Poop And Love, Entry 4: I. Am. Iron Man. (Success!!!!!!!)

IMG_8377IMG_8401Let me just go ahead and throw this out there: I blew the roof off of the goal I created in Poop And Love, Entry 3: Project Iron Man: To break my personal body mass index record, coming out of my worst ulcerative colitis flare since my diagnosis in 2003. I’ll share the scoop with you, if you will agree to be infected with positivity and sexy confidence.

A QUICK REFRESHER

In January of 2015, I went into my worst ulcerative colitis flare since my 2003 diagnosis. From January to early May, I would drop from about 145 lb. to 122 lb. due to this chronic bastard &*%$ illness. That’s the closest I’ve come to my 2003 record low of 112 lb., when I was first hospitalized. Here’s what 122 lb. looks like (pretty sure the hair weighs around 10 lb.):

From January to May, I spent a whole buttload (badump, chhhh!) of time in the usual self-pity, anger, resentment, yada yada yada. I finally had enough, I got some stellar coaching from a few friends and mentors, I got off my sappy ass, and I created a plan to gain the weight back and become a confident, sexy-ass beast.  I ran with this change in mentality and created my first goal: To return to what I weighed before the 2015 flare (145 lb.). I started with pushups and a 20-lb. kettlebell, which I affectionately named Rose Bud. I improved quickly and in June moved up to a 35-lb. kettlebell. I named it Pain. By July, I’d met my first goal. This is me in June at 140 lb., and closing in on my first goal:
IMG_1242 (1)

On September 24, 2015, after I’d maintained my original bodyweight for a few months, I created a brand new goal to push it a step further: Break my personal body mass index record by gaining an additional 12 lb. of muscle in 32 days. Easy right? (Yeah, I have a lot to say about that, and I’ll address all the naysaying canker blossoms in a later post). I digress. I’m what you call a hard gainer, an ectomorph. I’ve been skin and bones all my life. Combine that with ulcerative colitis and you have a condition that I like to call Jack Skellington Syndrome.

In a society where being slim is the Holy Frickin’ Grail of all that’s sacred, maybe that seems like a luxury. But when you come from a background (as I do) of always the weak one, the frail one, the bullied one, the last one picked for sports, etc., then being slim serves you about as well as a Motrin for chlamydia. It’s all about perception, my friends, and everyone has a unique one. For more on the life of an ectomorph, see Poop And Love – Entry 2: You Are A Sexy Beast. In the spirit of being fit for life and a confident, sexy-ass beast, on September 24, 2015, I got started. I charted my progress:

Calorie_Count____Weight_Tracking

I used the kettlebell workouts from Pavel Tsatsouline’s Enter The Kettlebell; I added knife-handed diamond pushups; and I threw in some good old fashioned deadlifts using a standard barbell and some stacked concrete blocks. These were some of the toughest workouts I’ve ever experienced. I occasionally found myself dry heaving during and after. To build muscle, you must push them to COMPLETE FAILURE to trigger the release of growth hormone. I discovered that this takes tremendous mental discipline. When your mind says you’re done, you usually have a few more reps left. You have to push yourself beyond your mental limits.

And yes, you have to diet to gain weight too (and even more so with ulcerative colitis, because you also have to avoid foods that can trigger another flare). Sorry to suck the Febreeze from the naysayer’s last BM, but it’s damn sure not as simple as scarfing Big Macs and fries and donuts and Funyuns all day. You have to limit your sugar intake. You have to limit your fat intake. You have to measure your carbs and protein. And you have to count calories like Dustin Hoffman counts toothpicks in Rain ManBy the  October 26, 2015 deadline that I declared on September 24, I had exceeded my goal by a pound, weighing in at 158 lb. BOOSH. Here’s what that looks like:

IMG_8255

Stepping into the arena, declaring a goal, and blowing the roof off of it will light you up. And it’s within the realm of possibility for anyone. I got so proficient with the 35-lb. kettlebell that I moved up once again to a 53 lb. kettlebell. I named it Rebirth. Here are some expected (and unexpected) results:

  • A back of steel, and hips and shoulders that feel like freaking machines.
  • A core that’s stronger than ever.
  • Years of frequent shoulder pain, pops and crackles have disappeared.
  • A resting heart rate of under 60 BPM.
  • A new weird-ass bunch of bulging veins in my upper biceps and shoulders; I haven’t decided if they’re sexy or creepy.
  • I can totally jiggle my tits at will.
  • A return of confidence.

