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My First Fight: James, Pt.4

Photo by CTMMMA Taiwan

"I squeezed harder on that man’s throat than I thought possible. He tapped, and that’s when relief gave fully away to profound joy."

The best time to sink in a choke is during a transition. That’s what I had been taught, and that’s what I had drilled at least a thousand times. But so seldom does one get to sink in a choke on the first attempt when sparring. This is especially true when sparring with someone experienced and accustomed to your game.

I fall back to pull guard and take his back in the process. To my shock, the choke sunk in on the first try. There is nothing on this earth that could compete with such a feeling. The relief was greater than any trip to the bathroom or roll of bubble wrap could ever provide. At the same time, there was something intensely primal that paraded through me at that moment. I imagine it is the same feeling our ancestors felt when they started a fire for the first time or successfully killed some dangerous animal on a hunt.

I squeezed harder on that man’s throat than I thought possible. He tapped, and that’s when relief gave fully away to profound joy. Not only had I completed the most terrifying task of my life to date, but I had won-something I didn’t think possible just minutes ago. I had prepared myself for loss. I had accepted it, but that didn’t mean I was going to give up. That’s why I had come out on top.

I threw my mouthguard, screamed at the top of my lungs and headbutted my coach in the chest for no reason when he came into the cage. I had validated all the pain I had put myself and my teammates through. As I walked from the cage, everyone said the same two things: “Congratulations!” and “I thought you were going to lose!” I felt the same way, so I simply repeated my thanks as needed.

Weeks have passed since my fight. The initial joy and pride in what I have done have faded since then. What remains is very simple. First is a profound sense of humility and respect. Fighting is hard and ugly. I had all sorts of plans and ideas for how my fight would go, but you wouldn’t guess that was the case if you watched the video. It is plain to see that any plan or strategy went out the window as soon as the bell rang.

I am humbled by this and because I know for a fact that I didn’t do anything right or well to win my match. I was lucky. I happened to be much better at one small part of the game than my opponent was. That’s all. I also have a profound amount of respect for anyone who steps inside that cage.

This was my first and only fight. I admire those who wish to fight, more than most people know. In the course of this experience, I learned that I am a fighter. I am not a good one, and I certainly don’t enjoy fighting, but I can fight. More importantly, I can endure.

For those curious like me pondering the right “mindset” for fighting, I think it is an exercise in futility. Whoever that voice is inside your head, doubting you, telling you that you can’t do it or you’re not tough enough, that’s not who’s getting inside that cage.

Whatever it is that makes someone decide to get inside a cage and fight another person is far more powerful than that voice could ever be.