I don’t just write the words you need to hear. I write what I need to hear, too.
I’ve been doing a lot of MMA training lately — clocked in 7 hours last week. I’ve been training for a couple of years now, but mostly boxing, and mostly with pads. I’d had maybe ten serious sparring sessions total, including two or three matches with other members of the Wolves.
At this point, sparring is what I need. I need to shorten my reaction time and learn how to apply all of the theory I’ve been practicing. I need to learn to keep attacking instead of resetting by default the way you do when you are repeating pad drill with a partner. I need to figure out what really works, what needs more work, and what is probably not going to work for me most of the time because of my size, fighting style, build and age.
I don’t have much to put out there confidently in terms of wrestling or kickboxing yet, so full MMA sparring rounds are still somewhat stressful and confusing. I’m not a tail-wagging 22 year old who feels invincible. I’ll be 42 in a couple of weeks. I’m a fast, strong, healthy and I’d like to think kinda imposing 42 when I’m not smiling or laughing, which I usually am — but I’m still 42. Because I’m one of the bigger guys, the other big guys and the guys who are actually good are always going to want to work with me.
The other day this guy joined our class. He was maybe 5’9” and 185. Cauliflower ear, obviously broken nose. Built like a fighter. I knew I was going to have to end up sparring with him that day, because I was an obvious match. When he walked across the room and picked me for the second round of sparring, In my head, I kicked rocks and got all Eeyore for a second. “Well…this is going to suck for me.”
Then I remembered that I’m the guy who writes things like, “Life is Conflict, Peace is Death.”
Oh. Yeah. I’m supposed to be that guy.
Alright. Stop it, Jack.
Life is conflict. Peace is death.
It was a long three minutes, but I did OK, all things considered. Took a Superman punch to the face, a bunch of kicks, some brief grounding and pounding, a few punches that could have been knockout punches — but I have a pretty good chin. And no, he wasn’t being a dick or showboating. I don’t think he ever went past his 70% range. I also threw out a few solid punches that connected, and I kept him moving.
It was just a round, but I drove home on a Fight Club high. I was glad that I’d worked with him, and that I’d survived. Nothing really even hurt. No fucked up face.
The next morning I texted Paul Waggener, asking if he ever finds himself repeating his own mantras.
He said that he does it all the time, and that he writes mostly for his “future self” at this point.
He’d been sick that day and had wanted to lay around, but remembered that there are some guys out there who think he is some kind of machine. And machines don’t lay around being sick. So he hit some weights and went to BJJ class that night.
“What good are these mantras if we don’t use them as what they are for ourselves?”
I’ve had a reader tell me that when he read The Way of Men for the first time, he thought, “Man, this guy has got to be some kind of operator.” The reader actually had been an operator. Somehow, I’d managed through pure thought experiments to pull this truth out of the ether that he recognized.
I’ve never been an operator. I went to art school. I didn’t bar fight my way through my twenties. I started thinking and writing about masculinity seriously in my mid-thirties. I didn’t actually learn how to throw a punch or deadlift over 400 pounds until I was 38.
The other day, I was being photographed by a guy I used to deliver produce with for a book project he is working on. He has had a rough time over the past few years, and he asked me what my biggest “struggle” had been.
I haven’t had a very hard life, by any meaningful standard.
My biggest struggle has been trying to live up to my own words and beliefs. I can’t just write this stuff and not do it. I can’t be that kind of hypocrite. I can’t tell people to go out and push themselves if I’m not willing to do it myself.
When my work makes men angry, it’s usually because they imagine that I’m some kind of puffed up jerk who is calling them pussies and telling them to be more like me. I trigger a lot of guys with “daddy issues.” Or they think I’m some phony pretending to be something he’s not.
The truth is, I’m just a guy.
I’m just a guy trying to live up to his own ideals. I’m writing the words I need to hear myself. These mantras and symbols are for me, too.
Like Paul, I’m writing for a future self.
We are creating ourselves, always in the process of transforming and becoming. These words and symbols are magic. No lightning flies out of my fingers, and I haven’t tried to summon a storm, but these words and symbols are what I need to invoke my better, higher, future self.
I’m at a point in my life right now where I feel more “self-realized” than I ever have before. I’m closer to who I have always wanted to be than I ever have been before.
Maybe these words and symbols and ideas will work for you, too.
I almost didn’t want to share this. Sometimes it’s better to allow people to believe whatever they want to believe about you.
And, tactically speaking, when we meet and you shake my hand, you’ll know that I have no grappling game and my kicks suck.
But…by then…I’ll be better.