Underground Blog Guest Blogger (UBGB) Jack Brown is "The Part-Time Martial Artist," offering a full-time fan's perspective on UFC and major MMA news, developments, or hypotheticals.
In his lastest Underground Blog, he details How to Cut 40 Pounds and Then Go 0-2 at NAGA (While Still Enjoying Olive Garden along the Way).
Since I dare to use the moniker of “The Part-Time Martial Artist,” I thought that it would be time, now that I’ve written ten of these articles for the UG, to write something about my competing in martial arts. The perfect fodder for such an article occurred two weeks ago when, after nearly two years of training in submission grappling, I finally competed at the North American Grappling Association’s (NAGA) 2012 Northeast Grappling Championship in Rhode Island. As you can tell from the title for this article, the experience was more rocky than “Rocky,” but there were still some victories that weekend worth remembering. I share this with you because I think that a lot of you are like me. You love watching this sport, you like talking about this sport, and you wish you could do something involving this sport. This story proves that you still can.
I’m not exactly a young man anymore. I’m not exactly an athlete either. What I am is a 36-year-old, married man, with two sons, a good career in the public schools, and a house in a sleepy, little town outside of Boston. I’m a somewhat freakish 6’5” and I feel that I’ve only just recently grown into my body. I began martial arts when I was 22 and going to graduate school in Boston. After 6 years of Taekwon-do at Grand Master Jae Hun Kim’s school in the city, I received my black belt. Life got busy a few years after that, my wife and I moved out of the city, and I took some time off from martial arts. After a while, I just had to kick something again, and I took 6 months of American Kempo Karate down the street from where I was living. That particular school wasn’t for me, and I moved on for about 2 ½ years of Uechi-Ryu Karate at Sensei Bob Bethoney’s school in Pembroke, MA. I really enjoyed my time there, and progressed to brown belt, but there was always something gnawing at me. I wanted to learn what to do once the fight hits the ground. I wanted to learn how to grapple.
Midway through my time doing Uechi-Ryu, I learned that Bob Bethoney’s former student, Joe Pomfret, was Joe Lauzon’s main coach at Lauzon MMA (formerly Reality Self Defense) in Bridgewater, MA. Joe Lauzon! I was already a UFC addict at that point, and Joe was one of my favorites. It took a while, but I finally worked up the nerve to call Joe Pomfret and ask if I could come in for a beginner’s no-gi grappling class. Joe Pomfret is a great guy, a little older than me, who also works in the public schools, and he couldn’t have been more accommodating. These last two years at Lauzon’s have been amazing. I’ve had the good fortune to be trained by, and to have rolled with, Joe Pomfret, Joe Lauzon, and a host of other great instructors. I’ve also enjoyed training in the same place that UFC fighters like Dan Lauzon, Tom Lawlor, Joe Proctor, and Judo Olympian, Travis Stevens, are doing work. I tell people that it’s like being a pro-basketball fan and getting to play pick-up games on the same court while the Celtics are practicing. It’s really been an MMA fan’s dream-come-true.
In the summer, and on Holidays and during vacation weeks, I’m actually able to attend some of the submission grappling classes that Joe Lauzon teaches at noon on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. As great of a fighter as Joe is, he is an even better instructor. He’s clear and concise, enthusiastic yet patient, and he absolutely knows his stuff. Otherwise, the classes I normally take are on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Tuesday nights used to be beginner’s submission grappling taught by Joe Pomfret, but for a while now they’ve been taught by a talented young guy, Mike Talbot. Thursday nights it’s marathon grappling during which everyone does round after round for as long as they can. Joe Lauzon and all the other fighters from “Team Aggression” are usually there rolling with everyone else. Another pro fighter and great instructor, Joe Cushman, teaches a Monday night grappling class, but that’s my wife’s yoga night and marriage is all about compromise.
So one thing that I began hearing a lot about, once I began grappling at Lauzon’s, was NAGA. You can go to nagafighter.com for more info, but basically NAGA holds several of the world’s largest grappling tournaments, both here in the U.S. and abroad, every month. The tournaments are open to all types of competitors and have separate brackets based on gender, age, weight, level of experience, and gi or no-gi. I learned early on that for many of the people that train at Lauzon’s, competing at NAGA is the goal that they’re focusing on. There are only two or three tournaments in New England each year, and once before I came pretty close to competing, but for the past two years NAGA remained a specter that evoked both curiosity and fear for me.
