Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Real Life Title Fight in MMA: A Loser’s Perspective

Well this battle and title-fight has been looming for me for some time. And now it is upon me. I am taking on the undisputed, unbeaten champion in this battle. And the truth is, I don’t stand a chance. I will lose. And I will lose soundly. But I will prepare. I will fight the good fight. Not because I am expected to, or because I have been entrusted to do so. I will fight the good fight because I have been raised to do so, especially when the cause is right. And I will prepare, and I have been preparing. I have whole-heartedly signed on. But I will lose.

The first rule to fighting any opponent is to know your opponent well. I have been preparing myself thusly. My opponent likes to make everything personal, and human nature being what it is, once a certain line is crossed it is indeed deeply personal. He likes it that way. So I make it personal by giving him a short-form first name: Al.
Al is not only tough, but he’s arrogant. He’s the worst kind of undisputed champion. And he’s huge. He’s bigger than I am, stronger than I am, and has more manoeuvres for the fight than I am even aware of. The more I study him pre-fight, the more intimidating he becomes. Al likes it that way. It’s part of his strategy. Al doesn’t just want to win, he wants to humiliate in the process. He fights dirty, he has no rules, and he doesn’t just beat on you for the submission or the tap out. He beats on you relentlessly till the end. Al loves to add insult to injury. He has no scruples, even though he is undeniably, champion. Al makes every part of the battle, including the preparation all about him. And for an unbeaten champion he has little humility. Anyone who knows Al as I have come to know him knows him as a mean, cruel, and insidious adversary.
He has way more experience than do I. He loves the fight more than I; he cherishes each victory as another notch on his championship belt.

Al doesn’t mind being the bad guy. He’s so arrogant he cherishes even that. He likes to make everyone aligned against him so he can be all the more egotistical when he wins. He has no friends, no fans, and he embraces this as part of his strategy.

And did I mention; he’s huge?

The truth is this is a David and Goliath fight without the underdog possibility for victory. Al holds all the cards. He has more strategies and tactics than I can ever study and prepare for; let alone be able to do anything about them. This David has little chance in such a title fight.

So I will not meet him in the middle of the ring on his terms. I’ll meet him on mine. My approach is now going to be more cinematic than systematic. I go back to the first Rocky movie: The tale of a loser. I am now that loser. But like Rocky I have decided my chance, my meaning, my purpose, is not to beat the champ. If I am to gather anything from this experience and move forward; if this fight is to bring anything of merit into my life; then I have to change the strategy.
My goal is not to beat what is a winless possibility. That is a dream that has now come and gone regarding Al and his prowess. No, like Rocky, I know in my heart I cannot win this showdown. So I just want to go the distance. I want to make it to the last round; meet Al in the centre of the ring, and although battered, bloodied, bruised and defeated, I will look right into his eyes, deeply and passionately, and declare, “I’m still here.” “You win Al, but so what!”

The truth is this fight was handed to me by default. Al, as always likes to select the weakest opponents to prop himself up. This fight was passed to me. Al doesn’t care who enters the ring with him. But I care. He can pummel and punish for all he’s worth, and he’s famous for his brutality. And every time he knocks me back or knocks me down I will look up. I will get up. And I will not, give up.
The truth is this fight is over before it starts. I know that. I am a realist. Al wins.
But there are a few things that Al, in all his arrogance overlooks and doesn’t realize:

I’m not after his title. I don’t want it. I don’t even dispute it. But I need not honour or respect it. If I can go the distance, for the sake of the people who can no longer take the fight to Al; if I can do that merely because I have been asked to; then I can fight for a different title, different sake, and a different stake.

But the match is now upon me. And it is more overwhelming in experience than what could ever seem to be possible in preparation. Of course in my pre-fight prep, I’ve heard this over and over and only now, so early in the fight do I know it to be an understatement. Al, the unbeaten, undisputed champ, is just so overpowering as to not be believed.

M.M.A. (My Mother’s Alzheimer’s)

In round one Al makes his intentions clear. The experts, the referees, draw a circle and ask my mom to write the two hands of a clock anywhere inside it and she cannot do it. Al laughs mockingly, mocking me, mocking my corner, and unsympathetically mocking my mother as well. She is asked to remember five common but unassociated words, and 10 minutes later cannot recall them.

For Al, this is just first round jabbing.
He wants us all to know and experience his dominance. And we do. But he continues to mock all of us as he jabs on. The truth is Al is just toying with all of us, and he is deliberately carrying the fight along so he can make the pain and torment last longer. He is that effective, that accomplished, and that wicked.
But I’ll regroup for round two.

And just like with Rocky, this loser has a realization within the throes of the actual contest. Once the fight moves into round 2 and becomes far more serious, there is no time or inclination for intimidation. I am no longer intimidated by Al or the fight. The actual fight itself leaves little time for this kind of reflection.
Al has now taken us to the mat.
He lays down a series of blows and manoeuvres that are so sinister, they do not even merit commentary: Just another tactic for him to use to prop himself up. But he is doing real damage now. The fight cannot last much longer, but he will insure it does since he masterfully controls every aspect of it. Still, I find nothing to envy within his mastery. And this knowledge seems to give me some strength: The strength to fight back. And it’s here in the middle of what must be one of the final rounds that I have a revelation even within all the punishment Al is inflicting on me.
I see that beneath the surface Al is so insecure that it’s not even about being victorious for him. It’s something else. Al has such deep self-hatred that he seeks to rob his opponents of grace and dignity. This is his true mission. He seeks to take what he himself lacks and always will. I’ve seen so much of this by dealing with others in my own life that this realization is empowering to me.

