the constant noise and clatter of Korea. There are so many people and it is so busy all the time, even at night, that it is always noisy. Being on the train listening to my own music (instead of K-Pop) is by far the most peaceful part of my day.
Ever hear the perfect song at the perfect moment? Today on the subway Soungarden's "superunknown" came through my earphones. In the song the phrase "alone in the superunknown" is repeated dozens of times. There's something so cool about being alone on the subway in a city of milions of people that has a culture and customs that are so unknown to me.

Training Time
None of the guys at Daegu MMA wear a cup when they roll, and, you know, when in Rome... I've been pretty lucky so far but I took a wicked knee shot today. This reminds me of a conversation I had with my old teamate Alex Jeffrey who has also crossed over into jiu jtsu and mma. He said "Don't you find it crazy that we wrestled for ten years with no cup or mouthgaurd?" My reply. "Yeah, but remember how we got sacked just about everyday and always had chipped teeth?"
"Hmm, true."

Square peg?
I recently discovered that in Korea you can force your key into the keyhole upside down in the dark if you try hard enough and are too stubborn to just take a second to turn on the light and actually look at what's going on. I feel like this is probably some kind of metaphor for my life. I'll let you guys try and figure it out.

Hardcore Spectating
It looks like I won't be making the trip to Seoul to watch the K1 Grand Prix finals this weekend. It's a bummer but I won't have been paid by then and just can't afford the trip right now. I do plan on going to Japan to watch some Dream and/or Sengoku MMA events later in the year. Instead of K1 I'll stay in Daegu and watch the pre-world championships track meet. There's a bunch of world champs and olympic medalists here so it should be awesome to watch. If it's on TV we'll be the ones with no shirts on, maple leafs painted on our chests and waving Canadian flags. I sure hope there's some Canadian athletes at the meet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Which Way To Da Beach?

International Relations
In the past 2 weeks I've experienced a few cases of really feeling like an outsider. The mother who stopped her car in the middle of a busy intersection and rolled down her window to point us out to her kids takes the cake. Being a "waygukin" sure gives you a new perspective on what it must like to be an immigrant in Canada.
On the whole, though, Korean hospitality has been outstanding. Last week our landlords (a very old Korean couple) invited us up to their place for birthday cake. It was the Ajima's (old lady, basically) birthday. They didn't speak any English but they had lots of family over and one of their daughters spoke English pretty well. Their hospitality was fantastic and could be best compared to an Italian family (eat, eat!) We also made friends with some Korean swimmers at the beach who fed us watermelon, cake, galbi and kept us stocked with makali, a Korean wine. While sitting outside a corner store having a few drinks some friends were talking about how small of a world it really is. As if on cue an older Korean man came up and asked if we knew David. Sure enough, someone did. It turns out the man is a physics professor at a local University and was meeting some of his students for a social drink. In Korea having a couple of drinks outside of the corner store is normal and they have tables set up for this. The professor and his students sat down at our table and hung out all night. Cool guys.

Pusan was great last weekend. There were eight of us that were going to go but we almost cancelled the trip because of bad weatehr in the morning. When the skies started to clear in the early afternoon on Saturday we got our act together and headed across town to the train station. We took the high speed train (Korea Transit Xpress or KTX). The train only took an hour and was $17 ROUND TRIP. Amazing. We went to two beaches, both of which were fantastic. Both beaches were on the sea of Japan, although that's not what the Koreans call it. We wanted to give surfing a try since this was the prime area to do it, but there was no surf to speak of this weekend. Apparently last weekend had four foot rollers, which might have been a bit much for me anyways. In the end we just layed in the sun, read some books, walked around to check out the shops and got sunburned. We also met some new friends from "Busan Aquatica", an open water swimming club that seemed to do everything at the beach except swim. We invited them to play frisbee with us which was hilarious. Frisbees are not common in Korea and by the end of an hour only a couple of them were starting to get the hang of it.

