This being my first post in a long time, I am brutally aware that it will never stand up to expectations. The stakes are simply too high, the clamouring hopes of the my adoring fans (both of them) can never be met. The rich ideas and dreams they have created in their heads will always be better than anything I can dare to make concrete or real. This is my chinese democracy. My Episode 1… but with less Jar-Jar. Thank Fuck.
Last year was a bit of a bust, training wise. If the key to progression is regular mat time then I have taken the key and put in it a draw for safe keeping. I then totally forgot about the key until I needed it again, and couldn’t fucking find it. It’s probably down the back somewhere with the old batteries, paperclips and the 7 year old non-identifiable power adaptors that seem to only exist in my drawer space.
So why haven’t I been training? Sheer laziness aside, it’s the typical thing of life getting in the way. Looking back I did a lot in 2011 – though it didn’t feel so at the time – I went travelling, was unemployed, changed careers, got injured, got depressed and of course dealt with all the other minutae of existence which gets in the way… In the words of Primo Levi: I drunk, I ate, I made love.*
Since the start of january last year I think there’s was a good 4-5 months of no training at all (the travelling and the injury) and the rest of the year seemed piecemeal at best. I am only now just about approaching what might be called a “training regime”. I feel I may have to address the fact – and own up to the truth – that this is a just hobby for me, not a lifestyle…
Or not. You make your own actions, you know?
Long story short: At the end of 2010 I was depressed and miserable. I couldn’t get a job I wanted so was working part time for crap money and I just needed to get the hell out of dodge. A friend of mine was going volunteering out in an Island off Hounduros to save some lizards or something (hippy) and that made me start to think about some good I could do. I’d inherited some money from my Nan that I wanted to do something meaningful with rather than piss it up the wall.
I had no ties to keep me in the UK, and the money to do it, so I figured it was the best time to do something different. And so, in early 2011 I took off for Ghana for two months. I was with a volunteer project about 140km north-east of the capital: building schools, teaching, giving aid to remote villages. You know, saving the world. And just to be clear – it does need saving. When you’re having to bring children’s clothes, paracetamol and soap to remote villages who wouldn’t have had it otherwise – something’s gone seriously wrong with the world. Now I don’t want to get all “sins of the fathers” on you all, but it’s our mess – we should at least help to clear it up.
I think it’s an understatement to say I enjoyed myself whilst volunteering and travelling around Ghana. I had possibly the best time I had in years, and with my clothes on – go figure. For starters the communal aspect of living was amazing. There were a lot of points when it reminded me of being at university: Playing stupid** drinking games, or being epically hungover, or simply just sitting around talking shit because we had nothing better to do. In fact: Given that I spent most of the time surrounded by hot teenage girls who wouldn’t sleep with me – it was EXACTLY like being at University.
And then there was the simple fact that I WAS IN FUCKING GHANA!! Having never really travelled before – and having never really wanted to – I was constantly amazed by how fucking awesome it was. The country itself was breathtaking, the people even more so, and just the freedom felt from being 3000miles away from home was immense. Clearly being taken out of my comfort zone is good for me. If you’ve never hitch-hiked home on the back of a flat back lorry, or drunk moonshine with the locals, or built a school with your bare hands – having first had to make the bricks – you haven’t lived!
It was, simply put, stunning. But then after a couple of weeks I’d settled in and gotten used the general craziness that is Ghana and I began to notice that I was genuinely really missing training. And there wasn’t much I could do about it – short of double legging the other volunteers or starting a fight with the Ghanians.
The annoying thing about BJJ – and, on reflection, one of the things I love about it – you can’t really train on your own. Sure you can do conditioning and solo-drills, but it’s not rolling is it? It’s not actually learning how to get better at fighting. You’re not going to become a Black Belt by reading a few books and going through the moves on your own in the comfort of your own bedroom. The most depressing thing was, I think, knowing that when I was at uni and studying Lau Gar kung fu – I did exactly that. Only the angels of objective truth know how many hours of my life I wasted going over and over forms like this and thinking I was actually training. Self delusion is a terrible thing.
I suppose, looking back, that I could’ve forced myself to do some kind of conditioning work whilst I was out there just to keep myself in shape. Though I’d argue that shovelling literally tonnes of sand/gravel/cement in a 30+ degree heat is hard work enough, let alone once you factor in dehydration and being ill. Oh, and proper nutrition is a nightmare to achieve. The main diet is rice. And rice. With a bit more rice. The easiest meat to get hold of was corned beef (though we did find corned mutton which appeared to have a picture of a goat on it – I dread to think). Though you could take your life in your hands and buy chicken/mystery kebab from a street seller. Nothing says travelling more than thinking “I wonder exactly how ill this will make me?” and then eating it anyway.
In short. I missed training. I missed my training buddies. I spent a fuck lot of time packed into taxis, coaches, and Trotros (read: minibus) listening to music and daydreaming whilst we travelled about. And no matter what I was thinking about it ALWAYS came back to BJJ/Fighting. I guess this isn’t unusual in itself (BJJ is my main hobby after all) but I was surprised that my mind drifted back to training literally EVERY journey. It was almost as if it was my passion or something – and that I should indulge that passion and become happy with my life… Crazy talk, I know.
