Before I discovered Mixed Martial Arts & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I weighed 322lbs. Believe me when I say: “This sport saved my life”…Me!
Overweight, Unhealthy & Headed For A Heart Attack…
If you were to ask me how I got to 322lbs (146Kg) at the age of 23 I’m sure I could just tell you a story that’s unfortunately all too common in today’s society. Poor food, lack of exercise and no motivation to change. That’s not to say that my life was bad. It really wasn’t. I had good friends and a good job I enjoyed but nothing driving me day-to-day to push myself forward.
On reflection though, it’s easy to see a whole number of situations I put myself in that made correct nutrition virtually impossible. As my understanding grows, I’ve developed some fairly strong views on what this nutrition is.
For starters: when I was completing my final exams prior to attending University, I worked as a shift manager for Burger King. Whilst it may appear there aren’t any perks to a job like this, there is one: free food. If you could see some of the strange concoctions of items I crammed into corn syrup injected burger buns you’d be appalled. You’d also be salivating. But still appalled.
University didn’t fare me much better on either the exercise or diet front. I studied architecture at De Montfort University in Leicester and during my undergraduate degree, I lived in a loft bang in the city centre. The apparent upshot of this at the time was, you guessed it, I was never more than 5 minutes from any type of fast food. I also cooked fairly frequently, my Mother is a chef by trade and taught me well, but this tended to result in extreme portion sizes.
When I completed my first degree I moved straight into a job for a firm in Newmarket, designing schemes mostly comprising social housing and market sale residential properties. What I found myself doing was sitting at a keyboard all day, then coming straight home and doing the same all night. Repeat ad nausea. All this added up to a very sedentary and insular lifestyle, a constantly moving treadmill shuffling me towards an early heart attack.
Only five or six photos of me still exist from this era of my life (I’ve purposely erased the rest). I’ll let you see two of them.
Discovering Mixed Martial Arts & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu…
The first time I ever saw Mixed Martial Arts was an off chance re-run of UFC IV being shown on Sky Sports. Bizarrely it wasn’t even the highly edited version that made it to DVD release but the full show! Keith Hackney vs Emmanuel Yarborough in a circus-like match-up that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Japanese pro-wrestling card.Hackney delivering ridge-hand after ridge-hand to Yarboroughs head till the stoppage was forced. I was hooked. But it wasn’t the violent and seemingly realistic nature of the combat that grabbed me, it was the grappling. Every single tournament bout, not just those involving Royce, ended by submission. I had never seen anything like it…’Human chess’ the commentators termed it, a method of fighting for the ‘smaller’ or ‘weaker’ yet ‘smarter’ man. Having being bullied fairly significantly through childhood this notion greatly appealed to me.
I kept a loose track of MMA from then on, missing the opportunity in 2002 to go to UFC 38 at the Royal Albert Hall as I didn’t have anyone to go with me! I had just turned eighteen at the time and my personality was such that I didn’t dare take the chance to go to such an ‘outlandish’ and ‘dangerous’ event without some friends around! As the years passed, the coverage increased and I paid greater attention to the goings on across the pond but it wasn’t until mid-2006 that I actually took strides to get involved. At the time I was working for a firm in Newmarket as an RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Pt 1 Architectural Assistant (a precursor en-route to becoming an Architect). As I mentioned in the opening paragraph: a solid job, good friends, good prospects, everything seemingly in place but I just couldn’t bear the physical state I’d gotten myself in to.
The moment I left University was the heaviest I’d ever been (322lbs) and although by this time I really wanted to give BJJ a try I couldn’t bear being in a class in that state. I felt like everyone would be judging me (I now of course know that the vast majority of BJJ gyms are not like this!) and that I’d hold everyone back by not being able to do the simplest of movements.
