Jameel's Blog: The Last One
Before I get started with this last blog, I hear Dave Strasser'.s Freestyle Academy wasn't even nominated for fight team of the year by Wisconsin Combat Sports. Come on guys, lets use some common sense here. We're one of the few gyms that produce international fighters and WEC/UFC fighters in Wisconsin, and not even a nomination? Oh well.
Well call me the Karate Kid because after training in Japan for 11 weeks with a crazy hermit of a kickboxing instructor, I am now proficient in crane stance, tiger claw, eye snatch, and the five pointed palm exploding heart technique, not to mention the Jedi mind tricks. Seriously though, I can't help but look back and feel very fortunate to have had this rare opportunity to fight and train in what many consider the Mecca of martial arts. And I can't help but be appreciative to everyone here back home who has shown me interest or support. You have no idea how motivating and helpful your support has been in a place where there is cultural barrier and language barrier.
Looking back on this session, I can't help but draw several conclusions and lessons I have learned about MMA in general, human perseverance in hard circumstances, and Japan.
First off, everyone here should know, you don't have to travel around the world to find good MMA. Based on my experience, Wisconsin has the best understanding of how to train for MMA fights that I have ever seen, even after going to Japan. Hell, half the time, I was wishing I had my team mates from Dave Strasser's Freestyle Academy to help me do some speed rounds to kick my ass during fight prep. Wisconsin, if very high level in MMA, and I am proud to be going abroad and spreading the good word.
As far as lessons form MMA regarding training, I believe in a good balance between team work and personal/private lessons. Tsuyoshi has shown me this importance. The 11 weeks spent in Japan brought my striking to new levels because of this personal coaching. Tsuyoshi was a master. He had a game plan for improvement, and he critiqued the hell out of me. Sometimes he was an asshole, but that's what I needed to get better. I remember our first session where he told me that I couldn't punch for shit and my kicks were horrible, and I was just like, "what the hell have I been doing for four years then?" But it's just his way, and his way lead to improvement. In my 23 prior fights during my four years in this sport, I never knocked someone down with a punch. In my mind, the power just didn't exist in my hand so much as it did in my feet. As a matter of fact, I've never been great at punching and maybe had one fight that I ever felt good with my hands. Kicking has been my forte and weird submissions and pounding have been my trademark. But now, after just 11 weeks, because of daily private striking lessons with a good coach that has a watchful eye, I have found the confidence, form, and technique I needed to use my hands to put someone down.
Proving that in Pancrase last week nearly brought me to tears. The fight was so surreal, because my technique felt effortless, like I was barely throwing my punches with any power behind them, and when Takita got staggered the first time, I thought to myself "Did I really just do that? I didn't even throw hard!" And then, when I put him down to the canvas, I was in a state of shock, like a dream, like it couldn't have really been happening. If you look at the pictures of my fight in my fight-finder photos on Sherdog, you see a picture of me holding my hands up shouting and Takita on the ground. That may well be one of the most happiest moments of my life, and I am hoping, a turning point in my career. Anyways, any serious fighter should get someone with a watchful eye to criticize their technique, in my experience, it makes a huge difference.
Next, so far as MMA goes, visiting other gyms to train rocks. I trained at every type of gym imaginable with many teams for fight prep and it always kept me guessing and working to find good timing with unknown opposition. A base team is very important, but traveling to another gym once a week never hurt anyone.
Lastly, Tsuyoshi has also taught me the value of working with a common team as well. The people that will help you improve are often the people who know you best. They can also keep you motivated as well. Training at Gracie Barra in Nagoya definitely gave me a team of people to rely on, and the people there were very helpful in preparing me, just as I helped them prepare. Lord knows that you need help, especially in another country.
The next lesson I learned is that we as humans can overcome anything if we believe we can. Two weeks before my fight I suffered from exhaustion after over-training seven days a week with three sessions a day for two months. I ended up getting my knee hyper-extended, unable to kick with it until four days before my fight (not certain it would be better for the fight), and then I also got a fever of 101 degrees two weeks out and had to take three days off in bed. Any sane fighter would have canceled their fight, but I tend to just go with the punches instead.
However, my mind was ready, prepared to go to war, and I just sucked it up and got ready with what I had. This has taught me the real power of the mind and in fights. If I think I can't win because of my knee being injured or think I might lose because my stamina might be shot by the fever, I have already defeated myself. We can overcome our problems because we can have confidence in our abilities to remain calm and trust in our training. Mind you, Takita was a serious opponent who went a full three rounds with the ]undefeated king of Pancrase, Marlon Sandro, and he even dropped Sandro to a knee. Despite my bad circumstances, I collected my calm and executed the best game plan for my best fight against this great Japanese fighter. As Obama might say, "Yes we can!"
Lastly, I have learned a lot about the country and people of Japan. Nowhere else in the world is there such a sense of the old and the new mixed into one culture. Japan has heavily adopted western ideas and infrastructure; however, there is a reverence for the old ways that can bee seen everywhere in the temples, and with the people. The result is hilarious to me at times because you see a mix and very unique interpretation of Japanese culture with western culture. The result: hotdog sushi! Seriously, I had hotdog sushi and it was awesome. This mixture of culture is seen everywhere and makes Japan very unique in my eyes and also very enjoyable.
Just a couple more things:
1) I am hosting a seminar based on what I have learned these last two months in Japan including Japanese kickboxing drills, sumo for MMA, and the Octopus guard for submissions.
Date: 2/21/09 (two weeks)
Time: Noon to 3 p.m.
Place: Dave Strasser's Freestyle Academy, 3309 60th St., Kenosha, WI 53144
Phone: 262-748-6304 or 262-605-8760
Price: Academy members $40, all others $50
Bonus! All participants get a free general admission ticket to the Freestyle Combat Challenge 42 later that night at Kenosha's Marian Shores, featuring Sergio Gomez versus David Love in a revenge match, as well as Japanese judo expert from Osaka, Japan Yusuke Kagiyama fighting Matt Wikoff. Can't beat a deal like that! You might call it a real deal.
I hope to see you all there. It will be a very fun time.
2) It needs to be said: I could not have ever made it to this point in my career and in Japan without the help of everyone in Wisconsin, but also some very specific individuals and I would like to thank them openly here. If I left anyone out, you all know I love you and appreciate anyone I have every trained with. First, thank you Dave Strasser. This is your doing, plain and simple. I am honored to have an experience much like your own and that you helped to make this happen. My Japanese management, Shu Hirata and Ida-San, thanks for thinking of me selflessly. Tsuyoshi, you are my family now. Pat O'Malley, thank you for a great 2008; you helped me break that barrier to get bigger fights and looked out for me more than most and I owe you a great deal for your faith. Ron Faircloth, you are also awesome for your mad coaching and cornering skills. Everyone at the Freestyle Academy and Chosen Few who have helped me train to my greatest ability and who push me on a regular basis. If it wasn't for those two teams, I simply would not have been ready for my Kumazawa fight or to train as hard as I did out there. Dan LaSavage and Combat Corner, your shop rocks and your equipment was put to very good use daily in my training; thanks for having faith. Thanks to Gabe and Wisconsin Combat Sports for all of your help. Cobra-Kai and Mishima-San, as well as Alexandre Ogawa and his team Fernando Boi (formerly Gracie Barra). And, anyone else who has helped me. I love you all. Wisconsin fighters rule!
PS check my fight picks out at Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/pictures/gallery/fighter/12257/