I’m not Bodybuilding Magazine‘s next cover model, but I don’t really give a crap. This project wasn’t based on comparison to anyone else. I did it as a testament of personal power and discipline, and as a means to light you up, to inspire you to dream up something and go after it. Let me tell you a secret about experiencing the miraculous in life: Declare a goal, something big, something that scares the shit out of you, something that seems impossible, and then make a relentless commitment to deliver on it, even if you have no idea how you’re going to do it.

I like to make promises that I’m not sure I can keep, and then figure out how to keep them. – Sophia Amoruso

I’m not superhuman. Hell, maybe I am. But if that’s true, then so are you. If I can do it, anyone can. Change your mentality. Stop obsessing over all the reasons it won’t work, and start obsessing over all the reasons it WILL.

Mural1

Dream big. LIVE BIGGER.  

tripp.life

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About A Breakup, Part 3 of 5: The Atom Bomb

Note: Make no mistake. “About A Breakup” is a story of hope and overcoming adversity. In order to experience a breakthrough, you must experience a breakdown first. Don’t get all caught up in the tragedy. Understand that any descriptions of tragic events are written  for the purpose of illustrating the breakthroughs which will follow. Stay with me, friends.

Tyson QuoteI’m standing alone in the small parking lot of a local nature trail. I hear her peel out with a vengeance, that engine madly revving like a speed dragster that can’t get out of first gear, fading slowly until the only sound remaining is the wind moving through the trees. I start the first of a half dozen laps around the entire park.

I had a plan on this day, which turned into an expectation (bad idea). A solid plan with no holes. A plan that did not involve guilt-stricken explanations or crying or screaming tires punishing the black top. Or second thoughts.

A few hours before, we are wandering to the end of the trail, discussing light topics like the kids, and work, before moving on to deeper things, and the biggest shouting match we’d ever had. She apologizes for some of the things she’d said in anger recently. I apologize as well. I am positive she knows where this is going. I’m wrong. 

“I’m tired,” I say. “I’m tired of this tension. I’m tired of arguing. I’m tired of being in purgatory with our relationship.”

I watch as she comes to realize the conversation about to transpire. We’d had breakup conversations many times before, but this one is different. The threat feels imminent. I watch her go into shock and shut down. The details are fuzzy. I recall her telling me to go ahead and cut the cord.

“What’s there to talk about?” she scoffs. “If we’re breaking up, let’s break up.”

I find myself getting furious at the ball being in my court. Again. In retrospect, I see her need for closure, to leave no chance of getting sucked back in, of false hope. I get it. She would later admit that she’d felt the same way for a while, and would apologize for projecting her anger onto me.

“So I guess that’s it then.” She picks up her bag and begins the laborious trudge back to the entrance. I catch up and walk beside her. I feel like a traitor, and this will become one of the biggest personal challenges in the days to come: overcoming my mind’s compelling argument that I’m a bad person and a failure (I DID overcome; stay with me, don’t get caught up in the bad shit).

I watch her move from sadness to despondency, from despondency to fury; Irish-Italian Catholic fury. I’d witnessed this unique fury exactly three times in the six years I’d known her, twice toward another, once toward me. In each instance, I briefly feared for the life of the party on the receiving end.

When we finally reach the parking lot, she gets into her car and asks me if there’s anything else. I make a half-assed effort to have her see that we’ve exhausted every option. Didn’t we try everything? I realize I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to her. Regardless, she’s not listening. She mutters a goodbye under her breath before speeding away.

In the half dozen laps I make around the park afterward, I recall the futility of attaching oneself to an expectation, and the power of creating possibility. Expectations are static. You lose, you fail. You win, you realize it’s nothing special. Possibility, on the other hand, is different. You lose, you create a new possibility. You win, you create a new possibility.

