If you have ever wanted to or wondered what it is like to fight a full contact fight, if you have tried to imagine what we go through mentally leading up to our event then you can find out through the safety of these words. Who knows you might even try it but this gives you an inside view.
A Warrior’ Path; Facing One Hundred Demons
Everybody want to be a warrior until it is time to be a warrior…
As the sun broke through the night flashing through the curtains I blinked away a very restless sleep. I was never any good at early morning rises and the occasion that lay ahead of me that day made my slumber the night before a fitful one. Doubts filled my dreams, fears fed my startled wake up as my imagination saw the terrors ahead…
“Easy,” I thought it myself. “Just roll back over, pull up the duvet and right the day off. Another few hours in bed will be good for me.” But the sound of my wife in the kitchen filling a flask and making me sandwiches that would never get eaten (not by me anyhow) reminded me that this was what I wanted even though my inner opponent disagreed. My ‘wild brain’ would argue and sometimes get the better, sometimes get pushed down but either way I threw the duvet open, yawned, stretched and tried to come to terms with the day ahead. The day I would face one hundred demons.
It wasn't always like this. At times I didn't have a wild brain, just my enemy, just my inner opponent. He would always win as I ran away yet agin, only to trip and fall, facing another beating at the hands of a merciless foe. Sometimes one, usually more. Their actions shrank me, belittled me, humiliated me and hurt me. In the end it was easier to stay indoors. Only I knew that wasn't what I wanted, what I was supposed to do with my life and so with the help of my precious wife we (and I mean we) set about strengthening my small strength and trying to smash my massive weaknesses.
Fast forward many years later and I stand proud on the stage, under spotlights and receiving my third Martial Arts Hall of Fame award watched on by my family and my Sensei, mentor and friend, multiple world champion Mr Alfie Lewis.
Just days before we had spoken on national radio (the BBC) about my adventures, woes and triumphs and I was in talks with a film studio about a movie of my life. My inbox filled daily with mail from around the world congratulating me, seeking advice and offering yet more hope. My academy Fight Fortress now had a waiting list and I was recognised and complimented at tournaments, asked to teach as a guest at seminars and had requests to hold book signings. Not a bad life at all but a life hard fought for.
Some people watch on. They observe, they take in, they desire. They tell me what it is they want. “I want to be a warrior, I want to be like you, have what you have and do what you do,” they tell me wide eyed.
Now the first three ‘wants’ I can understand. It is the last one, that terrifying number four that is the stumbling block for most. Yes, they want to be a warrior, no most of them don’t want to do what I and many that went long before me, do. They just think they do. They want the spoils but they won't do the war.
Back to bed; As I rise and shake off the cobwebs the door is opened and my beautiful reward hands me a hot steaming tea. “Here we go again love,” she says with a hug. I simply nod. She doesn't mind. She knows I struggle to speak at times like this, knows that I withdraw into myself to prepare. You see I am off to travel two hundred miles, to drive the length of the country to take part in several brutal full contact bouts against European champions.
I have resigned myself to the fact I may get hurt, knocked out and somewhere in the back of my mind pay the ultimate price a warrior may pay. I push that thought down…there are my children to think about.
So before me are those damn one hundred demons but behind me is months of pain, tears, nausea and sweat. Doubt is replaced by enthusiasm, confidence, hope and I relish these thoughts because I know soon doubt will once again smash my friends. But like a roundabout the positive will take its turn again. I just have to make sure I am mentally strong enough to start stacking the odds in that positive favour.
Some think mental strength is enough, they are wrong. A warrior need physical strength as well and that involves turmoil. Turmoil bought on pulling/pushing heavy weights until your muscles burn. You’ll be grateful for them once the grappling starts. Long, long early morning runs finishing with sets of sprints that leave you retching but you know that when your body needs to it has learned to dig deep. And then the most important part; full contact sparring. Not tip tap for a point. Not searching for the Ippon, the trophy, the hand raised but full contact ‘I’ll try and knock you out, you try and do the same.’
As I pondered if I have pushed myself enough, if I have given everything I could before this event, if I even have the courage to go through with it I remind myself of this; In the run up to it all I sparred so hard that my opposite number caught me in the head with a tremendous, beautiful roundhouse kick that left me blind for two hours, lying in a hospital bed praying for the Lord’s help and glory. He provided it and so I went on but it plays on my mind. Of yes it plays on my mind as we start the car, blast the music, sip the tea and pull away from a lovely, warm, safe, comforting house. Hours of foreboding tarmac lay ahead of us and every motorway exit is the chance to turn back and call it a day; except that isn't what we warriors do.
No, we argue. We argue with such passion to the thoughts, voices and monsters in our head and this is before we even see the demons. It is caustic, frightening, tiring. Do you still want to be a warrior? That isn't even the half.
The fight venue appears, first as a dot in the distance before rushing straight at me, an evil clown’s mouth for doors, laughing and daring you to enter. The officials haven't seen you so you could still make your excuse but you would know wouldn't you? You would know that you had bottled it. Your warm bed now a distant memory (though you secretly yearn for it) but that isn’t what we do either. Warriors don't go home, we stay and fight.
Entering the arena you see your opponents and they are as big as trucks. Stealth like speed, muscles like bricks and the strength of Sansom. Adrenalin both weakens you and strengthens you yet you still can’t stop your jelly legs from shaking. Bile fills your mouth as your stomach becomes a rolling sea of sickness. Fear turns your vision into tunnels adding to the size of your opponent yet you hide all this. You hide all of this to those watching on, to your wife, to the officials. But most of all you hide it from your opponent because God forbid if he spots it he will exploit it. It's his job, his duty. He is there for one simple purpose; to remove you of your senses. Of course you are there to do the same but maybe you struggle with it a little? Only later on when the whistles and bells have sounded do you find out he felt exactly the same.
Ten minutes to go? A trip to the toilet to empty your bowels but once there they clam up with fear. Eight minutes to go and although your mouth is as dry as a desert you still can't seem to sip the water you are offered. Five minutes to go and the adrenalin deafens you with rings so loud you think the person next to you can hear them.
Three minutes to go and your legs are so weak you want to sit down but to do that would be a catastrophe as you know you would never stand up again.
Two minutes and your heart beats so fast you feel you may faint but you remind yourself; you wanted this, you needed this, nobody forced you into this.
One minute to go and your name is called. It is now or never as you meet your opponent’s eyes. Do you spot any weakness, does he?
Time up, no more minutes, only beautiful battle. You touch gloves and see, sense, feel his first mighty shot. It is a shot that could down an elephant, sink a submarine, kill a man. So do you still want to be a warrior?