Sometime in late August, I was made aware that the next NAGA would be on October 13, 2012, at the West Warwick Civic Center, in West Warwick, Rhode Island. Several of the guys that I trained with regularly, had competed at NAGA before, and planned on competing again in October. So throughout the month of September, as I continued my Tuesdays and Thursdays training, NAGA was often a topic of conversation. Two of my friends from class, Kevin and Rich, were really encouraging me to join them. And the reality was that I had no excuse. I just kept training, working my Americanas and Kimuras, and somehow I didn’t get hurt, I didn’t get sick, and I didn’t get any ringworm, impetigo, or staph. So by the end of September it was becoming a reality. I was going to compete at NAGA.
At UFC 152, on September 22, 2012, when my brother, Bob, and I travelled to Toronto (see my UG article for more on that adventure), I weighed 225 pounds. That has been an average weight for me in recent years, but depending on how many cookies I’d been crushing, I’d weighed as much as 245. I knew that if I was serious about competing at NAGA, I would need to lose some weight. If I stayed at 225, I’d be in the 200-224.9, heavyweight division, and risk facing an even bigger guy who had cut down. So the challenge before me was to get down to 200 so that I could compete in the 190 to 199.9, cruiserweight division.
It was time to start eating clean. Thanks to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast (see another of my UG articles for more on that obsession of mine), I’d heard a lot of diet advice from some of his recent guests. The only problem was that what these guests advocated, ranging from the Paleo Diet to a vegan diet, didn’t exactly jive. And I was not going to spend $500 on an industrial blender. So I took a little bit from each of them, and synthesized Mike Dolce, Robb Wolf, Mac Danzig, and Rich Roll’s ideas about what to eat. For the three weeks in between UFC 152 and NAGA, I cut out dessert, most dairy, most pasta and breads, most processed foods, and eating late. Instead, each day I drank a ton of water and a bunch of V8, and I ate bananas, apples, grapes, salad, quinoa, chicken, and shrimp. In addition to going to Lauzon’s, I also continued going to my local YMCA each day for an hour of cardio and Nautilus. With one week to go, I was down to 212 and feeling stronger, leaner, and healthy.
That being said, I still hadn’t mentally committed to NAGA. It wasn’t until Mike Talbot, the grappling instructor for Lauzon’s Tuesday night classes, invited me to join him and the guys to cut weight together, that I locked it in. Mike said that we could cut weight at the YMCA sauna Friday afternoon, weigh in down in Rhode Island that night, and then hit an Olive Garden afterward to feast before Saturday’s competition. All I could think of was breadsticks. I was in.
The Weight Cut
The Thursday night before NAGA I went to the Y for my hour workout and then I went to marathon grappling. I hadn’t eaten much that day, but I was still feeling good. I spoke with Kevin, Rich, and Mike, to finalize our plans for the next day, and we all weighed in after class. I was down to 210, and they were all within 10 pounds of their targets too. Mike advised me to only drink a little bit of water after class and to have a spoonful of peanut butter to keep my metabolism going overnight. The next day, I wasn’t supposed to eat or drink anything.
That Friday morning, I woke up and had half a cup of coffee, black. I didn’t want to risk a caffeine headache. There was also a staff breakfast at work, and I was supposed to be part of the group hosting it. So on the way to work, I reluctantly stopped at Donut King and bought a dozen donuts. While I admired their beauty, I could see them for the poison that they were. And strangely, I wasn’t hungry. In fact, it seemed like I had no stomach at all. So I entered my school, dropped the box of donuts off at the far end of the buffet table, and walked through the crowd, ignoring everything. That’s how a lot of that day went. I felt like a ghost, barely haunting my life. Without any food or water, I just didn’t feel real. The only highlights occurred every hour or so, when I visited the nurse’s office, and stood on the scale to see if any pounds had disappeared. By the end of the school day, I was down to 206.
After work, I had another half cup of black coffee since an afternoon hit of caffeine was my regular routine. Then I joined Kevin, Rich, and Mike at the Y sauna around 3:45. They hadn’t been in there long, but they all had a sweat going. I crawled up to a high perch on the upper wooden bench and wrapped a shirt around my head. We talked a bit, had some music going, and every now and then a stranger would pop in and ask what the hell we were doing. I was sweating a ton, but feeling lightheaded. So I eventually made my way down to the floor to escape some of the heat. After 45 minutes, we all stepped out and hung in the locker room for a little while. We wiped our sweat off, took turns using Joe Lauzon’s special scale to check our weight, and then trudged back in for another 45 minutes. Mike was the first to reach his target, and I was next. I felt pure joy as I stood on the scale in my soaking wet underwear and saw the digital display give me that 200 even. Then I showered while Kevin and Rich continued their cut.