Though I don’t believe it in that moment (remember, just because it sucks now doesn’t mean it will always suck), in the days to come, I will recover. And I will conquer. And so will she.

Somewhere in the distant past, I sold myself on the belief that there’s not a tragedy in this life that will make me give up. You have to decide that sort of thing BEFORE tragedy strikes. 11055343_10206828659705775_5582084695053198937_oI shared that belief with some of my closest peers and mentors, who true to their commitment to love and support their fellow human beings, incessantly and tirelessly reminded me that this is who I am. A survivor. A gladiator. Fearless. And the same applies to you who are reading this. Stand on me. It DOES get better. I swear.

Look for “About A Breakup, Part 4 of 5: The Fallout.”

Cheers.

About A Breakup, Part 1 of 5: Code Angst (An Introduction)

Hell, forget soft intros. Here’s what you need to know: I’ve been through a divorce and a broken engagement. And I’m happy. And I have a stellar relationship with my ex-wife, her husband, and my ex-fiance. And my kids are thriving. The last time I visited them, E, one of their friends from home, flew up with me, courtesy of her kickass mother. And my ex-wife and her husband and OUR two kids and THEIR two kids and E and my ex-in-laws and I ALL went out for pizza and drinks. And it was a blast. AND THIS IS A STORY OF HOPE. 

So after my latest blog entry (addressing patient death), a bunch of you crack sleuths noticed the “About A Breakup” series and inquired about why I hadn’t finished it. I started it about two years prior, and it sort of fell by the wayside. What do losing patients and breakups have in common? Hey, don’t focus on the wrong part of the story. I just figure before I start routinely contributing to The Impossibility Movement again, I should complete the unfinished entries. Here’s an updated introduction to the “About A Breakup” series. Final entries are in progress. I’ll do my best to make each entry short, powerful, and to the point.

If you didn’t decipher it by the enigmatic title, this is a multi-post series about a real-life breakup, in this case, a broken engagement as experienced by me. I figure it applies to a wide range of broken relationships. I’m writing with the day-of-the-dead-2041971_1920intent to relate to YOU in your own breakup, personal tragedy, or otherwise crossroads, and to perhaps be a signpost to hope and joy on the other side. Hope and joy, dammit. I insist. 

At age 37, with a warm-up marriage (a.k.a. “divorce”) already under my belt, I would describe the experience of defaulting on a subsequent, almost-marriage (a.k.a. “engagement”) as something along the lines of a hormonally-saturated lovesick teen, geeked out on Pixy Stix, standing in the middle of a fire and brimstone hailstorm during the First Zombie Apocalypse, armed with only a Little Mermaid toothbrush for self-preservation. Yeah, it hurt. And yeah, I’ve been through the turd ringer. And yeah, I’ve got some mad credentials. Stand on me. It DOES get better. I swear.

So here’s the thing. I’m gonna talk about some shitty experiences in this series. Some dark and frustrating and sad and plain old shitty experiences. And like all human brains, YOUR human brain is going to zone in, like Corgnelius The Corgi to a Poodle in heat, solely on the negative emotions, out of a sense of fear that YOU might have to experience the same emotions in your pursuit of personal happiness. Vintage Muse: Stevie NicksDo not buy into that mentality. It’s bullshit. We’re all well-trained to visualize all the worst case scenarios and to convince ourselves that stepping up and saying “this is what I want in life” will certainly lead to torment and regret. But you deserve a life that you love. And for all that we say we want in life, we certainly spend vast amounts of brain cells on what we have to lose, and almost no brain cells on what we have to gain.

In order for you to get the GREATEST impact out of this series, you MUST understand that no transformation in the history of mankind has occurred without a meltdown occurring first. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a transformation, would it? Suppose you found yourself in a state of beautiful and happy and unicorns-shitting-Skittles bliss. And suddenly, you awoke from your dream and found yourself in a state of beautiful and happy and unicorns-shitting-Skittles bliss. Yeah, you read it right. It’s redundant. If all you ever knew was total bliss, you wouldn’t know a transformation if it bit you in ass. How the hell would you know the difference? How would you know blissful light without experiencing darkness? The greatest and most powerful transformations that I’ve ever experienced in my life came on the tail end of the greatest heartbreaks and tragedies. 