So I set about trying to lose at least some weight. Lots of rowing for hours on end and trying to eat with an ultra-low fat, calorie deficit diet plan – all the things I now know are not an efficient or sustainable method for fat loss, but hey: that’s conventional wisdom for you! It took a year for me to lose around 35lbs, which shows you just how inconsistent I was being! But I did have one ace up my sleeve from that year…
Whilst I had been slaving away with the chronic cardio I had also been watching Jiu-Jitsu, reading about jiu-jitsu, visiting internet forums for jiu-jitsu and generally absorbing everything ‘jiu-jitsu’ I could. A year of immersion in BJJ theory, all before I’d ever even set foot on a mat. In mid-2007 a colleague at work then mentioned to me he was friends with someone who trained BJJ at our local club: ‘Blue Wave Martial Arts’ and gave me the details. Unbearably nervous I went along to my first session, a seminar with black belt Eduardo Cariello whom the club were affiliated with at the time (Eduardo is now: Gracie Barra London Bridge).
You Can Have Results or Excuses, Not Both…
There is something very important I’ve come to realise about jiu-jitsu and other sports of a similar nature. The simple reason they are so perfect for overall lifestyle improvement. They have a huge, never ending skill component. That is to say they not only take a tremendous amount of all aspects of athleticism but they also need a constant focus on improving a highly technical skill set. This takes the mind off the actual task of ‘working out’, keeping it thoroughly preoccupied with a task that can never be completed. Technique and timing can be refined ad infinitum, hence in BJJ many believe the journey only truly begins at black belt. I’m sure running on a treadmill works for some people, but in the context of changing people’s lives I don’t think it can hold a candle to competitive sports/athletics.
Starting in ‘the gentle art’ is a rough road for almost anyone. To put it bluntly, you’re someone’s bitch for a minimum of several months. More eloquently put: “Some days you’re the nail. You must hang in there until the day you become the hammer and smash them back”. My second session was the first time I sparred anyone, an older Irish gentleman whom I’m very sorry to say was forced to stop training regularly due to back injuries. He cross collar choked me five times in less than two minutes…welcome to jiu-jitsu.
The secret of this sport is, while you’re the nail, hang in there, let them hit you, until the day you become the hammer, then you smash them back!Renzo Gracie
I trained regularly from that moment on, a couple of times a week at first (the only sessions on offer) then quickly adding in the two weekly MMA classes that were also available to me. Whilst I would like to think I progressed quickly, I’m really not sure. I now realise that becoming proficient in anything takes thousands of hours of purposeful practice. That talent is, to steal Geoff Colvin’s phrase, ‘overrated’. Perhaps there simply is no substitute for as much mat time as possible, especially early on! I remember it was at least six weeks before I got my first submission on a training partner, a sloppy guillotine devoid of any discernible precision. But that didn’t matter to me, a tap was a tap, and that was my first one. As I gain experience, I don’t think a whole lot of tapping anyone in training anymore. It’s training not competition, you can’t always know if you’re getting someone’s A-game. Not to say I don’t still get an adrenalin rush when I come victorious out the other side of a really hard spar or the first time I catch a higher belt. I very much do. But I appreciate and understand it in a different light now.
After about six months of training I was heading back to De Montfort University in Leicester to complete my postgraduate degree in Architecture. Before leaving, I did what anyone who’s addicted to BJJ does anytime they travel anywhere: I googled clubs in the area. This is how I came to get acquainted with Leicester Shootfighters and their head coach Nathan ‘Levo’ Leverton.
As I write this five years later I’m pleased to say I still have very strong links with the club and I consider Nathan to be one of my closest friends in the sport and someone from whom I am always gleaming great insights into the nuances of training and technique.
But back in 2007/2008, LSF were still training on the High Street, in a space hired from a local Karate club. 20mm jigsaw mats on cold hard concrete, the origin of my still on-going bouts of bursitis in my knees! One day a week, I would drive the one hundred miles to the midlands, participate in a full day of lectures/workshops then jump in to a double class at LSF followed by the late night slog home.
I can attribute a lot of very useful grappling memories to those early days in Leicester, amongst others: my first real appreciation of knee-on-belly, a brutal experience handed to me by a then purple belt under De La Riva.
My weight came down steadily over that first year, just through sheer volume of exercise despite still having no real understanding of nutrition. I was also making solid progress in my training, everything started to feel like flowing jiu-jitsu and as the weeks moved towards my first BJJ anniversary I competed in my first competition: ‘Seni 2008’ held at London’s Excel arena. I still remember them announcing my division as the ‘Super, super, super, SUPER heavyweights’…I can chuckle at that now!