I think I made a mistake at that point. I had taken a cold shower, a very cold shower, and then afterward, since my neurons were barely firing, I just hung out in my towel and talked to Mike. Before I knew it, I was freezing cold. It was the kind of cold that seems to be in your blood. I hadn’t felt that way since about 10 years earlier, when I went snorkeling alone, in shorts, for a couple of hours in the Atlantic Ocean, at Acadia National Park, in Maine. I remember that when I emerged from the water, and stood on the beach, everyone was staring at me. A few minutes later the cold hit me, from the inside out, and though it was the middle of the summer, I had to sit in my car with the heat turned all the way up. That’s what it was like.
I slowly got dressed and got my act together while Kevin and Rich finished their cut, but I couldn’t stop shivering. I was supposed to be the one driving us down to Rhode Island, but I couldn’t stay still for a second. I tried to assure my friends that I was fine, but they knew better.
We left the Y around 6:30. The weigh-ins were only from 6-8, and we had an hour drive ahead of us. Mike drove, and due to my height, I got to sit shotgun. I was wearing a few layers and a fleece jacket with the hood up, but I was still freezing. Kevin gave me his jacket and I used it for a blanket as I rocked back and forth involuntarily. We stopped for gas, but more importantly, we stopped for gum. Rich hooked us up with a variety of flavors. Gum had never tasted more wondrous. I requested one piece after the other, desperate for some sort of satiation.
There was traffic, and we moved slowly along the highway. The ride was a blur, reminiscent of the two long nights that my wife had been in labor with each of our sons. I think that during our drive there was some sort of conversation about skydiving, about a video of two people having sex while they were skydiving, but I don’t know if that really happened.
We arrived at the West Warwick Civic Center with less than 30 minutes left for weighing in. I was a zombie, filling in the paperwork desperately, paying my $80 cash, and then heading up the stairs to weigh in. I stripped down to just shorts and a t-shirt, and somehow, inexplicably, I weighed in at 185!
I saw the digital display and told the guy weighing me that there must be a problem. I told him that I was supposed to compete in the 190 class, but I couldn’t really explain it beyond that. He shrugged, wrote 185 on my card, and I stumbled away with my pile of clothes, dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to do first. So I pounded my 32 ounces of water and then I pounded my 64 ounces of Gatorade.
The other guys weighed in, and though they used the same scale as I did, they all still weighed what they had weighed on Lauzon’s scale at the Y. When I told them that I was 185, they couldn’t believe it. How much could my wet underwear have weighed? Did all my shivering burn off the rest of the weight? It made no sense.
Once we were all hydrated and dressed and we made our way back to Mike’s car, the elation set in. In retrospect, everything had gone perfectly for us. We felt as though we had summited after a long journey. Now it was time to celebrate. Now it was time for the Olive Garden.
I hadn’t been to an Olive Garden since I was fifteen and spending the summer in Columbus, Ohio. But I remembered the breadsticks, and I wanted some carbs. There was an Olive Garden within ten minutes of the Civic Center, and when we walked in and spent a few minutes waiting for a table, I felt 10 feet tall. Sure, my shirt was on inside out and we looked like skeletons, but we were there to feast.
Our waitress knew there was something up when we ordered a pitcher of water and four raspberry lemonades, but we promised her that we were hungry. She was game, and the service was on point. She got us our drinks and then brought us a basket of breadsticks and a big bowl of salad. We savored every sip and every bite and couldn’t stop talking about it. Once we polished that off, she brought us another basket of breadsticks and another bowl of salad, and we went to work on that too. We all ordered pasta for our entrees, but by the time we dug into that, we were slowing down. Our shrunken stomachs were packed. You could tell that our waitress wanted to feed us some more, but we were done. When she brought us our check, we were all in a generous mood. Though the bill was only $70 something, we threw in more than $100. A few minutes after she picked up our payment, she returned to the table to say that we had made her night. The good karma seemed to be flowing.
Saturday morning, I actually felt really good. I ate a solid breakfast, and before I headed back down to Rhode Island, I told my boys that I might be returning with a medal for them to share. I was still feeling positive as I drove down. It was a nice sunny day and I had the new MUSE album turned up loud to get me going. I got to the Civic Center a couple of hours before my division was scheduled to compete, and at that point the kids’ divisions were still on the mats. I joined up with my crew from Lauzon’s and as we stretched and warmed up, we went over some last minute things. Mike was asking me how I was feeling, and I told him that I felt great. He was encouraging me, but he also cautioned me to relax and take things slowly.
Before long, the kids were done and the women were too. Then the men’s novices (less than 6 months of experience) competed. After that, around 2, it was the beginners’ (6 months to 2 years of experience) turn. So the plan, since I had weighed in at 185, was supposed to be that I would be competing in the men’s, no-gi, beginner’s, light heavyweight (180 to 189.9), master’s (age 30 -39) division. The problem, once they called for all the beginners to submit their cards, was that I was the only one in that division. No other 30-39 year olds were competing at my weight. It turned out that there were two competing at the weight that I should have been at, cruiserweight, but I wasn’t offered a chance to join them. Instead, I was asked if I would mind joining the five other competitors in the men’s, no-gi, beginner’s, light heavyweight, adult (age 18-29), division. I said yes.
