Fitting everyone into tournaments

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I want to talk about tournaments for a bit. Specifically, tournaments and segregation. The ideal of any martial art is that skill will win out over natural advantage. At the hobbyist level of martial arts competition this ideal is reflected in open tournaments, where everyone fights everyone. As long as there is a large disparity of skill, and an average disparity in size, there will be a tendency for skill to dominate. On average, tournament wins over time will be divided between the skillful and the naturally blessed. This has been reflected in my experience.

When we start to deal above the hobbyist level, into amateur and professional sports, the assumption is that all participants will be skillful, but with different levels of natural ability and experience. The truth of any skill is that the big gains are made in the initial learning and polishing; the skill gap between experts is a narrower gap than the skill gap between less than experts. Which is to say if I gather a room of top fencers, they will have roughly the same skills as each other, compared to gathering a room full of random fencers.

Because of this homogeneity of skill, skill is no longer a major deciding factor in outcomes of bouts. Which is why it is at amateur and professional levels we start to see a split into gendered tournaments. And at the higher levels, we see even finer gradations. In some sports there are weight classes. In other sports there are seedings in categories. This is a way of trying to make things fair.

The problem is that the most fundamental division is between gender, and this is incorrect. It makes a great number of assumptions that fit only the majority of people, and let outliers slip through the cracks. Mostly, it’s a lazy way of sorting. It’s primitive at it’s base, and momentum has let it continue on with tacked-on logic to justify it. It never reflected the reality of the human condition, but instead the broad strokes desired by the ignorant.

Size is the predominant qualifier of difference between one human and the next for sport performance, and when I say size I mean lean body mass. More specifically what I mean is the quantity of usable muscle in the body. I’m being lazy myself here, because there are other factors like strength of muscle attachment, muscle density and cross-section to length ratio, and a host of other things to consider. I believe they are not as large of quantifiers of performance as gross lean mass, though. I’ll refer to this inaccurately as LBM (Lean Body Mass) going forward.

Looking at LBM alone, the gender distinction starts to make less sense. If I take one pound of “male” muscle and one pound of “female” muscle, there are both going to contract with the same strength. This does not mean that a 150lb man and woman have the same strength. A 150lb man, if we assume they are fit but not necessarily athletic, runs about 16% bodyfat, which yields us a LBM of 126lbs. A similar woman will have a LBM of 114lbs.

In terms of UFC male weight class divisions, both would compete at Lightweight (ignoring for the moment weight cutting.) Stripped of fat, the man would fight instead in the fly or bantamweight category(2-3 weight classes down) and the woman in the strawweight category, 4 weight classes down.

Which is why having a 150lb man fight a 150lb woman, both of equal skill, is not a fair fight. If I felt like doing the math I could figure out how much heavier a woman would have to be to fight a man, but why? We have access to roughly accurate (or very accurate for professional level money) methods of measuring someone’s LBM (which do take into effect the dominant sex hormone affecting body composition at the time) so it’s entirely possible to sort combatants by LBM and have gender be irrelevant in the size equation.

If we can do away with the gender aspect and keep weight classes as a relevant sort mechanism of fairness, we are left with another gender-related aspect that needs to be dealt with. Socialization in my experience has quite a bit to do with the performance abilities of an athlete, and thus their tournament results. People who grew up encouraged to be athletic will have an advantage in athleticism. People who grew up with an ability to win in rough and tumble childhood encounters will have an advantage in any combat sport. People who where discouraged from sport participation, or never had exposure to roughhousing, will have disadvantages. This tends to prefer men for combat sports over women, but again this ignores outliers and making gendered distinctions here is just lazy.

Seeding as a sort mechanism works if we pay attention to tournament results. The Japanese sport of Sumo wrestling presents a wonderful model of how this can be done. This is why Valkyrie WMAA used it as basis for their tournament series. Other sports offer similar seeding mechanisms and they all have value worth exploring. Seeding done this way can be used to recognize the inherent advantages one person may have over another in a competition setting, and allow for equality of mindset in categories. This should have the result of also making gendered distinctions around socialization irrelevant for the purpose of tournament seeding and pairing.

I believe correct seeding is a must for all swordplay tournaments, and I think there is value in looking at weight classes based on LBM going forward in the heavier contact rulesets, especially if grappling or striking start to become regular features of exchanges under such rulesets.

