Sunday, December 17, 2017

Everyone We Love Dies - My Walking Dead Theory (Spoilers)

My Walking Dead Theory

*Spoilers galore* from the mid-season finale.

So, Carl is the next main character to die? The end of season eight’s mid-season finale all but guaranteed as much. To save him now would make the Glenn dumpster fake-out death of a few seasons ago look like genius storytelling and not the gimmicky fraud that it was. Carl dying is shocking to the WD faithful because of the amount of energy the show has put into developing his character. He’s the next leader when Rick can no longer do it, right? Killing yet another well-established character becomes all the more devastating when you take into account the piss-poor job the show has done in building interest in any new characters after Michone showed up in Season 4 (maybe it was season 3). I mean, does anyone even think about Rick’s daughter at this point? What about the weird lady with the short bangs who runs the group that, if it only cost 10 cents to give a shit about, no one would be able to spare a dime?

Who’s left from when the show was at its best? Well, we have Daryl, Michone, Rick, Maggie, and Carol. I guess you could also add Morgan to that group. Imagine if Seinfeld killed off Kramer in season 4 and then tried to keep the fans interested with new, half-assed additions. That’s what The Walking Dead does regularly. I’ll give them credit for a few additions like Ezekiel, Neagan, and Jesus (Ok, you can have the mullet guy too, I suppose), but they’re not Kramer and they’re definitely not Glenn.

This in part stems from the show growing from a wasteland of very few survivors to a Georgia full of different factions with their own armies. On top of killing beloved characters in hopes of creating new Kramers, this flood of different factions dilutes the character development immensely and makes one not care about any of them. Hell, 30 people could be killed in a single episode this year and I challenge you to name one of them.

With such poor character development over the last few years, and the influx of meat (nameless characters) for the grinder, killing Carl is horrible writing at its core. There’s no replacements like when Shane died and we had Hershel and Maggie growing in our hearts. Killing Carl is a cheap, emotional grab. Like killing Glenn and Hershel before.

Or is it?

As fans, we all envision the end of the series happening in our own various ways, but I think most of us hope for some of our beloved characters to save the day. Maybe we’d lose one or two of them heroically at the end for emotional weight, but overall we expect Rick and Daryl to escort Rick’s baby (no use committing her name to memory at this point) and Carl into some sort of Utopia full of cured and happy people. Maybe Maggie brings her and Glenn’s baby along with Carol and Michone in some metaphor for a bright future. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it?

But that’s not the world the creators have created. And we’re fools to think differently.

Before I give you my theory on why I think Carl and Glenn’s deaths had to happen precisely when they happened, I want to add one more point. People often compare the show to the comic book and look for it to follow along in structure if not necessarily to a tee. But there’s a major flaw in that way of thinking. The comic is designed to run forever, but the show has a finite number of episodes by the nature of being a TV series. Unless it’s the Simpsons, shows like The Walking Dead will inevitably run its course and be in danger of getting cancelled. With an end of the series always in mind, killing our beloved characters throughout the series only makes sense when you consider that the story isn’t going to have a happy ending. Let’s pretend everyone is going to die at the end. Have you considered that very real possibility? If this is the case, you can’t be angry because the show has done a good job of preparing you for that inevitability. If a depressing, morbid ending is indeed the endgame, what would be the best way to work toward it? Would it be carrying all of the main characters to the last season and then having to kill them all in a short period of time? That might be more than we fans can handle. Or would you, as the show’s creators, want to get as much mileage out of each of the main characters’ deaths as you could? As a writer who knows everyone is going to die, then it makes perfect sense to kill them along the way for maximum payoff for each death.

This also makes sense when you look at reports of Chandler Rigg’s (Carl) anger over being killed off after being assured he was part of the show’s future. I think he even bought a house in Georgia earlier this year with a future on the show in mind. I believe he did have a future but something changed for the writers. What could that be? The show has been losing ratings year over year and, though I don’t know the ratings this year, the mess that the show has become can’t be good. If the creators have seen the writing on the wall that the show might have run its course, they might have decided to move up their kill-fest of our favorite characters. In this case, say "Good-bye Carl. Sorry you bought a house."

