My latest entry, covering the last 3 weeks of training, is full of successes and strife, as I struggle to not only get back in shape, but continue to assess my skills against those of amateur fighters learning beside me.
The coaches are still happy to have me, thankfully, as I always come in well conditioned, in the right mindset, and ready to go live at a moment's notice. Another skill that I was unaware they valued, was the patience and obedience to go over drills, ask questions, and repeat to the point of boredom without complaint. It could be my experience in the military, getting used to the "hurry up and wait" mentality, or simply an extra 8-10 years on the average fighter in the gym. Either way, they appreciate me setting a good example, and I appreciate them knowing I'm not a wrestler by nature.
That is their bread and butter, after all. I figured out in the second week that this gym was tailor made for wrestlers trying to convert to fighting. BY a wrestler who was also a boxer. It was somewhat awkward every time they asked me to shoot on the guy with the fight coming up. I did my best, but he sprawled, very easily, and the coaches knew I'd be of no real help in that area.
...until we got to add in strikes.
Now, I'm not Anderson Silva, nor am I Manny Pacquiao. In fact, if I start getting hit, I get "Joe Lewis-itis" and I plant my feet, start throwing power punches. I abandon head movement and just go until someone falls.
But when I'm NOT getting tagged, I can be fairly light on my feet. To help against the wrestlers, I've never been trained in the single-minded facet of the game. I learned my striking alongside my clinch, right alongside my takedowns and submissions. I transition well. So, against my usual partner, I was able to confuse him with a pawing jab and series of light hooks to get him to cover up long enough for me to take him down.
My elation was short lived, however, as the next round he hit me with a thunderous high crotch slam and popped my jaw out of place with a thudding left hand. I knew that it was out of place and I couldn't bite down fully on my mouthguard on the left side. I simply asked for a few minutes, stepped outside and took a few minutes, a ton of deep breaths, and pushed it back into place. Well, slapped/hit it back into place.
Either way, problem solved and I finished the night. My partner was grateful for me coming back, as I was the only one close enough to his body weight and conditioning level to help him out in the later rounds. He also apologized profusely about the hard hit, but I told him that I'd rather have him hit me hard here and win his match than slap me here and get knocked out later.
Grappling practice continued much like this over the 3 week period.
Striking, however, was entirely different.
My mind, as stated above, was trained to transition, transition, transition. Use striking for takedowns or the clinch, keep the opponents guessing. Not so lucky in boxing. Doubly unlucky that I was paired up with the 2 250+ pounders for boxing. They are great guys, don't get me wrong. Funny, eager to learn, helpful.
That said, they hit me like I owed them money.
Crushing hooks and uppercuts. Even drilling with them shook my head and put the taste of copper in my mouth. It hurt, but I knew that it was helping my defense, because I was instinctively countering and dodging just to prevent having my head caved in.
We started live fighting at the end of class, and bad news struck. Twice. First, I clashed heads and knocked the first guy completely out. It wasn't my fault, really, as he bull rushed me and jumped in with the crown of his head right at my face. But I didn't exactly dodge it. Planted my feet and drove my chin down.
The second guy fared much better, as he was blasting me in the corner before I uncorked a right uppercut and drilled him hard enough to create some space. But I was not without injury, as my thumb got caught in his loose headgear and instantly sprained it.
Minus the roughed up thumb and sore chin/face, the following weeks went well.
Until wrestling practice two nights ago.
I was doing well, going very slowly and really learning the mechanics for the first 3/4 of class. I asked questions, watched, drilled, drilled, drilled, until I had a serviceable single leg. For that night, anyway.
When we went live, though... paired up with the big guys again, the worst injury I'd ever endured in the sport jumped up and bit me.
My left knee was planted behind the first behemoth and ready to throw a judo toss. Instead, he pretty much fell/threw me directly at a ninety degree angle to my normal knee bend. The loud pop was enough to get everyone else on the mat to stop wrestling and look at me, as I dove down holding my knee in a horrendous combination of fear and agony.
I'd never really felt pain, not in my legs, like this. Even tearing the ligaments in my ankle didn't hurt this bad. Or maybe it was just that I was so frightened of what this likely meant.
A torn knee? Surgery? I'm in the middle of a move with 2 kids, going 6500 miles to a place with unknown medical care. Not only that, but I run, powerlift, squat, and obviously grapple as often as possible. A torn knee means... nothing. NONE of that for weeks, months, really. I'd come back without my power base, without my cardio base, out of shape and I couldn't even help my wife and kids move into our new place.
The coach got me ice quickly, helped me put pressure on it and started talking to me to calm me. I wasn't screaming or hysterical, but I was staring at my knee and moaning under my breath. He knew I was very freaked out. After 15 minutes, the pain lowered. I thanked him for his instruction that night and apologized to the class for making a scene.
I left practice quickly. Went home, got more ice and anti-inflammatories, elevated it. All the necessary parts of RICE.
At the doctor's office, I got great news. No tear. Just a bad, bad case of tendonitis on top of an LCL sprain. No surgery needed.
Now, my knee still bulges and hurts when I bend it. It looks... unseemly... and still worries me, but if the doc said there was no bone looseness, it's good enough for me.
Odds and Ends
1. Can you overcome a lack of a wrestling background to make a large difference in your first few fights? Without the pedigree, I have no true control over where the fight takes place, and I feel it puts me at a great disadvantage. A good sprawl, strong clinch and good conditioning all help, but a technical wrestler... he can be unstoppable to a neophyte.
2. How many of you train through sprains? My knee sprain is out of the question, as I can't even bend it fully, but my sprained thumb became just an 'eh.' I know the docs hate to hear that, but if I can move and compensate, I'm going to keep training.
3. Anyone with knee injury experience? It freaks me out even to replay the injury in my mind and I know it's because I pretty much run everywhere and enjoy a decent degree of athleticism.
4. Any tips for instinctive brawling when struck? Throwing out footwork and just slugging it out is a quick way to have a face that looks like Wanderlei's. Even with the surgery, that's a jacked up forehead/nose combo.
EDIT: 5. I forgot to mention that something a little surprising happened on a grappling night. I was feeling very good, my cardio was high and I didn't get enough of class, so I asked the instructor to roll for a while. ...and I tapped him out. I hit a far side armbar after a feint keylock and finished with a few armbar tweaks that I've seen the Diaz bros use. The other coaches told me it's the first time he's ever tapped to an armbar 'in his career' and so I was left kinda feeling bad that I was the new guy who did it in front of a few other students. What is your take on beating the instructor? Do it? Get a new gym? Pull back and let him save face in front of the students?