 It’s Yin and Yang, my friends. This is what all the great spiritual teachers mean when

imagesthey say “delight in your suffering.” They don’t mean have a tea party in the middle of the shit storm and throw rainbow confetti and eat fucking cupcakes with sprinkles and bathe in a champaign-filled hot tub whilst being battered by rain and wind and flying cows and washed-up celebs and whatever. They simply mean that endless possibilities exist when there’s nowhere to go but up. Remember that.

When life sucks now, we’re convinced that life will suck for eternity. But the future isn’t as shitty as you are convinced it’s going to be. Sure, it hurts like hell when it’s happening. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t. But too often we choose to endure the mediocre because we’re afraid of how much it will hurt to go after what you really want in life. This is your happiness at stake. As my dear Aunt Janet so poetically puts it,

“You just have to keep reminding yourself that it’s going to suck. Until it doesn’t suck anymore.”

Now don’t be half-assed about it. If you’re gonna start reading this series, see it through. Way, way, way (sometimes WAY the hell down there), underneath our tears and sorrow and guilt and regret, there’s a flame burning within us from a time when we knew ourselves to be forces of nature, before the world told us we were worthless, and we started to believe that crap. I’m not guaranteeing that this series will change your life. But I do guarantee that you won’t get the full effect if you don’t read the whole thing. Stick it out, my friends. Hope and joy, dammit!

Look for About A Breakup, Part 2 of 5: Courage (The Cold War).

Cheers.

A Quick And Dirty Guide To Happiness

WARNING: Explicit language may or may not exist in this post. If that sort of thing offends you, well, choose for it not to. I find that a little colorful language is liberating, helps drive the point home at times, and also expresses the nature of being human.

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Of all the people I’ve coached and mentored, of all the human behavior that I’ve observed, of all my experiences and reflections, from all the psych and sociology I’ve studied, from all the choices I’ve made (both powerful and shitty), and from the various self-improvement courses I’ve undergone, there’s a central question that makes itself known pretty regularly to me, and it usually goes something  like this:

What’s the key to personal happiness?

And if it’s addressed directly to me, it’s usually followed by

Make it quick. I have things to do. You’ve got five minutes.

So in the spirit of quick and dirty, here goes:

Step 1 – Define what you want. 

Step 2 – Do it.

The end.

OK, for those of you who might be interested in a slightly extended version of the above steps:

Step 1 – Define what you want. As Tim Ferriss states in The 4-Hour Workweek:

For all their bitching about what’s holding them back, most people have a lot of trouble coming up with the defined dreams they’re being held from.

I  happen to believe that it’s purely fear that paralyzes human beings from declaring what they want. As long as it’s floating around within the confines of your own mind, you have nothing to risk and nothing to gain. You can simply daydream about it without any accountability to step outside of your comfort zone. It’s happiness purgatory if you ask me. It’s warm and fuzzy and logical. But once you declare it, oh shit. It’s on. Are you shaking in your boots, yet? You should be.

Tell me something. How the royal hell can you skydive, or travel to Tahiti, or get a black belt, or learn a foreign language, or sell all that useless shit that clutters your garage, or leave your deadbeat job, when you can’t even SAY where you want to dine out on a Sunday afternoon, for God’s sake?

Step 2 – Do it. Oh shit. You’ve opened your big mouth and declared what you want. People think you’re weird. You’ve been ostracized. All for choosing the restaurant for Sunday lunch, and now everyone else in your lunch party thinks you’re a complete selfish asshole because you were the only who didn’t say “I don’t care where we eat.”

Here’s a tip about taking action after you’ve declared your intentions: MOVE YOUR ASS, DESPITE WHAT YOUR BRAIN IS TELLING YOU. By this point it is completely full of shit and screaming all the reasons why you shouldn’t be proceeding, like a safety rep in the emergency medical department, explaining to the nurses why they should wait to pump lactated ringers into the bleeding patient who is ten minutes from death, because it’s safest to chart everything beforehand.