If my theory is correct, this does not bode well for our other friends, Daryl, Maggie, and Michone. If I’m right, look to lose another major character in the season finale next spring as well as a steady drop in main characters next season. We’ll likely lose Ezekiel or Jesus soon as well. I would expect reports to start circulating in the news in the coming weeks and months hinting at the end of the series. If you were sad to see Carl (a character obviously groomed to lead the group) die, brace yourself for what’s inevitably still to come.

Because in The Walking Dead, like in life, no one makes it out alive.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sweep the Leg

While my first two blogs on jujitsu have been about my experience in trying a new sport, in this blog I hope to show you how stepping out of your comfort zone can be worth the effort. In my blogging history I’ve been quite open about my failures, whether it be in my writing career or firefighting or whatever tickled my ass at that particular moment. This blog is the opposite. This is about a small victory I’ve had in jujitsu and how I hope it can inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and try something you’ve always wanted to try.

As I stepped into Mr. Dale’s gym, I was ready for a new lesson. I’d been at it for a couple of months and was loving every minute of my experience. My friends are sick of hearing me drone on about my latest class which is why I’m now going to bore you. OK, hopefully not bore you.

While I was getting loosened up on the mat, two young ruffians (mid-twenties) entered through the main door. They spoke to Mister Dale for a minute and then took off their shoes and joined the class. I’d like to tell the story like these two newcomers were the villains and Mr. Dale and I were like Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san but, to the detriment of this story, these two guys were as friendly as they come. With a skeptical glare, I introduced myself. Who were these invaders to our gym? One of the guys, Jeff, was 6’4 and about 230 LBs. The other guy, we’ll call him Frank, was smaller (maybe my height) with a decent build and a strong handshake. They said they were on leave from the military and wanted to learn some jujitsu. Damnit. Military? Another kink in my good-vs-evil storyline. These guys were coming off as Mother Theresas and I’m starting to look like the real jerk here. I should probably drop this particular narrative.

After warm-ups, Dale paired off with the big guy and told Frank to roll with me for two minutes. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but figured I’d just try to improve whatever position I found myself in. Frank and I faced each other and he spit on my outstretched hand . . .

Still not buying it? Alright, no spit. So he shook my spitless hand and we began on our knees. He immediately swarmed, aggressive and strong. I tried to draw on my last couple months of training and stay calm. He was stronger than me—I could feel it—as he pulled and pushed. Instead of matching strength, I dropped to my back and let him have the top position. I focused on getting my legs around his hips so he was in my guard.

He yanked at my legs and tried to get around them, but I focused on getting him back into my guard and, amazingly, I was successful each time. I tried a sweep I had previously learned to reverse our positions and end up on top, but he was too strong and not in the right position and fought it off. I stayed calm and pulled him back into my guard. He feverishly tried to pass my legs but by some martial arts magic I was able to reposition and keep him where I wanted. I tried another sweep and that time, somehow, I ended on top of him in the mount (one of the better positions to be in). He immediately bucked his hips and pushed with all of his strength. I calmly held firm and remained in the mount. I used very little strength to rebuff his escape attempt which further emphasized the benefit of technique over brawn.

I leaned my chest close to his face like Mr. Dale had done to me and put my weight onto his chest. I’d say we were about a minute thirty seconds in. While I know about three submissions from this position, and I’m sloppy with all three, I wanted to try something. I isolated his left arm in hopes of securing a shoulder lock. He fought it off well, mostly with strength. Then he whispered, “I need a rest.” I grinned. I knew the feeling from when Mr. Dale had smothered me two months earlier. (Yes, that’s what I’m saying—after two months I’m now as good as Mr. Dale. Don’t tell him I said that.)

I relaxed for a few seconds. He took a couple of deep breaths and then said he was ready to continue. I spent the last 10 or 20 seconds attempting any submission I could come up with, but I had no luck. Dale called time and we untangled ourselves. We shook hands and thanked each other.

Dale said to switch and Jeff, the behemoth, made his way toward me. “Really?” I said.

Dale nodded.

I was about to be screwed.

Jeff and I shook hands and began. I took the same tactic as with Frank and pulled Jeff into my guard. He seemed to have some knowledge of jujitsu because he knew how to break my guard with his elbows. Plus he was as strong as an ox. . . An evil ox.

Jeff was too big and strong and I was too tired, which caused me to be defensive most of the first minute. I thought I might die. With about a minute to go and, since neither of us were getting anywhere, we fell into me showing him a few of the sweeps I’d previously learned.