I didn’t exactly have the best outing regardless of the obligatory nerves (to this day I am still a far better fighter in the gym than in competition). I jumped guard to an ‘oooh’ from the crowd (I was still a very big guy!) and my opponent just stood back up with me hanging off him in mid-air. Cue me looking over to my coach with a ‘WTF’ expression on my face! After four minutes attempting to sweep from half guard I gave up the pass to mount and was summarily arm barred twenty seconds before the end of the match.
The following week, 51 weeks after first stepping on to the mat, I received my blue belt from my then coach James ‘Jelly’ Duncalf. At that point, I don’t think I’d ever been happier or more proud of anything in my entire life.
Peaks, Plateaus & Troughs…
Pursue anything for long enough and it’ll have it’s ups and downs. Carlson Gracie black belt Simon Hayes, a man I greatly admire, has written extensively about the curse of ‘bluebeltitis’, a nasty virus that can infect those imbued with a new belt. It manifests itself in several possible ways, most commonly it’s avoiding certain rolls due to fear of being tapped by their former white belt colleagues. A new belt can be a lot of pressure but for the most part it’s still the case in BJJ that if you weren’t worth it, you wouldn’t have got it. I didn’t get my one and only bout of ‘bluebeltitis’ right away, it took nearly a year of wearing azul around my waist.
My first real trough, actually chasm, came in mid-2009. My workload at University was getting out of hand and for the six months prior it had caused my training to drop to twice a week, both no-gi. I know for a lot of people that still sounds like a reasonable attendance rate but other than that period, I have generally trained a consistent minimum of four times a week. The irony is what triggered my drop in confidence: I became a member of Carlson Gracie team.
Left: Seminar With Carlson Gracie Jnr in Hammersmith (Sep 09)
Our club joined Carlsons after our owner felt we were no longer receiving the kind of support we needed from our previous affiliation. At the time I had no qualms about it, I had no appreciation of politics and I would go where my club went. Simon Hayes came up to Suffolk to teach the first session and also brought a long a few of the team from the Hammersmith HQ. At the time they were two blue belts and a purple and I rolled with all of them. The blues were Karim Shah (who now runs Carlson Gracie Cairo) and Jay ‘The Animal’ Bell whose nickname should say it all! The purple was Stephen Mains. Needless to say, this was a competition hardened group of fighters and I got well and truly mauled. I hadn’t worn a gi for six months and I was just plain lost.
This was also my first major plateau (and actually a re-gain) with my weight loss. University had taken its toll on me, as it would the very same time the next year, providing me with ample late nights working in my office needing comfort food to see me through till the 3am-4am finishes which were sadly becoming a regular occurrence. They say you “can’t out train a poor diet” and with very good reason. I was rolling almost every day but my weight was going nowhere. At the time I just didn’t know any different. I didn’t really know what the difference between macros was or anything about insulin triggers and I had no concept of weight training. Ultimately looking back now, I wasted a lot of time.
It was around this time I started getting involved in the officiating side of MMA. I’d been teaching bits of our BJJ classes here and there since my last few days as a white belt and I guess the nerdy attention to detail got noticed as my name was passed to a local promoter in Lowestoft as a suitable person to judge his shows. Bizarrely I ended up being the ‘head official’ for that show from that moment on (until I just couldn’t make the time commitment anymore in mid-2011). It shows you how non-existent the barrier to entry for MMA can be in this country is, with no commission or governing body, any show can allow anyone to fight, hire anyone to referee and have anyone decide who goes home victorious. The kind of thing that abhors many of us now was the way I got a chance to be involved. I’m exceptionally grateful for it but at the same time: it shouldn’t have happened.
The ‘beltitis’ was still ticking over when in October that year I competed in a no-gi competition and lost a match I was winning until the last 15 seconds. That finally broke me completely and I spent two weeks in a constantly bad mood, so much so that my colleagues at work could tell something was significantly wrong with me. I don’t remember what jolted me out of it but those few months were an interesting lesson in perseverance and balance. Training is supposed to be physically tough but those few months were a mental test harsher than most of my other training experiences. I simply hadn’t yet developed the kind of cerebral resilience that training a functional combat sport can give you. I can look back now and joke about it because I know everything was just part of the learning curve.