The Busan nightlife was great. Without getting into too much detail, we checked out a few restaurants, a few open air bars, a few vendors, a casino and, of course, lit off a ton of fireworks. When we finally hit the sack the night time view from our hotel window was awesome. For $30 we got a 5th floor room with a view of the Sea of Japan and the huge lit up bridge that crosses the bay where we were staying.

On Sunday we went to another beach which was a bit better than the first. Right before we left some of us were going to take one last dip to cool off. As we waded into the water I saw a HUGE jellyfish next to Mitch. We ran like OJ circa 1994. Actually we ran like scared little girls, not a heisman trophy winning tailback. Turns out the jellyfish was dead and ones that big don't usually come to shore. it eventually washed up and we snapped some pics before it got torn apart by the surf.

Training has been going well, except for the fact that a week of no-gi practice gave me a false sense of ability. Without the gi I've been able to use my wrestling, speed and athleticism to be competitive in sparring with most of the best guys at the club. Last night was the first time we were back in the gi for a week. I think the last time I had my ass handed to me that badly was when I scrimmaged with Gia Sissauori (World Champion, Olympic Silver medalist wrestler) in 2004. Most of the time I can feel myself being set up for something but I don't even know what that something is. The best way to describe it is to say that it feels like you're drowning in the gi and all you can do is try and keep your head above water. At one point I notced there was only 1 minute left in the 5 minute session and I set a mental goal to not get tapped for the last minute. I didn't care if I got totally dominated positionally, I just wanted to survive. I didn't make it.

Saturdays there's a "Fight Club" for foreigners at Daegu MMA. It's pretty low key; a bunch of people who want to get a workout in or give boxing or jiu jitsu a try. Most of the people don't know anything about anything as far as MMA goes and but this week I met two East Coast Canadian guys who are pretty good boxers. One of them has fought ten times and has super fast hands. They're cool guys and were happy that there was another guy around who knew something. I'm glad I found those guys, since my Muay Thai gym didn't pan out.

Turns out the Muay Thai gym owner and the owner of Daegu MMA have some bad blood and I wouldn't be allowed to train at both places. It sounds dumb but gets even dumber when you consider the fact that the two gyms teach completely different styles of fighting. They are not in direct competition with each other and don't take business from each other. Although I was disappointed, I wasn't shocked. This is an all too familiar story in the martial arts community. So and so doesn't like so and so which means none of his guys can go to those tournaments etc, etc... This drives me crazy because I don't care about the issues these guys have, my only interest is in getting better and if both places can make me better at different things then I want to train at both clubs.

This mentality seems even crazier coming from a wrestling background. I wrestled at one of the top Universities in Canada. There were teams we didn't get along with. There were teams we hated, but you can be sure that any wrestler anywhere could walk into any other wrestling room in the world, regardless of affiliation, and be welcomed. The idea is that having a good wrestler and another sparring partner in the room is beneficial to everyone else in the room and that you can always learn something from somebody who has a different style. It's the "steel sharpens steel" idea. In the martial arts community there often seems to be resistance to new people coming in with new ideas, a sort of "our way is the best way" mentality that can only take you so far before you have to branch out.

Misc. I forgot to mention that last week we went to Daegu World Cup Stadium to watch a Daegu FC soccer game. The stadium is amazing. They've hosted the world cup (Duh) in 2002 and the 2003 World University Games. Next year they're hosting the World Track and Field Championships. The game was okay I guess, but a 0-0 tie isn't really my cup of tea. The stadium itself is amazing and set right at the bottom of a mountain which gives you a pretty spectacular view.

Next week the K1 kickboxing World Grand Prix Final 16 is in Seoul. I' hoping I'll make it up there for that one. I'm getting pretty broke as I haven,t been paid yet, but I'll try and make it work. There's also a pre-world championship track and field test meet with a lot of Olympic medalists coming up. Cost? $5. I think I can swing that one.

Shout Outs:
My buddy Wade and the rest of the Sault Steelers for wining the National Football championships. Way to go guys.
All of the Canadian wrestlers at the world championships this week. Special shout out to former Thunderwolves teammate and all around killer Katie Patroch.