While Jeff was a beast and I was tired, it was my experience with Frank that I’m drawing on for this blog. Though I didn’t do anything spectacular with Frank, I had more success than I ever could have had merely two months before. It shows me I’m learning a ton. Here was a young guy, stronger and fitter than me, yet with even my limited knowledge and technique I was able to somewhat control him and have success.

And that’s the point of this blog. Not so much as to talk about what could come across as boring jujitsu positioning and technical blah, blah, blah, but more to show you how any ole’ slob could work toward a goal and have some success. It sounds easy but I know it’s not. For a lot of people it’s that first step that’s the killer. It’s the confidence to try something new. I’ve lacked confidence in my life, so I get it. If you’re reading this and there is something you’ve always wanted to try, or maybe you’ve been inactive as of late and aren’t happy with gaining a few pounds, I’m here to tell you to find that something you want and work toward it. Just like I’ve found jujitsu.

Have you always wanted to swim? Go join a YMCA and learn. Take that first step. Or plunge. Don’t worry that you won’t be able to do it, because I’m telling you that you will. Don’t worry about looking foolish or beating Michael Phelps either, because none of that matters. I promise you two months from now you’ll be better than you currently are, and you’ll be glad you tried. You may even enjoy yourself.

It’s not all physical either. Do you wish you could write a book? Go write one. If you don’t like how it turns out after the first draft (no one ever does), work on it until it’s something you’re proud of. Read books on writing. Draw on your favorite authors. Do whatever it takes to work toward a goal.

My friend, Tony, just went to Africa and hiked the trails of Mt. Kilimanjaro. That sounds insane to me. I used to say I could never do something like that, but at 44 years old I’ve learned that, if hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro becomes my passion one day, I could totally pull it off. Maybe not tomorrow but, if I worked toward that goal, it could happen. You could do it too is the point.

I’m an average guy at best. There is nothing spectacular about me. Just ask my wife. If you’ve had a week of jujitsu training, you might still whup my butt on the mat. That doesn’t matter. I’m still going to work at it for the foreseeable future and maybe someday I’ll actually be good at it. Or maybe I’ll decide to play a guitar. If that becomes my next passion, then I’ll give it my all. I imagine after two months of guitar, like with jujitsu and Mr. Dale, I’ll be as good as the teacher.

I’m just kidding, Mr. Dale. Please don’t hurt me in Friday’s class.

Sometimes I talk too much.

Update: It’s been over a month since the military guys stopped in and I haven’t seen them since. Maybe they found another gym or maybe jujitsu wasn’t as fun as they hoped it to be. Regardless, I’d like to believe it was our stellar defense of Mr. Dale’s gym and the villains have moved on to easier targets. Good guys-1, Bad guys-0.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Swing and a Miss

Writing books can be a bitch.

I recently put the finishing touches on my latest fantasy novel, Death of the Grinderfish. While this manuscript has been a WIP for many years, I finally buckled down and finished my dystopian world. I was ecstatic with the results and couldn’t wait to get it into the hands of my beta readers. I even read through it one more time before sending it out just to be sure and I loved the adventure as much as when I first came up with the concept. This story was a result of years of tireless hard work. My beta readers were going to be blown away. Or so I thought.

With excited anticipation I gave out my heart and soul to the same beta readers I’ve used for each of my novels. Now, it was just a matter of waiting for the adulation to come pouring in. I might note that during the editing phase my aunt’s less-than full-throated enthusiasm should have been my first hint that something wasn’t right, but I ignored any doubts because of how much I loved the story.

My mom was the first beta reader to get back to me. She was engrossed in the story and loving it. So far so good. But at some point she lost interest and set the book aside. When I grilled her on what had happened she wasn’t exactly sure. She said she had just lost interest and would get back into it at some point. She never did. Yikes. That’s not good. But fantasy wasn’t her thing, so let’s wait for some other opinions.

Slowly, each beta reader returned their notes. While none of them confessed to not liking my story, none of them were blown away by it either. Most of their critical notes were either technical in nature or minor stumbles like a chapter that dragged on too long or a conversation felt too stilted. Those types of critiques. But behind all of their minor criticisms was a lack of enthusiasm for the story that I hadn’t received before. I soul searched and read through the manuscript again and again I loved what I had created.