A few weeks ago, I made a declaration on a personal goal. My action plan requires harsh workouts, and ingesting so many calories per day that food has completely lost its pleasure, and I occasionally have to suppress the urge to vomit. The same urge to vomit is usually present after workouts, too. And do you know what my brain says every single day?

Stay put. This is way too hard. Have a day off. You deserve it.

And do you know what I tell my brain every single day? STFU. That’s what. I’m not in the business of declaring something with no intent to deliver. During last week’s vacation, after a night of extreme good times and fantastical memories, I dragged my sleep-deprived aching carcass to the gym on workout day with a mild hangover. Do you know what my brain was screaming the whole time? You get the picture.

To pull a quote from a previous post about the current pursuit of a music career:

True, passionate, amazing life isn’t for the polished, the refined, the flawless. It’s for getting dirty, making mistakes, and loving yourself and those around you all the more for it. 

Define what you want in life, my friends. And go after it like death is on your heels. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurt, you’ll fall flat on your face, and you’ll climb the highest mountains, and you’ll LIVE. To the arena, my fellow gladiators. Don’t tell me what you’re capable of. Show me. Cheers.

Poop And Love, Entry 3: Project Iron Man

Pain and GainYou can do anything you want with your body. ANYTHING!

In 2013 after a massive drop in body weight from a bad ulcerative colitis flare, I got the nerve to do some self-experimentation based on an article by one of my all time favorite life gurus, Tim Ferriss: go from 128 lbs to 150 lbs in 40 days. And I freaking did it. In January 2015, ANOTHER flare, the worst one since my diagnosis. I lost all that weight and more. After several months of lying around on my snot-stained pillow and feeling sorry for myself, I stepped back into the House Of Pain, used the aforementioned method, worked my ass off, and ONCE AGAIN put the muscle back on (122 lbs to 145 lbs in about 45 days). That’s TWICE I deliberately and intentionally created a goal for my body and delivered on it, despite some HEAVY circumstantial resistance. And there is NO reason why you can’t do the same thing.

I’m currently creating a brand new goal for myself: to break my personal Body Mass Index record. I’m calling it Project Iron Man. According to the National Institute Of Health, a normal BMI range is between 10-24. I’ve averaged around 20 or below most of my life. I’m shooting for 22.5. All that means is that in order to top the record, I have to gain an additional 12 lbs of muscle. Target weight: 157 butt-lbs (underwear only), which will incidentally will be the most I’ve ever weighed in my life.

Get inspired. I’m putting my money where my mouth is and inviting all you canker blossoms to drop your lame-ass excuses and get into motion on something in your own life. Whether you want to gain muscle, lose weight, get ripped, run a marathon, strengthen your core, or just be a plain old sexy-ass beast, here are 4 tips from my personal stash that I’ve implemented for success. I guarantee you if you use them, you will see results. After each tip, I’ll tell you how it applies to my current goal.

1. Define it. “What can be measured can be managed.” -Peter Drucker
People say “I want to get into shape,” and they hop onto a treadmill a few times a week, with no structure or plan. They say “I want to lose a few pounds,” and add a daily salad to their meal plan.  It’s not enough to say you want to lose a few pounds, for example, or that you want to gain some muscle. First and foremost, create a SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE goal. How many pounds? How much more muscle? You want to be able to visualize your progress. If you haven’t done this sort of thing before, start with a small goal, get some victories under your belt, and work your way up to bigger goals. Or hell, go big or go home! There is no wrong way.
MY GOAL: 22.5 BMI (gain another 12 pounds of muscle mass).