Al with all his talent, skill, and status is really just a bully. He’s trying to fill a deep void in himself by chalking up one victory after another.

So in round three as Al continues to pilfer human grace and dignity one humiliating gesture at a time, I’ve realized I can meet him with my own grace and dignity. For every piece of dignity he takes from my mom, I’ll meet him on the mat, and look him in the eye with my own version of dignity. For every element of grace he cheats and eliminates, I will again, get up and match him with mine. I can look Al in the eyes.
I now realize that although I may not be helpful I am not helpless either. I’ll grab the ropes, get up, and fight one more round. He may win, but he’ll know there was a fight. And more importantly he’ll know I’ve figured him out. It’s not what Al has that drives him. It’s what he’s lacking that drives him. That doesn’t make him strong. In fact, it makes him rather ordinary. And ordinary is something I can fight regardless of its skill. So although at the end of this match I will surely be a loser, I will not be a victim. Because the truth is, this is not about me. This is another realization that Al wants to hide from the fight.

Because he lacks passion he wants to deprive everyone else of theirs, or at the least, demean it. And Al will take the mind first and then the organs. I know that. But as I fight my way out of the corner and off the mat, I see another weakness in Al that he endeavours to hide. While he can take the mind and the brain, he can’t ever really take the heart. Not if we don’t allow it. Because inside my mother’s heart is the story of a life that has been lived. A story that has been told and shared and touched others. Am I not living proof of that?
Al can’t eliminate that, even though he battles to do so. So even though he is unbeaten he can never be truly victorious, which is why I think he continues to try to count victories; moving from one to the next. What he can never claim is the story inside someone’s heart. The story of a life lived. Al wants us to miss all this so we can concentrate on him to make his victory seem all that more complete and devastating.
But as I counter his next move with my own I realize it’s not how someone dies that matters; regardless of Al’s intention to make us think that way; and to build himself up. No. What matters is how someone lives and lived. Al, in all his fury cannot defeat this reality. Perhaps this is why his victories are so hollow for those of us who are on to him.

In my mom’s heart is a life-story. And it will beat on. Long ago, as a young girl, she played in a school yard somewhere, fought with her siblings over trivial fare. She hung out at the local swimming hole where she met my father all those years ago. She gave birth to three boys, and stored all in her heart’s memory of stories and experiences. She will leave these with us. She will leave these to us.
And we will interpret the stories in our own hearts.

In my whole life I seldom heard my mom say a disparaging thing about anything or anyone. Myself, I seldom get through a whole day without doing so. Moreover, when I think about it, I’ve never heard my mother ask for anything from anyone either. What a great lesson. If not for Al, I would not have heeded it now. And the first time my parents accompanied me to Vegas: that’s where my mom fell in love with playing the slot machines! On her first jackpot win, amid all the bells and lights, you would have thought she had been named Princess for a day. It’s a look of contentment and simplicity I will not soon forget. And this minute or two of consideration is just some of my own heart’s story of that life lived.

Al is frustrated he can’t vanquish these stories from those who remember, so he chooses to punish and insult and inflict as much pain as possible. And this is where he is most adept and skilled. He goes after my father and weakens and depletes him. But Al doesn’t acknowledge the transformation in my dad that only a heart’s tale can tell, and only a life lived, can witness. My dad has become caretaker and caregiver. He does his best to oversee everything. It is a valiant effort. He does the laundry, makes the food, does the shopping, and worries and worries over the near future. He tries to get my mother to take her medication. She resists, which is one of Al’s tactics he so delights in. And when she is not herself and Al is clearly speaking through her, my father simply succumbs to the argument.

At 81, I see a fear in my dad’s eyes; and it’s not a fear for himself. One of the most truly fearless men I’ve ever known is being worn down. But he gallantly fights on as well, and as best he can.
Al can’t see or won’t see the strength in all of that.

But truly, it is Al that is alone: Champion that he is. It dawns on me that Al is reining champion only in the arena of death. He’s never participated in life. That truth gives me strength. I will not meet him on his terms.

But as I fight this battle and lose, my corner gets stronger and more adept in the fight as well. We start to focus not on what is lost, but what is retained. There is a place Al cannot get to. So although I am staggered and rocked, battered, beaten, bloodied and defeated, I will unrelentingly go the distance.

And I will stand up; and see him for what and who he is. I am not intimidated.
I may be sad, Al wins. I may be a little lost, Al wins. I may be exhausted, Al wins. But I remain undaunted. Therefore Al is not victorious.

I think of some words to try to express my father’s heart at this time. What it must feel like to face slowly losing someone you’ve shared life with for almost 60 years. The closest thing that comes to mind is my retooling of some of the words from a Richard Marx song: “wherever you’ve gone, and whatever you’ll do, I will be right here waiting for you...Whatever it takes, or how my heart breaks, I will be right here waiting for you.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said this: “A friend may well be reckoned a masterpiece of nature.”

And in my fight with Al I can honestly sing loud and clear, just like another song, that: “I get by with a little help from my friends.” (Something Al will never be able to relate to)

And the fight continues...

I sincerely welcome your comments here. And to any of you fighting Al now or in the future; look him in the eyes. And remember the stories a loved one’s heart speaks. Speak them. You will see Al in a totally different light.

Some of you will get it; I pray few of you, ever have to experience it. But if you do, my advice for what it's worth, is GO THE DISTANCE !