Above: TUF 9 Finale in Las Vegas (2009)
Left: Seminar with Marcelo Garcia (2009)
The Path to Paleo Nutrition & Ancestral Health…
The next eight or nine months passed by without incident. I continued to train just grappling/MMA whilst not really paying much attention to my nutrition. I remember thinking I’ll eat properly (or my then concept of properly) during the week and enjoy the weekends…which quickly bled out to include Friday nights. Before I knew it I was hovering back up around 260lbs. When you’re training as much as I was, that simply shouldn’t have been possible.
Right: Commentating at UWC 12 with Pierre (2010)
I also got a chance to start doing some commentary for a domestic promotion in Essex. I was in the crowd when my friend Pierre ‘The Professional’ Guillet was doing the commentary alone and after I expressed interest in the main event that night (Jude Samuel vs. Dale Hardiman) he gave me chance to join in. I am very thankful to Pierre because without this, I would never have got to experience some of the things I have.
In the Summer of 2010 I hit another low, in fact I’m certain it was the last one I’ll ever have. Without going into details I had a falling out with two close friends. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and I don’t intend to allow situations like that to develop at any stage in the future. But like most of the occasional dips in life’s roller-coaster I have experienced, it offered a great opportunity to bounce back stronger, which given my ‘all-or-nothing’ personality usually means I get absorbed in something positive and in the end am far better off. This was no exception.
One of the best things about BJJ is that it gives you an entirely different frame of reference as to what a tough situation is and how you might be able to deal with it. Have a black belt crushing you within an inch of your life for a few long rounds, feeling that utter helplessness and knowing that the only way out is to submit but resisting with everything you have left inside you…suddenly everyday issues seem somewhat dulled. It’s more than likely why the majority of jiu-jitsu folks seem to be amongst the most relaxed and chilled out people on the planet: they get an ego readjustment. At first it’s having it smashed out of you. You may be a heavily muscled hard man but walk into a BJJ academy and I guarantee I know some fifteen year-olds who could turn you into a human pretzel. That’s when your bad ego sticks it’s head up, but then over time the ego turns and becomes a good thing. In BJJ you may hear the saying “leave your ego at the edge of the mat” and when you’re starting I think it makes perfect sense. But there comes a point when you need an ego, you need it to help you dig deep down and come up with those moments in sparring where you surprise yourself. BJJ will break down everything bad about you and start building you from the ground up, literally.
That being said, I strongly recall I had just finished an extensive bout of bitching and moaning about my weight when the poor soul I’d barraged with this tirade pointed out a simple idea: “Why don’t you just copy the diet I use to cut weight for competition?” What a concise and perfect statement! How had I not considered this? If fighters have to drop body fat effectively to hit weight on any given day, why isn’t that applicable over the longer term? The answer is that it is more than possible and with that, the Paleo diet entered my life. At this point I have to give the first of several thanks to John ‘Jack’ Lister for getting me started with a low carbohydrate approach to eating.
I’m lucky that I like reading and researching. If you don’t, I think it’s very hard to navigate the mine field of bad conventional wisdom surrounding weight loss, diet and exercise. The government will tell you to do one thing, often I’ve found to your detriment, whilst any number of other groups will suggest an alternative. The hard part is choosing which is right and you can guarantee no single body is right about everything. Luckily now, the ancestral health movement is really starting to pick up steam with huge proportions of the population starting to see the great benefits of an unprocessed, whole foods diet. Some great information sites can be found in this blog post: ‘Blogs are Awesome’.
Over the next two months I stuck rigidly to a very low carbohydrate approach. The end result: another 50lbs off my weight and finally hitting that magic (though completely arbitrary number!) of 100lbs total weight loss. Was it tough? Only the first couple of weeks is my honest answer. Sugar addiction is a very real thing and deliberately plunging your body into a state of exceptionally low blood sugar is not the most pleasant experience if you’ve never done it before! You’ll feel mentally groggy, physically tired and your body will more than likely start excreting as much awful stuff from your pores and nose as possible! But the longer I eat this way the more used to throwing my body in and out of Ketosis (cycled around grappling events for instance) I have become, to the point where I hardly blink at the process other than perhaps feeling an afternoon of slight fatigue.