I didn’t and still don’t understand what’s wrong with the story. I have never experienced this. I’ve had bad reviews and good reviews and I understand how stories rub different people in different ways but these are my beta readers. These are the ones who support my writing and generally like what I’ve written which is why I settled on them in the first place. To have received such lukewarm responses told me the future critics and readers would be brutal. My philosophy (stolen from someone much wiser than myself) was if I wrote something I personally liked, then others would like it as well. That has worked well for me to this point, but now I’ve lost a little faith in that approach.

As an optimist I decided to move on to something else and put the Grinderfish on the back burner for now, but I have a new problem. I have lost some confidence and enthusiasm in my own writing. This isn’t me pitying myself, it’s me trying to move on without understanding what went wrong in my last venture. I don’t trust my stories anymore. I usually take between a year and two years to write a book, but now I am finding it difficult to muster the effort when I’m not sure how the final product will be received. For example, when I run into a tough part I’m more apt to close my computer and walk away. Sometimes I go weeks before I return and muscle through my stumbling block.

As much as I’d hate to say it, but the loss of my publisher, combined with the enormous effort and time in my Grinderfish failure has taken something from me. But more than that, I don’t know where I went wrong. If I open my Grinderfish story today and start reading it, I love it. Is this just a case of thinking my children are wonderful when the rest of the world sees them for the heathens they are? If so, how do I trust my judgement in the future? How do I bleed and sweat into an idea if I have no way to determine if the honey is worth the hard work? I’ve written things that I ultimately didn’t care for and relinquished them to the wastecan of my computer, but this one is different.

In saying all of this, I must add that I am confident that I’ll be fine in whatever I do with my writing. I am fortunate to be an optimist. When I get knocked for a loop, I tend to move on and heal to be better than I was before. I’m working on something new now. My newest manuscript has just hit 40,000 words of a planned 80,000. I’d like to say I’m liking the progress, but I don’t trust my opinion at the moment and need to reserve my opinion until I see how it turns out. My new story is tentatively titled The Thin Line and it’s my attempt at a new direction.

Let’s hope it doesn’t suck.

Let’s hope I can tell if it does.

Let’s hope it’s not Grinderfish part deux.

I’ve posted the first chapter of my Grinderfish story on my blog if you’d like to see it. Here’s a link. Ch. 1

Friday, August 18, 2017

Two Times the Pain

I’m a month into this jujitsu training and, while my body is a wreck at times, I’m loving it. So far I’ve had a slight ankle sprain from rolling on it wrong, a catch in my back, a slight groin pull from, I assume, slacking in my stretching, and the typical aches and pains from pushing a 40+-year-old body into a new physical endeavor. In the month or so since I started, Mister Dale has taught me a ton but I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Tonight’s class was going to be a bit different than previous classes. Mister Dale was on vacation and a friend of his joined Mister Steve to lead the class. The new guy—Ben—was a 22 or 23-year-old, 2nd degree blackbelt, sporting long hair and a calmness that comes from knowing his craft. He was my size, only more fit from being 20 years my junior. After the warm-ups and stretching, Steve announced we were going to have a little open grappling to begin. He paired me with Ben.

Have you ever had that sinking feeling you were about to be in a world of hurt? Yep, I had that feeling.

We shook hands on our knees and began. Like Mister Dale had done a month before, Ben eventually lay onto his back and pulled me into his guard. Using my elbows like I’ve been taught, I pushed down on the insides of his thighs to break his lock on my waist. It worked. Sorta. He repositioned as I tried to pass his left leg and I was back in the guard with his legs tight around my waist. I was intensely focused on trying the most basic techniques I’ve learned, while Ben casually allowed me to attempt them. Ben was awesome. As I tried a particular escape, he’d either let me do it or he’d make me pay. But then he’d show me what I had done wrong. If he rolled me to my back, he’d teach me a way to avoid what had just happened. That’s not to say I could avoid it, only that I learned one way to try.

At one point I was on my knees in his guard (his legs around my waist) and my hands were on his chest. I felt a slight ramping up of his effort as he pushed one of my hands between his legs, threw his legs over my shoulders, and pulled my other hand toward his chin. I know this sounds confusing but think of a pretzel and then think of me as the pretzel. I knew from watching the UFC that he was putting me into a triangle choke, but I was powerless to stop it. Though Ben moved slow and methodically, I couldn’t resist. He locked his legs around my head. There was nowhere I could go. Calmly he squeezed. My first thought was, “Shiiiit!” I knew if I didn’t tap (surrender) then he could put me to sleep.