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Balancing Reality and Fantasy in Martial Arts Practice

The UFC is the ultimate test of the value of any unarmed martial art. If your art doesn’t stand up in full-contact Mixed Martial Arts practice, it’s of no value.

If you train with weapons, then your art and training better stand up to full-contact tournaments, or it’s useless.

Or so goes one side of the argument. The other side argues that tournaments of any kind are artificial environments, and therefor a poor reflection of true combative reality. The first side tends to fetishize competition winners, the other side side fetishizes talking about violence and loves people who have to deal with violence in a professional aspect.

Down the middle of this line we have most martial arts schools. They try to keep to themselves for the most part. The have some students that compete, and they keep a weather eye out for the latest “It works in the streets” tidbit to measure against their approach.

But it’s all a bit of a fantasy.

Or at least a deeply overlooked opportunity.

Martial arts is all about violence. It’s about physically applying our will on another against their wishes. This is true all down the line, from one extreme of resistance to the other. Styles and schools rise out of specialization in technique or resistant environment. Martial artist tend fantasize about the end goal of their particular school.

And you know this. It doesn’t matter what art you study, you daydream about using it in an ideal situation. Everytime you learn a new technique, some part of your brain builds a little fantasy about how to use it “for real.” Even as a swordfighter, you think about that one time when you just happen to have a sharp sword at hand and a time travelling assassin jumps out at you and the duel is on.

Which is fun and all, but you can’t ignore that it’s somewhat pervasive in any martial arts environment. Which means there is a tendency for instructors to talk about “realistic” application. You know, that perfect takedown counter for when Rhonda Rousey comes in to throw you. Or that surefire “knee them in the nuts nine times” counter to a knife attack. Even when an instructor tries to counter this thinking, they make another fantasy about how the point of practice is to make you happy in life, and practice itself should be all the satisfaction you need. Insert your favourite trope here.

Martial arts is about violence. Otherwise, there are many, many other skills that reward diligent practice better. Watchmaking for example.

Because we specialize in violence, we are experts in body movements and solutions to violence problems. If we pull our heads out of fantasy land, we might find that we can actually find ways to use our skills for solving adult problems. Because violence is a real world problem, no fantasy needed.

But we do need to realistically look at violence to see the opportunity overlooked.

This is the 2017 Vancouver Police Department Commendation Ceremony report. If you look here you can even look through all the previous years reports as well. All the trigger warnings you can imagine apply here. Each report covers what police and civilians did to deserve awards and commendations throughout the year. There is a lot of heroism inside, but heroism at sometimes extreme cost and almost always in the most unpleasant environment and experiences. It’s almost always an environment of great tragedy.

It’s value to us is that it’s a record of violence where force was used by average people. There is no fantasy here. There are guns, knifes, and suicides. These are the real-life instances of martial arts. These are violence problems that you, as a martial artist, have the expert skill to solve.

Everyone agrees that running from a knife is that “best” solution. Valkyrie recently put up a series of fun meme’d photos from a recent Knife Disarm workshop, and the one that joked “Run the Fuck Away!” was shared almost entirely to the exclusion of all others.

So read through the reports and decide how things might have gone different had the person commended run away. And then think about one of your fellow students in the same situation. How much of your training would have been applicable for them? What is your training opportunity here?

All the real tough martial artists like to talk about how bad an idea it is to go to the ground, and by this they tend to mean that they don’t really want to work on grappling techniques. Read over the reports and think about how well prepared you are to pin a violent suspect to the ground while you wait for the police to show up. Or how do you stop a suicide from jumping off of a bridge or into traffic? What’s your training opportunity here?

Are you or your students prepared to deal with the emotions and physiological reactions of witnessing these situations, dealing with these situations, and living with themselves afterwards? Again, what’s the opportunity for you and your school here, as experts on violence?

While these are extremes of violence, and therefor also represent somewhat of a fantasy, these are local to my city and my students. And reading through previous years many patterns reveal themselves.

It’s also true that there are many people in any given city who have the job of dealing with this sort of violence every single day. Police, bouncers, paramedics, nurses, security guards, retail employees in bad parts of town and others. Police have tools and rehearsed techniques that they know work…locally. Your community may differ. As an expert in violence you have an opportunity to be useful to these people, if you put the work in.

If you drop the fantasy and try to discover what the reality is.