2. Time it. “Begin with the end in mind.” -Steven Covey
Have a START and an END time for your aforementioned goal. Once you declare that start date, deliver on it as if your life depended on it. My start date was Sunday, and it was a near-puking workout AFTER I washed and waxed my car. Jim Morrison, Abraham Lincoln, and Gandhi could have returned from the dead to have drinks with me at the local bar, and I would have instructed them to go shoot pool while I finished my workout. As long as you’re throwing out start dates (or any other plans) with no intention to deliver on them, you’ll never move forward.
MY DATES: Start 9/20/15; End 10/26/15

3. Declare it.”Embrace peer pressure. It’s not just for kids.” -Tim Ferriss
You can wander around all day with a goal inside your own head and see how far it gets you. But declare it definitively to everyone on Facebook and watch your motivation change. I’ve even found it helpful to do a little friendly trash talking from time to time. One of my co-workers is going on her fifth week of quitting smoking cold turkey. One of the greatest motivators according to her? Husband and kids taking bets on when she’s going to buckle and have a cigarette. Tangible risk of failure after you’ve publicly declared it can be a great tool for keeping that locomotive in motion.
MY DECLARATION: By 10/26/15, I will weight a minimum of 157 sexy muscle butt-lbs (in underwear only; no cheatsies).

4. Plan it. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” -Alan Lakein
When will you workout? How will you workout? Will you alter your diet? How will you chart your progress? Who are you gonna talk trash to? This might require a little research. Calm your life. Sit your dramatic arse down and take 30 minutes to an hour to investigate the best method and sketch out a plan. There’s a wealth of resources out there. I’m by no means an expert, but if you’re completely stumped about methodology, look me up.
MY PLAN: Workout one day on (Beast Mode), two days off (Repair Mode), using only a barbell, a few concrete blocks, a kettlebell, and bodyweight exercises. Minimum 2000 calories consumed per day, limit 75 grams maximum sugar consumed per day, minimum 120 G protein consumed per day. One binge day allowed per week if all other plan requirements were followed for that week.

Work your plan like you would contract syphilis and drop dead if you didn’t deliver on it; like every failure to deliver would result in being forced to watch The View for seven days straight while hungover; like your very life depended on following through!

We break commitments to ourselves with embarrassing regularity. -Tim Ferriss

Jump on it. Start something. AND FINISH IT. If one of the three smallest kids in my class throughout grade school WITH A CHRONIC CONDITION THAT DIRECTLY AFFECTS BODY WEIGHT can do it, so can you. Cheers.

Taking A Cold, Hard Beating In Life

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Photo Credit: M&R Glasgow Link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/glasgows/2200685325/in/photolist-4mt65r-ekrgJt-a6vJdG-5FH4VD-uF9ih-8XjWpc-rG1Ab2-rzxLc5-waqrBf-v1cxSC-u87vbu-tnA3Gy-wnFUzk-qMamXQ-qTnkp1-tFD3rq-7UTZAg-7Fk5f2-hMPcyx-dQCf9W-wTyKP-bWiVm2-72FndA-cJWEi-6dS18j-kja511-jAnYzN-p8LucZ-8txYwK-cE5u1w-63Sp2P-ku75L6-bwDfTi-csKbXb-cB5abE-4RGYkK-63WCb7-762KYT-7v33Ly-762Jb8-4AE4Gy-766Fij-5x79sv-6KiwBU-63WCmE-5TGymf-4LHZv2-5HyVxA-63WC27-63WC6j  The last nine months or so have delivered a few harsh blows in life, the latest of which has left me reeling with fear, and the blast radius has affected some of those closest to me. It happens to us all. I’ve put a lot of time and work into transforming my once permanently cynical mentality. But none of us is immune to a breakdown from time to time. The last few days, I’ve found myself uncharacteristically asking which day will be the one where I finally throw in the towel. A small but significant memory has begun to show up for me repeatedly, no doubt a result of this damned positive brain training I’ve been practicing the last few years.

I’ve dabbled in several martial arts forms over the years, including Aikido, Hapkido, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Jeet Kune Do, and Kempo Karate. A few years back, I entered Faglier’s Kempo Karate in Augusta, GA, home of some of the biggest badasses of the CSRA. I’m proud to say I’ve trained on the same mat as local MMA champs Jason Faglier (Sr.), Jason Faglier (Jr.), and Alex Faglier. Until that time, I had mostly trained in controlled application of joint locks, chokes, throws and takedowns. Faglier’s was the first dojo I had visited where they routinely practiced full contact sparring, and anyone could try it.