My second thought was, “Let’s see how bad this can get.”

Now understand, Ben was being very kind and soft on me. It was probably a little dickish on my part to not tap when he was being so kind but I was curious to what would happen. I tried to remember how UFC fighters escaped this triangle choke but nothing came to mind. Ben, realizing I wasn’t getting the point, repositioned a tad and pulled my head toward him. At the same time he pulled my head down he pushed my extended arm from his chest to his side where, now, I was not only being choked but my elbow was being hyperextended. Oh, did I mention that he squeezed his legs a little tighter? Yeah, that sucked too. At this point I had no choice but to tap. So, that’s what I did. And mercifully, Ben released his hold.

Next, I was privy to a guillotine choke which is as unpleasant as it sounds. Yep, I tapped that time also. This entire experience is humbling. Try imagining a game of basketball against Lebron James and then imagine you’ve never touched a basketball beforehand. That’s what it can feel like at times, only with a little more pain. I’ve heard Joe Rogan call MMA “High-level problem solving with dire consequences” and I think that is a brilliant way to describe the sport. I’m currently experiencing the consequences part.

We ended the open grappling session and then Steve led us through a couple different techniques. I was fortunate to stay paired with Ben to practice those new techniques. I was in Heaven if Heaven was having constant pain and choking.

Toward the end of class Ben had a chance to show off a little. He lay on his back and told me to try and pass his legs again from his guard. As you’ve read in this blog and in my last blog I’m not having a lot of luck doing this. There was one difference this time—he didn’t use his hands. As if to further demonstration my ineptitude he locked his fingers behind his head like he was resting in a hammock. I used two legs, two arms, my head, a baseball bat, three knives, and the jaws of life and couldn’t get past his legs. I coulda sworn that guy had more legs than a spider. We played this game until time was up (roughly a minute or two) and I loved it. I have learned so much already, despite what you’ve read so far.

Class ended yet I wanted it to go on for hours. Ben was fantastic. I’m having a blast in this new endeavor. I hope to keep it up indefinitely. Now, it’s time to find an icepack and a chiropractor. Before you go, can someone please help me get out of this chair?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

First time

Those of you who follow this blog will know it mostly for my musings about my writing career and the fire department. After the closure of Rhemalda Publishing in 2013, I found myself drifting away from the publishing world as I eluded to in my last post over a year ago. I still write because I love it and it is a part of who I am, but some of my enthusiasm for the publishing world ended with the close of Rhemalda. While I have a couple of finished books sitting in my computer, I no longer have the desire to chase agents and publishers and sales. Maybe I’ll put them out myself someday, but who knows.

Today, I’ve decided to return to my blog but this time I’m taking a bit of a different direction. Whereas I’ll continue to update you on developments in my waning writing career as well as pass along any potentially entertaining stories about the fire department, I’m going to write about a new endeavor I’ve undertaken. After all, this blog has always been a way for me to entertain regardless of the subject matter I’ve chosen to talk about.

While my new endeavor might not exactly be your cup of tea, I’m hoping you’ll stick with me for a bit. I’ve always believed if the writing is good enough, the subject matter isn’t as important. Hell, I’d read about origami if it was Stephen King writing about it.

“What is this new endeavor?” you may be asking yourself. For many years there has been something I’ve wanted to try but have never had the balls to actually step into a gym and try it. As a 24-year fan of MMA and, more specifically the UFC, I’ve always been mesmerized by Brazilian jujitsu. So, that’s my big announcement—I’m going to learn to fight and join the UFC.

Ok, not really.

Over the years I have been able to speak intelligently about MMA in the sense that I could talk about previous fights, make reasonable predictions on upcoming fights, and generally understand what’s happening in the cage. But here’s the thing, I’ve always felt like more of a fraud than anything when talking with others who have actually attempted some aspect of MMA. It would be like you telling me what it’s like inside a house fire because you’ve watched training videos of one. Sure, you could tell me about the temperature in a room at the ceiling (1100 degrees or more) or that it’s crucial to stay as low as you can, but could you really know how your knees burn through your gear each time one touches a new spot on the floor when the basement below you is on fire? Or how the space between that bulky gear and your skin is designed to buffer some of the heat and, in particularly warm fires, every movement that causes the inside layer of the gear to touch your skin removes that air buffer and makes it very uncomfortable? Without experiencing those little details, it’s hard to speak with a lot of credibility. That’s how I’ve always felt when talking about the sport I love.