It’s been my experience that once you start to look at the reality of violence and put some serious thought into training for it, suddenly all the main approaches to martial arts have value. Tournaments help hone technique and mental focus. “Reality” based martial arts can be a great avenue towards new training methodologies or ideas. And there is always room for the middle road.

The only problem is that if you start from that narrow line, that limited spectrum, you are always going to seeing things through that limited lens of fantasy. You have to pull yourself out of that and look at real-world violence and real-world solutions to see the opportunities you have in your training to be a real martial artist.

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Good, Bad, and a Little of Both

Saturday Valkyrie had to deal with an assault in the neighbourhood. We intervened quickly, and as a team. It was an unpleasant interruption to the afternoon’s teaching, but these sort of things happen in life. I’ll probably write more about the incident in a later post, but for now I want to talk about some of the aspects of self-defense that never really get critically examined.

I want to talk about the bad guy.

The subject in the weekend’s play was a bad guy in that there was absolutely a victim. She was bloody and on the ground, and her main role in events seems to have been to try and stop violence between the bad guy and her partner. Bad guy hit her and she was injured and that’s pretty much all the legal we need to know. Bad guy was a bad guy in that he was angry, out of control and spoiling for a fight with anyone…when I went to intercept him he was literally frothing at the mouth, with that thick white paste of foam that saliva forms in a dry mouth.

But skipping past the action, and the successful deescalation, and I am now in the position of keeping this bad guy calm while we wait for the police to arrive. As happens, once the rage has faded and the calming down has really hit, it’s all about blame and excuses.

His point of view? He’d been kicked in the nuts, really hard. I don’t know if was before or after he struck the victim. It doesn’t matter to me. He entered her property with ill intent and I think she would be justified in kicking him in nuts in self defense at that point. Regardless, he feels victimized. I empathize with him. But it’s also a clear point in his head that he is not the bad guy, that some sort of fair exchange had taken place, that both parties were complicit…it’s not all his fault.

He kept saying “I’m an East Van guy, what was I supposed to do? I had no choice. What else could I do?” Our neighbourhood is lovely, but it’s also a tough place. Low income and the older residents grew up in a society of scraps and rebelliousness. Fighting is part of the older East Van experience (which has altered, or matured, into a powerful sense of communality these days…it’s a good neighbourhood.) and the bad guy felt trapped into that response. To his point of view, there was an earlier incident that he felt could only be coped with by a fight. In his mind, he literally saw no other way. He was compelled by his circumstances to act in the way he did.

And he wasn’t wrong. One of the reasons to constantly pursue learning in life is to discover not only new ways outside of narrow thinking, but to also discover that there is always another way. But without that pursuit of knowledge, even wisdom can only lead us to repeating the same old tired tropes. So from his world view, there was no other way.

I also felt quite bad for him. As he ran through his excuses, he suddenly remembered he was supposed to see his daughter in a few hours. He started to fixate on that as a reason that the current circumstance, and his imminent arrest, couldn’t happen…he had a thing to do in a bit that was suddenly very, very important. Deep inside him some part was starting to break at realizing that he had made a terrible mistake, and that thing was now not going to happen. Me? I was thinking that the odds were that he wasn’t going to be going back upstairs to his home for a long time. His favourite cozy chair, book, and favourite drink were going to go untouched for some time yet…and all because he felt the compulsion to act the way he did.

I felt incredibly sympathetic towards him. It was a terrible thing he was facing, and you aren’t really human if you don’t feel the same way.

I felt a lot more sympathy towards the woman who had been expecting another typical day at work, and then a nice evening off, and into comfortable habits. A woman who was now looking at a few days of painful recovery from a concussion, an afternoon in the hospital and talking to the police. And weeks, if not months, of flinching at odd moments and recalling the violence. And the coming weeks of wondering if the same guy was going to come in again, and if you were going to have to face the person who did all this to you over and over again.

And those are only a part of the stories that are going on, and will go on. My thoughts are still complicated, and mostly I have real sympathy for the police who have to deal with this kind of thing every single day, and will always feel the same kind of complicated thoughts as they deal with the crap that humans stupidly do to each other on a daily basis.