I appreciated this new opportunity, figuring if I was ever to gain real confidence in a street fight situation, I should probably learn to take a punch and give one back. So I dove in head first as usual. I picked one of the biggest, baddest mofos in the dojo and asked him to spar with me after class. Go big or go home, right? His name was Matt. He was an advanced brown belt, MMA and competition experienced, and he also happened to outweigh me by around 80 pounds of solid power. He cheerfully obliged. Come to think of it, perhaps that should have worried me.

Anyway, we chomped down on our mouth pieces, gloved up, and stepped onto the mat for three rounds. Around, oh, fifteen to twenty seconds into Round 1, I was gasping for air like a chain-smoking asthmatic. I was in pretty considerable shape at the time, but let me tell you something: Being winded in the gym with a jump rope is one thing; it’s another thing altogether when you add The Iceman, delivering shots to your rib cage like a jackhammer to a Popsicle stick birdhouse. I dropped my gloves to insinuate I was done. He swiftly replied by delivering a solid right cross to my jaw. It’s hazy, but as best I recall, I believe I momentarily saw a grinning purple unicorn wearing gold clogs, a Black and Mild clinched between his teeth, tap dancing on Matt’s left shoulder.

I shook my head and regained my focus. “Never let your guard down,” Matt said in a lowered voice with a piercing stare. “Never give up.” It was obvious I was going three rounds with him whether I felt like it or not. Round 2: Shot to the nose. Dazed. Another shot to the jaw. Dizzy. Shot to the solar plexus. I was fighting the urge to yark. Round 3: By this point I was secretly just hoping for a knockout blow to put me out of my misery. I was struggling to keep my gloves up. But every time I would drop my guard, he would deliver another shot to my face. “Stay with me. I know you’re tired, but you can’t quit. Come on, man, stay with me. Stay with me.

After three eternities, the Round 3 bell rang, and I realized I was still alive. I had survived three rounds with one of the best fighters in the dojo. He grinned with spirit, slapped me on the shoulder, and told me I’d done well. And he reiterated, “Never, ever, EVER give up.” We bowed and exited the mat. I could only assume what he meant by “I’d done well” was that I hadn’t vomited, had a seizure, pissed myself, or offered up the ghost. He had pushed me WELL past my level of comfort. But he had ignited a fire deep within me to push on, despite several very convincing urges by my mind to throw in the towel. See the first paragraph. Sound familiar?

Every visit to the dojo after that I would step onto the mat with him again. I took beating after beating . . . at first. But then something began to happen. After several weeks, I discovered I could take several hard hits in succession without losing focus. I could swiftly respond with my own flurry of strikes and maintain my defensive guard. I could anticipate an incoming strike based on his body movements. I could spot holes in my opponent’s defenses. And I could make it all three rounds and still have the stamina to go three more.

Some blows in life can leave you in such a state of shock and dismay that you’d swear you could hear the gentle whisper of Death offering sweet (albeit false) relief. Whenever I take a crushing blow in life, or several crushing blows in succession, as seems to have been the case these last several months, when the panic sets in, when I feel like I might puke or pass out from the sheer stress of it all, I start recalling those same sensations as I went head to head with Matt. In my mind’s eye, I can see and hear him, voice lowered, determined stare, urging me to press on, to never give up, to stay with him, even as he beat the shit out of me, because he saw something within me that I didn’t see within myself, and he knew he would be doing me a great disservice by letting me throw in the towel.

I can still feel those body and head shots like torpedoes, rattling my chest and brain, leaving me dizzy and gasping for air, not unlike the aftermath of some of life’s atomic bombs, but slowly etching a permanent message onto my heart and soul: that though I may feel pain, guilt, fear, panic, anger, sadness, frustration, hopelessness, and a whole host of other vivid human emotions at any given time, and though they may FEEL very real, even debilitating, at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, at my core, I’m still a fucking gladiator.  See Two Breakthroughs, Part 2 of 2: Fearless

For what they’ve taught me, I’d like to acknowledge my friends at Faglier’s Kempo Karate for being a part of my mental and physical training. You can find them here for more details.

If I took pictures of every injury I’d sustained in martial arts, I’d have a small bible. Here are a few minor injuries:

After Percocet. Broken and dislocated.

Head contusion. Bow staff to the temple.