My personality is one in which I have a difficult time stepping out of my comfort zone. It was probably my biggest hurdle in leaving my small town to apply for firefighter in the big city of Columbus, Ohio. It’s odd because making myself apply 18 years ago turned out to be one of my best decisions ever, yet leaving my comfort zone still remains difficult at times. That apprehension kept me from ever walking into an MMA gym despite my love of the sport. I guess I feared being the new guy in a gym full of killers. At least, that’s how I imagined it.

A few years ago I was walking through a hotel with my wife and my buddy and his wife. We were in Indianapolis for a night out and we were staying in a downtown hotel. I was wearing a Tapout t-shirt. Tapout apparel is a brand that, at one time, was associated with MMA and derives its name from the act of tapping out, or surrendering, when you’re in an unwinnable position and you want to avoid having your arm broken or being choked unconscious. For a while you could buy Tapout clothing anywhere and it became somewhat popular. We were walking through the hotel lobby when someone said, “Hey buddy,” from behind.

I turned, as anyone would, and pointed to myself like, “Me?”

The guy was a fit, bulky guy wearing a pilot’s uniform and pulling a suitcase. “Where do you train?” he asked.

I didn’t know what he meant at first. Seeing my confusion he added, “Your shirt, man. You train?”

I was instantly embarrassed because I didn’t “train” anywhere. I shook my head and mumbled, “Oh, I don’t train.” I could almost feel my balls shrivel up.

“Oh. My bad,” he added and continued walking.

The embarrassed part of me secretly justified my choice in apparel by reasoning that wearing a Tapout shirt was merely a stylish show of support for the sport. The pilot (and I can only assume 900th degree blackbelt, king-of-the-world practitioner) wheeled his suitcase past as I joined my friends in a chuckle. But I felt like an idiot. Even my buddy was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do back in the day. Once the pilot was gone I played it off and said something like, “I’m wearing a Steelers shirt tomorrow for the football game but I’m also not on the Steelers,” but the damage had been done. I felt like a phony despite that I wasn’t trying to advertise the contrary.

I’m successful in all of the metrics of my life that I consider important but, to this day, that incident still eats at me. I’m a family man. I’m a promoted officer with a great fire department. I’ve had 4 books published as an author. And I’m still a fraud when I talk to friends about MMA.

I turned 44 years old in June and decided age was just a number. My wife and I signed our son up at a local martial arts gym and, with my wife’s nudging, I decided to join him for the jujitsu classes. I had been working on getting back in shape since January so I wasn’t exactly starting from the couch. My first jujitsu class was scheduled for the coming Friday and I spent that week nervous and excited at the same time. I told myself that no amount of embarrassment was going to hold me back. I was diving in head-first. Even if the gym was full of parents and other spectators and I knew I’d look like a 44-year-old idiot trying to learn to “rassle,” I wasn’t going to let it stop me. In the days before my first lesson, I even took a yoga class to help with my horrible flexibility. BTW, Yoga is HAAAARD.

When Friday arrived I took a deep breath and walked into the gym, judging spectators be damned. The owner and lead instructor was a badass named Dale—an older man with buzzed, greying hair, a goatee, and about 200 years of experience. We started class with stretches and push-ups and jumping rope. Let me quickly add, if you want to get some exercise, jump rope. Holy crap. He said to do two minutes and I about laughed. Hell, I can do two minutes of anything, I imagined. But 40 seconds in I was ready to pack up shop and go home. OK, it wasn’t that bad but you get the jest.

After learning a technique called a shrimp where you basically lie on your back and scoot a very specific way backward across the mat we were ready to start class. Mister Dale said we were to pair up and grapple (another name for wrestling) for two minutes. He was to be my grappling partner so he could judge where I was in technique and experience. I imagined two minutes would be about a minute forty-five more than he needed to evaluate my skill level and lack thereof.

We started with a handshake as we faced each other on our knees. I asked, “What do you want me to do?”