I feel strongly for the victim. I’ve been in her place and it sucks. But I also have a wish that I could take the bad guy in, in some way, and show him how to break out of his rut of thinking, and make better decisions in life. Both the bad guy and the victim would happily swap the weekends experience for a boring normal weekend instead. I have no doubt of that. But it’s a sad reality of life that many of us are not able to see that possibility before we make our choices…and sometimes we are subjected to someone else’s choice.

The fantasy of self-defense is doing the right thing, the right way, the right time against the right person…but that’s a fantasy. Real life is more nuanced. It’s important that our training prepare us to see all the possibilities, but also that it prepare us for circumstances were there are no other possibilities than action. And it should also prepare us for the entanglements of emotion and community that occur after.

 

In Search Of Real Self Defense

MarozzoKnifeWorkshop

Run away.

That’s got to be the piece of martial arts advice I hate the most. It’s so full of smug assumptions about what constitutes a self-defense situation that I feel only envy for the life of people who think it is good advice.

Of course, when we are talking about self-defense, context matters. So if you are talking exclusively to men involved in some sort of social display that mostly has a positive or negative outcome that affects social status, but risks life and limb? By all means take this excellent advice, which could also be summed up with “Don’t be an idiot.”

For the rest of the situations that might happen to us, the kind we frequently read about in the papers and inspire us to consider lessons in self-defense? By the time the event is happening, if we had the opportunity, we would have run already. Or otherwise taken steps to avoid or defuse the situation. If you want an excellent break-down on the types of situations you can run into (and beautiful tools to deal with all of them), hit up amazon or your library and search for “Rory Miller.”

The self-defense world is full of bullshit. It’s easy to find courses anywhere that offer to teach you all kinds of gritty, down-and-dirty hurtin’ tricks…but those same courses focus so much on the techniques that they never deal with what it takes to make the decision to use them. Aside from the obligatory tough-guy posturing of “Do you WANT to be a victim?!?” or the even worse telling of gory tales of horrible fates that have befallen others. I suppose you are expected to be so impressed by the swagger that you will remember it and be inspired when it comes time to pop an eyeball out. Uh huh.

Want some good advice? Cultivate an actionable awareness. That’s the most important self-defense skill.

You have to learn to analyze and understand the world around you HONESTLY. This means throwing out all of your biases and assumptions. The most successful dirtbags that predate on people do so by knowing your own biases and assumptions better than you do, and know how to exploit them. And yes, that means racism, sexism or other bigotry. Those are exploitable biases. Open your eyes and learn to see the world around you.

This is a skill you must learn. You cannot just do it. You have to learn how to see patterns in everything, and how to understand when a change in the pattern is worth noting, and when it is time to act. You have to learn to see what is around you, and what stands out as a potential threat. If you find teachers who stress this, then you know you are taking a real self-defense class.

And that’s just awareness. The actionable part comes in knowing not what you can do, but what you can do. Can you call 911 or are you terrified that doing so will make you a victim of the violence happening to someone else? Do you know what your other options are? Have you called 911 before and do you know what to expect? How about that moment when you are starting to feel afraid of something bad happening, but you are also worried that it’s really just nothing and you don’t know if you want to waste the time of the 911 service? Do you have the local police non-emergency saved on your phone? Have you called it before and do you know to expect? Have you practiced calling for help?

Beyond that do you know how to defuse an unstable situation? Do know how to tell if it can be defused or not? Can you talk down an angry or depressed person from harming you or themselves? Have you practiced it? Do you know how to recognize the signs of someone drunk or high? Do you know how to recognizes when they are in an excessive state of intoxication? Do you know the risk of violence they might represent? Or self-harm? What about the various kinds of mental illness that might present themselves to you in a threatening fashion? Are they a threat or are they not? And when is the situation such that you must, or when you should act?

And when violence happens, do you know where the violence lies on your local legal systems use-of-force spectrum? Are you able to see each level as permission to act, and have you rehearsed the appropriate skills for you to use at each level? Do you know the consequences of your actions and all the appropriate follow-ups, including reporting and self-care? Do you know how to defuse a situation after you have acted that is safe for all parties involved? Are you comfortable and have you practiced keeping someone in custody for when the police arrive? Do you know when you should let someone else run away from you? Can you take care of a person that you have just rendered unconscious, or horrifically wounded? Do you know what your legal requirements are? Do you know if you have just committed self-defense or assault, and can you explain it as such when the police arrive, and later in court when all the evidence is presented in the cold light of day before a dispassionate judge?