Left: English BJJ Nationals (2010)
That November, about three months after taking up a Paleo approach to nutrition, I stepped on the mat at the English BJJ Open for the first time ever in the -100Kg division nicking a silver medal after submitting my first opponent and then losing 3-0 on points in the final. So, I was down over 100lbs in weight from when I first started in 2007 and had what appeared to be a sustainable model for eating. It seemed as though things were on the right track, at least for the moment…
More Likely to Survive A Bullet To The Head…
I used to binge on food…a lot! Cheat days for me were a truly epic event that could quite easily have been filmed for an episode of ‘Man vs Food’. They became almost ritualistic, especially after competitions. Without a huge amount of muscle mass, a longer term low carbohydrate diet combined with a little dehydrating to make weight can set you up for some exceptional bloating and water gains. After the Novemeber 2010 competition is still my record: 14lbs gained overnight, the result of a team meal involving a large pizza, pasta heavy salad bar and twenty (yes: two. zero!) Krispy Kreme donuts in one evening. At the time it’s a lot of fun, the next day…not so much!
One of the things I’ve gotten very used to now and am convinced it’s the right approach is to not get so hung up on when you can or cannot eat a ‘cheat’. Planning them to become these huge events is not helpful and if I really feel the need to have something now, I’ll do it and I’ll just roll with it. The catch is that I rarely want these occasions any more. A bit of wheat or sugar every so often isn’t going to kill you but at the same time there comes a point when you realise how well you perform without it and it just isn’t that enticing any more.
Despite the obsessive carb-up days, I was feeling good at the tail end of 2010. Weight was down, training was solid and I was getting involved in a lot more events both in grappling and MMA. I even got to referee my first few BJJ super-fights. Refereeing black/brown belts can be extremely unnerving when you’re a lower belt. They’re still not that frequent of an occurrence in the UK and they make for a lot of eyeballs on everything that’s going on!
But life likes curve balls and two days before Christmas my firm shut it doors rendering every member of staff unemployed. So I did what any recovering food addict would do when they need to fill time: I ate. Losing weight is hard enough for most people, keeping it off is statistically harder. Some believe it’s virtually an incurable disease. I’ll quote a fun article from cracked.com since whilst having no scientific basis whatsoever I find it highly amusing and it sort of illustrates this point: “two out of 1,000 Weight Watchers customers actually maintain large weight losses permanently. That means if you are fat, you are 25 times more likely to survive getting shot in the head than to stop being fat”. Essentially your mind and your body get to engage in an all out war on each other and guess what? Your mind is that small rebel force living under the constant threat of the death star desperately searching for the tiny exhaust port to freedom. It’s not as cool as Star Wars however, but it is that dramatic.
two out of 1,000 Weight Watchers customers actually maintain large weight losses permanently. That means if you are fat, you are 25 times more likely to survive getting shot in the head than to stop being fatCracked.com
I am not immune to these invisible battles. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’ll never slip right back to where I started, or even anywhere near it for that matter, but I’ve had bouts of recidivism to some degree during my weight loss. It’s incredibly easy for people to look at where you are now and automatically assume that you got there easily. That you made decisions in an instant, never looked back and woke up the next morning looking or acting the way your re-imagined self does. That just isn’t the case.
Almost without exception, those who’ve undergone substantial transformations had some bumps along the way. They just arrested the fall before they got close to the ground. I’ll be honest and say I do often struggle to see how anyone can lose their way completely once they’ve hit a certain point in their weight loss and I can be somewhat unsympathetic to it. In my head I break it down meal by meal, bite by bite. How many consecutive meals over weeks or months would I have to screw up to load on any or all of the weight I’ve lost? Far too many in my eyes. Moving in to the new year of 2011 was my second of three weight loss set backs. It amounted to about 25lbs, not a killer by any means but not great either. It’s literally taken me over five years to fully turn that mental corner in my head to the point where any regression is just simply not going to happen.
Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying…
One of the things I never expected from weight loss was positivity. I find myself always trying to seek out the best side of things (I don’t always succeed in this!) and as much as I can, get some good energy out there. I never thought I’d believe in Karma but I’m really starting to feel as though you get back what you put out and it’s by far the quickest way to being happy. Think negatively and things won’t end well for you. With that in mind, the first quarter of 2011 may be one of the most radical about-faces my life has had to date.
Remember when I said I have an obsessive personality that can often help me bounce back stronger? January 2011 was one of those times. After just over two and a half years as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Carlson Gracie UK head coach Wilson Junior awarded me a purple belt.
Left: Getting my purple belt from Wilson Jnr with Lee Doski / Windy Miller / Danny Kingston / Andre Goncalves (Jan 2011)
I know in BJJ we try and make a point of not getting hung up on belts and to just get on with training but this meant a lot to me. Not just because a purple belt from Wilson is a huge and relatively rare honour but because it’s not out of place to say as many hours of thought, strain and dedication went into achieving it as all my years in higher education combined. At that point, I’m not sure I’d put as much effort or consistency in to anything else in my life than I had grappling.
A journey in jiu-jitsu can shape and mould you in a way few things can and although in the middle of the totem pole as far as belts go, a purple belt is arguably one of the biggest leaps you can make in your personal pursuit of jiu-jitsu. You see I, and I’m sure a lot of others, believe that a blue belt can be awarded with genetic attributes in mind. A big, strong or athletic individual with what could be a very limited game (by that I mean a very well tuned but small set of specific positions or moves) can in many instances be awarded a blue belt despite having some potentially significant holes. But purple belt is a different ball game entirely and even in more unscrupulous clubs the barrier to entry is still high. I know instructors who’ll go as far as to say they’ll never give a purple belt to someone they could imagine giving a black belt to in the future.
I was also fortunate enough to quickly start working for a former employer who’d set up his own firm: a small office and crew but some damn cool design work. I was on the verge of disappearing off to Vancouver or Rio for the foreseeable future but this was a great opportunity.
The third big positive change was my involvement in MMA commentary. After being asked to fly out for the third event held by the Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship, I started talking with Cage Warriors Director: Graham Boylan who asked me to come on board for CWFC 40 at London’s HMV Forum.
Right: Interviewing Paul McVeigh at CWFC 40 in London (Feb 2011)
Within the space of three months I’d got my BJJ purple belt, a new job and the opportunity to be involved in two internationally seen MMA events. Whilst I generally believe in Seneca’s words that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” I couldn’t help but feel very lucky indeed.
Throughout 2011 my weight strayed up and down once again, but for most of the year I never made that concerted effort needed to attack the weight loss. I started heading down towards 200lbs around April as I had provisionaly agreed to do an amateur (no headshots) MMA bout at a local show but this fell through and unsurprisingly I binged immediately. As I’ve said before, I used to focus in on cheat days and go nuts and it’s not a helpful approach. What would make the outcome worse, was that although my weight was coming down, I wasn’t gaining any muscle simply because I wasn’t doing anything that actually builds or even maintains it! I hated lifting weights and had still to that point never even tried adding any form of strength training into my regime. Now I know why my long-time coach Lee Doski has always said I’m the one person who should stop grappling for six months and just hit the gym!
Right: Mucking around with SBG Ireland head coach John Kavanagh in Jordan (June 2011)
I have been very fortunate to be involved in some brilliant events over the last couple of years and June 2011 will always be one that I remember. For the first time, Cage Warriors held an event in the Middle East: ‘Fight Night 1’ in Jordan’s capital city Amman. Apart from a highly entertaining night of fights it was phenomenal to spend several days with like minded people who have that perfect balance between enjoying themselves and knowing when it’s time to knuckle-down and really focus on putting a great product out there. It’s motivating to say the least and it’s a feeling I should’ve tried to carry thought to my weight loss, I just didn’t and during the summer, another mini-relapse reared it’s head.
