After reading a Forbes.com profile of Tucker Max, a controversial Internet star who'd turned into an absurdly successful book author, I noticed that a very brief quote about the good qualities of MMA was almost buried into the piece. I reached out to Tucker in hopes of getting a few quick blurbs about the positive mention of MMA in a mainstream media publication and then mashing the whole thing together as a short post here on Bloody Elbow.
Tucker ruined those hopes by bouncing back and forth with me in a nearly 4500 word Q&A session, which is now the five part interview being featured here on Bloody Elbow. The back and forths that we went through showed that Max views MMA as a source of physical betterment, complex and useful techniques, great friends and astonishing personal growth - which should be surprisingly universal to combat sports followers and participants reading this.
The first part of this interview dealt with Tucker Max's discovery of Brazilian jiu jitsu, subsequent humbling and the transition into training MMA. The second gave us the surprisingly good methodology of his training with MMA hillbilly Reggie Warren and moved us to Max's present day training in Austin, Texas. This third part essentially asks Tucker why he does all of this and why he is willing to stand up on this platform and talk about MMA. His answer is surprisingly eloquent.
This interview is done partly in support of his latest books, Hilarity Ensues and Sloppy Seconds, yet the interview is 100% Tucker, 100% relevant to MMA and there is no advertising or review thing going on here. Max was genuinely surprised by me reaching out and by my questions and welcomed the chance to talk about something other than his debauchery. I present his answers exactly as written (minus the bleeping out of a few cuss words). The books hit stores today and can be ordered online as well.
Hit the jump for Part Three.
Ben Thapa: How deeply embedded into your life is MMA? What does the sport mean to you personally?
Tucker Max: My closet is full of Affliction shirts, my car has six Tap-Out bumper stickers and I even wear my mouth guard to bars! I'm hardcore!!!
HAHAHA--just kidding. I love MMA/BJJ and its a huge part of my life, but I don't think you'd know it looking at me or even walking around my apartment. You might see my signed Bas Rutten Street Fighting DVD (the outtake reel from that is still the funniest viral video in internet history), or maybe I'll have a rash-guard or something laying on the washer, but that's it as far as looking at me from the outside.
That being said, MMA is a huge part of my personal, inner life. The sport changed my life in such substantive ways, ways that are integral to who I am today. First off, MMA indirectly got me into paleo eating, which has been amazing [Max says you can read more about that at http://www.adultswim.com/blog/interviews/celeb-nerdy-tucker-max.html].
But more importantly, MMA changed the way I looked at myself and at the world. I don't want to sound like a weirdo about this, but I bet that since most Bloody Elbow readers train martial arts, they will understand what I'm talking about:
MMA has taught me so much about myself. The first thing I learned was deep humility, but in a good way, a safe, productive manner that nothing else ever did. You tap or you break your arm. You accept defeat every day, but you learn from it, you get better, and you move on. You come to understand that it's OK to fail, as long as you use it to learn how to succeed. It gives you a resilience along with your humility.
MMA also helped me figure out who I was. You know the Fight Club quote, "How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?" It's f***ing true. When you train, you can either be a quitter, or you can stay calm under stress, fight through it, and maybe escape the position. You can either brave the chaos, face your fear and come out the other side, or you can succumb to that fear and run and hide. These are questions every man has about himself, and MMA helps you answer them more than anything else I have ever been a part of.
That's what's so awesome about MMA/BJJ--fighting is truth. Everything in life is bulls**t, but not fighting. You can't hide on the mat, the truth finds you, because violence is so pure, so elemental that it strips away all artifice and reduces us down to our core. Life or death. Win or loss. No grey area, no bulls**t. What else in life is like that? Nothing. It's the ultimate way to see who you are as a person.
True deeply held inner confidence comes from repeated, demonstrated performance, and training in MMA gives you that chance to show to yourself and others that you can do it. Because I've done it, because I've trained hard and swam in deep waters, made a good account of myself, and come out alive--I know who I am. That sort of self-knowledge creates an amazing confidence and calm in a person. I have demonstrated--to myself--that I can handle myself in a fight, that I can stand in the ring. And I know if I can do that, I know I am going to be OK in almost anything else I have to face in life.
And the cool thing is you don't have to be the best, you don't even have to be all that good, to get the psychological benefits of MMA/BJJ--god knows I am not very good at all when compared to most people who train with me. Because I mostly train with people better than me, I doubt I've "won" even 25% of my sparring sessions. But so what? Unless you're doing it as a pro, for money, then it's not about winning. It's about going in, working your a** off, testing yourself as much as you can, and proving to yourself that I you are who you think you are. That you can stand on that mat and face that man across from you. If you do that, the result doesn't really matter.
BT: Why does the athletic struggle with an opponent in this specific context make you answer more self-posed questions than team sports like basketball or football or individual sports like wrestling? Wouldn't they pose the same questions?
TM: No they don't. It's not that other sports don't provide a ton of value; they do, and I am glad I played all of them, but that aren't the same, and I just can't look at them the same way after I tried fighting. Fighting is the purest, most primal thing a human can do (other than have sex). Any sport is going to have artifice built into it and be a few steps removed from fighting--it has to be, it's only a sport. I could write 10,000 words about this, but here's a simple explanation that think everyone will understand:
You ever played an intense basketball game or football game or whatever, one where your team hates the other team, where everyone is playing hard and intense and you win? If the other team has a guy who a very sore loser, what does he do? Start a fight. You know why? Because winning a basketball game only means you won a basketball game. It hasn't really proven anything. But when you lose a fight, what can you do then? Fight again? You just lost--it's over.
Winning a basketball game and winning a fight are fundamentally different, because playing basketball never puts your life in danger. When you train MMA/BJJ, you are putting your life in the hands of the guy you are training with. That makes it the ultimate proving ground. By playing basketball, you answers questions about how well you play basketball, but by fighting, a man can answer questions not about a sport, but about himself.
End of Part Three