If you can answer with some sense of what is correct in various situations that might touch on all of the above, then you have a fairly actionable awareness.

You cultivate that actionable awareness with daily practice, by taking all sorts of classes. You don’t have to make it the focus of your life, but you will know the value in taking first aid refresher courses, weapon handling classes, martial arts classes, psychology and self-help classes, and a myriad other set of things to ensure that your awareness is a skill set that you can depend on throughout your life.

Cultivate an actionable awareness. It’s the closest most of us will ever get to a super-power, and it’s attainable by all of us. But you won’t find it in a two-hour poke-em-in-the-eye and run away class. You’ll have to put the work in and find a place that will teach you all of these skills, and be prepared to spend at least a weekend on just a basic introduction course.

 

Hard Starts

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Sometimes I don’t know how my students do it.

Fencing is a damned hard thing to learn. It’s demoralizing.

You have to be fit, and that’s a process that is quite daunting for some. Especially since the fitness we demand isn’t the normal kind that you can brag about to your friends. No easily recorded kilometres run or weight lifted, no records to compare from last week. You need to have an excellent posture that translates all the way from your spine to your toes and fingers, with no weak points between. That takes dedicated strength work and tenacious endurance…and you won’t see the results for years.

And the techniques are complex. The weapons are awkward. Throw on top of that our demand that you also excel at boxing and wrestling and you’ve got a very steep learning curve. Toss knife and cane work on top of that. And our training approach demands that you embrace the complexity and chaos, avoiding the comfort of familiar technique in order to embody the understanding of the combat principles we believe in.

But that’s just our style. Swordplay in general is a complex thing.

I watch the new students come in and start training, and I know the wall is coming for them. The first couple of weeks or months are usually okay. Everyone has fun and the rush of doing something different makes it all exciting. It’s easy because you feel like it’s new and you don’t demand much of yourself beyond just experiencing as much as you can.

The wall comes when you really let yourself try to do something. Usually it’s win a bout. You decide that you must have learned enough to hit someone, so you try to really land a shot in sparring before you get hit yourself.

I think this is one of the hardest things about fencing. In other martial arts, when…or even if…you start sparring and you lose against another opponent, you can sooth the ego a little by physically comparing yourself to the other person. You can lose because the other person is bigger or stronger, and that’s okay because you know if you train long enough you will figure out the magical trick to beat that.

The sword is a weird equalizer. Sure, there are physical advantages like reach and speed, but the thing is that those are conscious factors that you justify with logic. The animal brain doesn’t recognize them the same way as it does when the bigger ape picks you up, ignores your struggles, and swats you around. The animal brain can accept that. Don’t mess with the bigger ape just makes sense.

But on the other side of a blade, the distance tends to remove that subconscious threat awareness of physicality. Awareness of the risk of point contact isn’t so deeply layered in the nervous system. We also have a blade in our hand, so we tend to think the playing field is more even than it is. We think the conflict is between blades instead of between people.

But this is on a really deep level that never hits the conscious brain. Our conscious brain is busy weighing the value of the one technique we think we physically have down, against what we think we see from the opponent. We evaluate the other person’s movements and try to divine their intent, and we monitor ourselves to make sure we are ready to launch when the time is right. Then we go.

And get pezzed in the head. Dammit. What did we do wrong? Fix it and try again. Fail again. This is pretty much the first real step on the road to mastering swordplay, but sometimes it’s the last step someone ever takes on the path.

I’ve watched literal generations of fencers just give up at this point. Most who fail here just walk away, but some stay and never try again. They embrace the fatalism and just decide they can never get better, but they will still enjoy the activity. There are fencers out there with decades of experience who have never progressed beyond the first few months of training because of this internal decision.

The thing is that everyone hits this wall. There are exceptions…I know a few accomplished fencers who never even noticed this wall on their way to mastery. But the vast majority of us hit this wall sooner rather than later in our fencing career and it hits us hard. We all know that feeling that we are facing a wall so long and so high that we cannot even imagine a way past it. It’s a gut punch that I see people push past somehow. I’ve pushed past it in my way and I know what was required of me to do so, but I have no idea how other people find the drive to do so.