When I’d hit that intermediate goal of 100lbs weight loss the previous year I was featured in a small article for BJJ blogger and artist ‘Meerkatsu’. It garnered a surprising amount of interest from a number of sites and forums which was a tremendous boost to how I saw myself at the time. It doesn’t always get talked about in weight loss circles but just because you make good strides to fix the physical doesn’t necessarily mean you mentally acknowledge the changes right away (but I’ll discuss this more later).
Left: My ‘Jiu-Jitsu Saved My Life’ tattoo designed by Adam Edwards (Oct 2011)
One of the things I’d said to Meerkatsu during that interview was that if and when I lost 100lbs and got my purple belt I’d get a tattoo to mark the occasion. Well that point had been and gone 9 months earlier! Getting inked in the first place is something the old me would never have considered and I certainly didn’t make this decision lightly. I worked with artist Adam Edwards, who also happens to be a BJJ brown belt and Pro-MMA fighter, to come up with an arrangement that was simple but detailed and said the one thing I knew for sure: ‘Jiu-Jitsu Saved My Life’.
That Autumn was a fairly busy one for me. I had several MMA shows to be involved with, the new tattoo and with the ADCC grappling chmapionships appearing in the UK for the first time, a trip away to Nottingham to see some of the best grapplers in the world try and tear each other limb from limb. Unless you are extremely dilligent, this kind of schedule is not conducive to losing weight and even maintaining is hard enough in those environments. When I returned from a second trip to Jordan in September 2011 I had swollen back up to just over 230lbs. I didn’t like it one bit.
At this point I’m going to go ahead and point out something that would seem obvious: fighting big human beings is not fun. Or more specifically, fighting people who are geneticaly setup to actually be 220lbs or more when you are that weight simply because you’re fat and out of shape, is not fun. It’s one of the primary reasons when I’ve competed I’ve always felt I psychologicaly destroyed myself before even stepping on the mat. So there comes a point, just like there was at the start of the journey, when you say enough is enough and take steps to remedy it.
Right: Bronze at the English Open with Jay ‘The Animal’ Bell (Nov 2011) & Silver at UMA with all-around good guy JD Hylton (Nov 2011)
The same person who put me onto low carb/Paleo nutrition in the first place also happpens to be a pretty decent former competitive power lifter. Quite why I’d not used this resource before is beyond me. The seven weeks prior to the English 2011 BJJ Open was the first time I’d ever tried lifting weights and even though I didn’t make too many strength gains I successfully dropped my weight back down to weigh-in at -94Kg (207lbs) in my Gi on the day. I didn’t enjoy or embrace it but it appeared to do the trick.
I also decided to compete at -95Kg at an event I was refereeing the following weekend. Of course I’d binged the night following the first competition and hit almost 220lbs again within 48 hours so a couple of days of over-drinking and hot salt baths helped me nick under the limit the morning of the competition!
With two months of consistent diet and exercise, two competitions done and dusted at lower weight classes than I’d ever hit before and a bit more respect for resistance training you’d assume I’d got it sorted this time right?
It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it!
Anything that’s truly valuable or truly worth doing will take effort. Nobody ever accomplished anything without a few hurdles and it needs to be remembered that something that may not seem like much of a barrier to you, could easily be the Berlin wall to someone else. I know I forget this at times.
The scary part is that there was absolutely no reason for it but once again Christmas proved a big spanner in the works for me. My family are not big on embracing everything surrounding Christmas but what we are big on is cooking obscene amounts of very good food and having lots of people around to eat it, regardless of which there’s always a lot of leftovers. That year for example I cooked for twelve people on Boxing day (for those of you in the US that’s the day after Christmas Day!) and we were still eating plenty of the food three days later! The long and the short of it is that over the holiday I somehow managed to get myself once again back up to 235lbs!! The only slight saving grace was that I pulled a 170kg dead lift in the process. Minor win amongst a sea of bad choices and poor excuses.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
The first six months of 2012 were awesome for almost everything except my weight loss which between January and the end of June oscillated between 209lbs and 230lbs. I can see a couple of simple reasons for this not least of which is that I slipped back in to a pattern of making excuses.