It was just a few minutes later that I was called to one of the mats and saw my competition. Besides being the oldest, I was definitely the tallest, and likely the heaviest (I didn’t weigh myself at all that day), but these guys looked fit and experienced. I couldn’t really concentrate on the other competitors as I watched the first two matches between the four other guys. I just tried to chat a little bit with Mike and another guy, Kenny, who trains at Lauzon’s and is a wizard on the ground. Suddenly it was my turn and there I was, out on the mat, standing across from some guy. Mike and Kenny were sitting nearby to coach me while Kevin and Rich were off preparing for their matches in the intermediate (2 to 5 years of experience) division.
We slapped hands and the ref started us off. And what did I do? I didn’t relax. The guy faked low and I immediately grabbed his neck for the guillotine. I locked onto it just right, but I stood straight up. He easily got the double leg and took me down. After that we each had some sweeps, and got in some scrambles, but neither of us got close to a submission. We were out of bounds at one point, and when the ref stopped us, and I went to stand up, my opponent pushed me back down. That kind of came out of nowhere, and the ref warned him, but that was one of the more memorable moments from the match. It went the full four minutes, and my opponent got his hand raised. I never thought to find out the score. I just sort of stumbled off and accepted my friends’ consolation. I was still feeling great, a little tired and confused, but glad to have been out there.
After that, I got to go watch Kevin take second, and Rich take third, in their respective divisions. Standing there, feeling proud and rooting for my friends, I was surprised to hear my name called over the loudspeaker. I was being called back to the mat where I had competed. When I got there, I was told that I was next, and that I’d be competing for third place. I had to immediately go out and face a guy who had won his first match, but had lost his second. I was still trying to make sense of it in my head as we slapped hands.
I barely remember what happened. I think I actually went for the guillotine again, and I remember spending some time with my opponent locked up in my half guard. Eventually there was a scramble and I gave up my back. My opponent then locked up the rear naked choke. I could see the clock as I lay there belly up. There was a minute left. I tapped, and it seemed to take forever for the ref to halt the match and for my opponent to let go.
Again I stumbled off, stupefied that I hadn’t known that there was going to be another match. I changed my shirt, but not into a Lauzon MMA shirt. I had worn that one into the event, but I had resolved to wear it out only if I had won. It was time for the expert (5 years of experience and above) division, and I went over to watch Mike compete with the lightweights.
Mike was a killer, submitting the first guy he faced with a brutal armbar, and then submitting the second guy with a triangle. After that second match, though, Mike had injured his neck and was clearly hurt as I spoke with him. Still, he went out for the championship match and had his opponent in trouble early with a triangle. His opponent survived and Mike got submitted (You can watch all of Mike’s matches from that day on YouTube).
Mike was disappointed. He had won his division the last time he had competed, and he wasn’t satisfied with second place. He had left it all out there on the mat though, and we both headed over to watch Kenny do his thing in the featherweight expert division championship. Kenny, the leglock ninja, won by submission and took home the championship belt (You can watch Kenny’s championship match on YouTube).
So I came home empty-handed, and though my boys still loved me, they really wanted a medal. The irony was that if I had competed at the weight that I had planned to, I would have been the third competitor in that division and would have brought home a medal win or lose. Still, I had no excuses. I train with mostly 18 to 30 year-olds and I was bigger than those guys. The reality was that no matter how good I thought I felt that day, I was nervous and rushed things. I also could have, and should have, trained a whole lot more.
Later that night, I enjoyed watching UFC 153, and I still felt positive about my first NAGA experience. Unfortunately, as I watched Silva finish Bonner, I developed a cough, and went to bed with a sore throat. The next day I had a fever, and the day after that I lost my voice. I had bronchitis for a week, and didn’t train. Then last Tuesday, I made my return.
That Tuesday night I spoke with a lot of the guys that didn’t compete at NAGA, but that had heard that I had. They offered their congratulations, but I was quick to let them know how badly I had sucked. They didn’t care, they said, because they felt bad that they hadn’t even competed. I thought about it, and I eventually accepted their congratulations, because I remembered what that had been like – to just wish that I had done it, win or lose.
So on January 26, 2013, my friends and I will be there, bellies full of Olive Garden, competing at NAGA when it returns to New England. Will you?
Get at me with your comments and complaints on Twitter – @jackjohnbrown