The other thing that became abuntantly clear is that there is a big tribal element to training that I don’t think I fully appreciated until I was removed from it. I come from a damn good pedigree and I am fiercely proud of that fact. I kept seeing little snippets on facebook & twitter about how well people were doing, fight results, promotions and so on and all I wanted to do was be there to congratulate those involved and bask in the reflected glory. I missed Andy getting his Black Belt from Roger, which was something I’d have paid money to see. I did phone him to congratulate him – even 1000miles away I am a suck up – and I think he appreciated it. Maybe. I even attempted to share this awesome news with the people there but gave up fairly soon when greeted with blank stares. If people don’t even know what BJJ is, they aren’t going to know who Roger is, and they certainly aren’t going to know who Andy is. The fools!
I am sadly aware the irony of this tribalism on my part makes me dangerously similar to the football fans I normally take the piss out of for saying stuff like “We totally won last night!” … Really? And how many goals did YOU score exactly?
The difference, of course, is that I have trained with all these people. I have helped in some small way towards their achievement. I know I am not responsible for their victory or promotion (We can only thank Steven Seagal for that) or whatever, but I’d like to think I was at least a small part of it. That’s my story for being an RGA nut-riding fan boy and I’m sticking to it!
The point is, I think, that I wanted to be there. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to TRAIN, damn it!
My biggest fear whilst in Ghana – aside from catching AIDS, Malaria, being macheted to death, or dying in an RTA (9 people in one hatchback just screams “road safety”) – is that all the daydreaming I did about being back at training was simply that, dreaming. That I wasn’t actually motivated at all, I just thought I was. Everyone loves the IDEA of winning, but how many people are actually motivated enough to do all the hard work? It’s very easy to think “yeah, I’m going to train every session I can! I’m going to become king of BJJ! I will smash everyone at the next comp!” but the reality is very different. This is why all fight movies have montages that skip all the hard work. The alternative would be an attempt at realism, and no-one wants to see 90mins of someone endlessly repeating the same moves with a 5min fight payoff at the end. It’s only in the hindsight we see our hardwork come off. To paraphrase an oft quoted phrase about writing: I don’t like training, but I like having trained.
I think my final point is: I started 2011 on a high note – My rolling before Ghana felt fluid and easy. I think I can safely say my last session in the country was the best I’ve ever rolled. Now, over 12 months on I think I am *just* getting to that point again. Or, to put it another way: It has taken me a year of work to stay EXACTLY WHERE I WAS. Progression can be a bitch.
There are times now (generally when I’ve been smashed to bits by someone I used to be able to hold my own against) that I look back and wonder why the fuck I just didn’t go to Brazil and train for a month instead, or stay home and use the money for something else whilst I kept up my Jiu-Jitsu here – but I think that does a diservice to past Dave: He made the right choice at the time, I think, plus playing the “what if” game is a recipie for disaster.
It was after all, when all’s said and done, an amazing experience. I had a unique opportunity to go, and I’m glad I took it. I really don’t think that I could do justice here to everything that happened in those two months but here, in quick summation, are a few of those little moments that make life worth living:
Pirate Andy and his Methadone stories, Ring of fire & I have never, Star beer, dance-offs with the locals, Gin, dehydration, and the worst Valentine’s hangover ever, *that* photo, Kokribite beach (keep to the RIGHT!), Rich and the “bouncy bouncy” game, The crazy danish monkey sanctuary, Lake Bosumtwe (my favourite place in the whole fucking world), an incident that will now only be referred as “Zoe-gate”, that fucking American woman, Team Canada, KWASI TIME!!, Mica’s drum solo at the hotel, three ants in a giant ant costume, The nurses’ story, Joe’s amazing rice, snake attacks, showering in the rain, Dave’s rock, more hellos, goodbyes and hangovers than I care to count, and all the chants of Obruni! Obruni! Obruni! where-ever we went…
I left with Ghana with a heavy heart; Though in hindsight that might have been my choice to listen to Ok Computer on the taxi ride to the airport… You’re born alone. You die alone. You leave Ghana alone. I cried when I left, real tears. But as Appiah (our Ghanaian equivalent of a conceirge) said: You should cry, it shows it meant something. Yeah. It really did.
Post-script: I would like to state very clearly that I did not “Find Myself” in Ghana, or any hippy bullshit like that. I deeply suspect that I am a massive wanker, and so self exploration is unlikely to yield good results. I did however have an awesome time, think I helped out quite a bit, made some new friends (who can’t all have been pretending to like me), and came back feeling all energised and motivated and shit….
Well. For a bit. Nooch.
*The ratios of which I refuse to discuss.
**And I do mean stupid. Trust me, if you’re playing “I have never” with people 10-15 years younger than you then it’s VERY fucking stupid. I mean, who doesn’t drink to “I have never indulged in a sexual activity that seemed like a great idea at the time but has ultimately left deep psychological scarring”? Oh. Just me then… Just me…