It’s so damned lonely when you hit it. That punch in the face of personal failure is deeply intimate. And worse, it’s not just a momentary thing. It keeps on hitting you week after week, sometimes month after month. But the decision to persevere happens somewhere in there. Something in the brain makes you decide to keep practicing even though you can’t imagine a single thing you’ve learned or been exposed to that will make you any better. Some tiny act of faith nudges you to keep moving forward.

I like to think it’s good modeling from coaches. Having coaches of all different body types and dispositions can be very encouraging. I think it helps when a student can see or imagine that a coach has struggled like they are struggling, and that coach’s performance while fencing can encourage them to continue.

I often find myself somewhat flummoxed as to what to say to a student when they hit this point. I know I am most likely to lose a student at this point, but I also know that they have to find their own way past it. And I know that all the tools we have given them up to this point should enable them to do so. They have to make the choice themselves though. I often tell them to tough it out, that we have all been through it, and that it gets better.

I want nothing more than to see them show up at the next class after that talk, because if I do see them, I know they’ve got it made. They’ve pulled themselves through a damned tough personal place, and have the tools to take their training as far as they want now. But every time I give them that talk, I know I may never see them again. And that hurts. It’s a hard training moment and I’m sure any coach knows it well.

With all that said, I’ve been thinking this morning about what advice I might give in future. While the problem might be mainly one of philosophical basis, there are certainly some common physical expressions that can be addressed. What we are really seeing is the transition from uninformed outsider to novice, and the issue should be addressed at that level. I haven’t really run across any good explanations of what should be expected of a novice or initiate fencer that deal with this particular quirk.

I think I would talk to the student about realistic goals. Our first sparring rank asks students to demonstrate an ability to parry and riposte. I can ask a student to focus on the small goals of first just learning to parry some of the incoming attacks, and then working on simply observing when they think they might see an opportunity to riposte. I can easily build a detailed progression for a student that works up the chain towards being able to successfully parry-riposte during an engagement.

I will also need to really examine the physical cues of mental processing that I see in students, and work on progressions for those as well. The common hesitant rock-step, the awkwardly withdrawn arm, the flailing off-hand or the head nods. These are not so much items of bad posture to correct as much as they are physical tics that denote mental processes…too much thinking going on. Learning to calm the mind is easy when you’ve put the hours in and have experience, but more valuable lessons are learned when you don’t have that experience. I can find a better way to teach some of the relevant skills I know.

Lots to think about. I really do admire the courage of people who put themselves in that place over and over again, without having the coping skills in place to deal with it. It’s a kind of toughness that doesn’t get recognized enough.

Fat

TreebeardTeaching

There is a current and recurrent thread amongst HEMA and other martial arts disciplines that mocks the fat instructor. It’s one of those things that everyone feels comfortable jumping in on.

Five years ago I dropped 50lbs. It was just after finishing my Precision Nutrition certification.

One of the most common things you will hear about choosing a health or fitness professional is that you should never chose a fat one.

I was sitting at 195, with a good body composition, stellar bloodwork and fitness abilities.

And yet every time I looked in the mirror I wanted to scream. I was terrified.

I don’t think I can describe the fear.  You’ve either felt it or you haven’t. I looked in the mirror and saw a ghost. I was an insubstantial freak and every ounce of weight that left me was leaving me more and more transparent. Empty. Invisible. Vulnerable.

When I stepped on the scale and saw my weight go down, I wanted to vomit.

I smiled and posed and joked about being tiny, but I felt a literal fear of being tiny.

I don’t quite know when the body dysmorphia started, but it’s not uncommon in my family. Anorexia and bulimia in my generation and the following, diabetes in the previous.

Weight is always a topic at every single family gathering.

I remember being a kid, and my brother and I would steal my mom’s “diet” caramels that were kept in the fridge. I seem to recall they were some sort of bizarre 1970’s thing where you could purchase amphetimine-laced candies to help stay trim.

In high school I was obsessed with my sunken chest and thin frame. I hated to take my shirt off because people would see that I didn’t have the muscles I was supposed to have. When I started up weightlifting with my friends, we would hit the scale every chance we could to see if we’d gained even a half pound.

I was maybe 18 or 19 when I went on my first diet. My mom wanted to try weight watchers and I wanted to support her. I lost 20lbs in a month and thought it was fun…and promptly put it back on.