He said to simply wrestle him. My superficial knowledge of jujitsu told me I wanted to get on top and ideally straddle his waist in what is known as the mount position. I also knew if he got on top of me I needed to get my legs around his waist in what is called the guard. I aggressively dove forward. He calmly dropped to his back as if inviting me to climb on top. So far, so good. I scrambled to get my right leg past his left leg so I could work myself into the mount position. At the same time I used my hands to push his left leg to the floor and tried to swing my leg over to have it beside his hip like I’d seen on TV. But he subtly shifted his upper body, and pushed with his feet. Somehow I was right where I started. I tried again and, again, I got nowhere. I pushed and pulled and strained but getting around his legs was like trying to untie a knot while riding a roller coaster. I was thinking, “I’m a grown freakin man and I can’t even get past this guy’s leg?”

Forty-five seconds in, I was a faucet of sweat yet he was dry (minus the sweat I had shared with his shirt) and didn’t seem at all winded. When he decided to attack, it was methodical. He wrapped his legs around my waist like a steel trap and held me there to see if I knew how to get out. I didn’t. I felt instantly helpless. He calmly reached up and grabbed one of my arms. In a flash, I was on my back and he was on top of me. It happened so fast I didn’t understand how I’d ended up beneath him. It was as if my brain had hiccupped and there I was. So much for getting my legs around his waist. If I didn’t know how to get out of his guard, I sure as Hell didn’t know how to get out of his mount. At this point we were about a minute in, give or take 3 hours. His every movement was deliberate, never using more energy than needed while I floundered like a fish. He leaned forward to where his chest was against my face forcing me to turn my head to the side in order to find breath that was nowhere to be found. Somehow, by ancient martial arts magic, he had all of the oxygen sucked out of the room.

For a split second I wondered what I had gotten myself into. He slowly wrapped his arms around my head. I gasped for air. I was drowning in a river with my arms and legs tied together and I couldn’t see the surface anymore. As he squeezed what little air I had left out of my lungs I realized I could never do this and was a fool to think I could. As I surrendered by tapping his side and he released his hold, I realized there was nothing in this world I wanted to do more. My self-doubt, while suffocating seconds before, had lasted about as long as it had taken me to surrender and was instantly replaced with a thirst—an unquenchable thirst. Dale let me free and we continued.

Exhausted and terrified to get close to him, my aggressiveness turned to apprehension. I had quickly learned that any movement I made would endanger me in ways I’d never been endangered before. If I reached an arm out, he could take it home with him. If I leaned to the left, I’d end up smothered and on my back again. Leaning to the right, I found, was no better. I was lost. Confused. Hopeless. I surrendered repeatedly and repeatedly he immediately released his vice-like hold. Despite all of this, at the end of the two minutes, I couldn’t stop smiling. This was as hard as any two minutes of my life and, as impossible as any future progress seemed, I couldn’t wait to try it again.

That feeling lasted about 10 seconds, or roughly as long as it took for Dale to say, “Change partners,” and I saw Steve—the next killer—waiting in line. This would not end well for me.

First Steve and I dropped to our knees and shook hands. Then, before Steve could annihilate me, I blurted, “Remember, I don’t know any of this stuff.” Luckily, Steve took it easy on me which was good because I gave about as much resistance as an exhausted rag doll.

After our open grappling session we began the teaching portion of the class. Using Steve as his victim, Dale showed us a basic way to escape an opponent’s guard (him on his back with his legs around Steve’s waist). This would have been good information a bit earlier. The rest of the class consisted a couple other techniques and practicing these newly learned skills. I loved it.

After we stood and bowed to end the class, I b-lined straight to Mister Dale. I thanked him repeatedly for opening my eyes to this world. I thanked Steve for his help and expressed my desire to do this every day I could from here on out.

I haven’t been this hungry for anything in a long time. When I was in my 20’s it was a potential firefighting career that drove me every day. When I was thirty I decided to get my body under 10% body fat and eventually I reached that goal as well. In my late thirties I delved into writing and put my heart and soul behind that endeavor. Now, in my mid-forties, I’ve found a new passion and, as long as my aching, 40+year-old body can hold up, I’m going to give it my all. I have no desires or illusions about competing in the future or becoming some great jujitsu practitioner, I only want to learn every time I’m in the gym and improve upon the class before.

Someday, I’ll be able to talk about the sport of MMA with real-world knowledge and, if the inevitable follow-up question “Where do you train?” comes up, I won’t slink away. I’ll answer with pride. And I’ll wear that fucking Tapout shirt again.