I started to explore powerlifting and veganism, and my weight started to creep up. The belly grew but the chest never seemed to, no matter how much weight I lifted, it always looked sunken and hollow. I started working IT and the weight rocketed up. I once dropped a loaded barbell on my chest because I glanced at my arms and saw that they were so thin that it was impossible for them to pick that much weight up…never mind that is was my second set. Took awhile to go back to the gym after that.

I panicked one day when I stepped on a scale while visiting relatives and saw that weigh had gone from my usual 135, and my more comfortable 150…to 185. I felt like a giant whale. Went on a major diet, and dropped 60lbs in three months.

Since then it’s been the constant yo-yo. I diet and lose weight, and then it creeps back on plus more.

Six years ago I hit 247 and decided enough was enough. The PN certification course was teaching me excellent nutrition tools, far better than any diet I had ever been on before, so I started to apply them. It worked perfectly until I hit 195, and then I couldn’t handle the fear of losing weight anymore. One thing I had learned in my certification process was how strong the psychological factors involved in weight loss were. The brain is the number one decider of weight, for many reasons.

So I sat there in my panic and made a decision.

I decided I wasn’t going to think about my weight anymore. No more diet. Food was a reward for me, and large weight was a safe feeling place to be. Being strong mattered more to me than anything. I realized I had to come to peace with myself before I could do anything to change myself.

So I resolved to stop worrying about what I ate, to stop worrying about how I looked, and to work solely on how I felt about myself.

Five years now I’ve been quieting myself everytime I look in a mirror and feel small. I’ve been letting myself relax when I saw that I needed to go up a belt notch. I’ve been slowly learning to first accept myself, and then I moved on to healing myself.

Two months ago I stepped back on the scale for the first time in five years, and saw that I was up to 267. Classic rebound weight gain. My hormonal balance around metabolism might be shot for the rest of my life from the cycles of yo-yo dieting. My blood work is still good, my overall health is still excellent, but there are the occasional readings where my blood pressure seems to have gone up. It’s not consistent yet.

Two months ago I felt calm. I’d come to peace with a lot of the demons of my past, and with a very supportive wife was finally coming to a bit of peace with my body. I was content to be where I was for the rest of my life. So I started the hardest ever nutrition plan. I started to eat slightly less. In order to tackle the metabolic problems, I’m going to attempt to lose no more than two pounds a week…preferably only one pound a week.

It’s very difficult. I know I can dump the weight like a rocket…but I know it will eventually come back on if I do. I must do it slow. It’s important to lose weight for me now not for looks, but because I’m getting older and I still have very much I want to do. Mechanical pressure on the internal organs is not correlated to productive aging, and I’ve got far too much to do to be inefficient about it.

Possibly the greatest difficulty I face is psychological, though. I’m a more than competent fighter, so the demons of my childhood are well put away, and only occasionally mutter from their rough graves. The voice of my peers is far harder to face.

It’s difficult to watch friends and people you meet steal glances down at your belly. It’s especially difficult to see people making fun of fat instructors, and it’s difficult because it makes me hugely angry.

It makes me angry not because it’s unfair, but because for all their talk of the value of skill…they will still judge on looks. I’m fat, but others are thin, or pretty. Or ugly. The line is that you can always lose weight, so it’s a thing you can control and therefor it’s okay to mock, but the fault there is in the desire to mock.

I spent my childhood being bullied. I know many people in the martial arts community had the same experience, but I cannot tolerate that their response to that bullying is to become a bully the moment they find the means. Where is the desire to protect others from the harm you experienced? It’s a huge failing in a martial arts instructor to engage in such behaviour. It’s an even bigger failure to support and encourage it, because it’s an absolution of responsibility. It’s an ignorance of the roots of violence and depredation.

My anger is an issue because of the violence of my background wants me to answer back with violence, and that is a stress that will literally kill me. Rage was a companion I carried within me for decades, and the brain responds to such stress with inflammation and dumps of hormones that scavenge muscles and build fat, and break the whole system down.

So I find myself wondering today if I’m really ready to lose weight or not. I’ve come to peace with a lot of things inside me, but I haven’t really learned how to come to peace with the world as it is yet. I’m still undecided as to whether I even want to come to peace with it, or work to change it. I can work and teach my students, and hope that will have an impact, but some days the world just feels so very big, and I feel so small and insubstantial.

I can shrink myself, but I think I must also make my world shrink a little, too.