Left: John & myself rehearsing at a show in Jordan (April 2012)
The volume of MMA shows I was traveling to was at its highest to date which made it easy for me to ignore both being diligent with my nutrition and shrug off time I should’ve been spending in the gym. I’d also picked up some injuries: One to my hand whilst lifting and more severely, a significant infection in my arm requiring minor surgery which kept me off the mats for several weeks.
Guess what I’m doing if I’m not preoccupied with some kind of task? That’s right, I’m eating through boredom. Staying busy or spending time in the gym for me is as much about avoiding temptation as doing the activity. I am paranoid about slipping back so by not being where food is it makes it easier for me to ignore. It’s gotten easier now but only very recently.
A further downside of this continued stagnation with my weight loss was that I could feel my grappling training starting to stall again. One of the nicest behind the scenes things that occurs at MMA shows is the training. Most of the crew train in the sport and between us and the corner men traveling with the fighters there’s always people wanting to get together, share techniques and give each other a good old hiding.
Right: Interviewing HW champion DJ Linderman in Dublin (May 2012)
Ever wonder why people love this sport so much? It’s because everyone who trains has an understanding, an unseen link between people who know the pain and determination required to progress. Are we a cult? Quite possibly, but drinking the Koolaid here is a very good thing indeed. Attending MMA shows affords me the chance to train with these ‘brothers’ and to do that properly and represent myself as fully as possible I need to be in shape. Mid-2012 I realised once and for all that my training and diet needed a serious revamp.
These moments of clarity, and I’ve had a few now on this journey, are not always enjoyable. It’s often easier to avoid truths you may not particularly like and making sure you address them is tough. Earlier in this treatise I said that people don’t often understand that fixing the obvious physical issues with weight loss probably doesn’t address the psychological side.
“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change”Henry Cloud
I’d made some big improvements physically and emotionally but I’d hung on to some of my other burdens right up to this point. In my mental image of myself, there were still times I saw myself as that human blob. If I sat down and thought about it logically I would realise I wasn’t anymore but it would take those specific moments of thinking about it whilst sub-consciously the image still lingered. An honest and true appraisal of yourself, what you want to change and just as importantly, what you like about yourself is essential. It’s not for other people it’s for you and that’s the key thing to remember when you write that list.
Whenever you have to make any significant overhaul such as this, there’s one straightforward way to limit the procrastination and ensure you get on with what needs to be done. You simplify as much as possible. I went for two key areas that I decided would elicit the most change as quickly as possible. One I knew would be fairly easy: that was getting back to the low-carb paleo nutrition that I knew worked so well for me. The other I somewhat dreaded: that was weight training which deep down I’d known for a long time is the most efficient way to destroy body fat. But those weren’t the real crux of the issue. What I was doing was straightforward enough to change but tackling the manner of how I did them, that was the epiphany.
I like motivational stuff. Pictures, quotes, videos, they all get me fired up to go and do something and by now I have a pretty extensive library of them on my laptop. But one video really hit home for me. You can watch it here.
It reminded me there is no ‘complex magical formula’ for success and that “time is the most precious commodity that’s out there. It’s the one thing that you can never buy or buy back”. To use every moment to the fullest and anything you’re going to do, do correctly. Not what you’re going to do but HOW are you going to do it.
“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general”Mark Rippetoe
“So ask yourself this question: what are you going to do today, but more importantly, how are you going to do it?”Muscle Prodigy
So that was my biggest revelation and it’s changed the way I’ve attacked everything since. That extra bit of concentration and focus on each task has taken me further than anything thus far. Instead of trying to make a habit out of an action I honed in on making a habit out of how I approached every action.
I started to enjoy lifting weights and I remembered how much better I performed and thought when my diet was consistently clean. I also set clear goals for reasonable time periods and I make myself accountable for those goals to a wide audience for via various internet forums. It all feeds together and more than five years after I started: I finally get it. By the start of September 2012, I weighed less than I ever had before.
Above: Interviewing MW champion Chris Fields (Sep 2012)
Right: Post event in Jordan with Jim ‘The Beast’ Alers (Sep 2012)
There Is No Destination…
When I started out I had no idea what my goal weight may be. As I developed, a figure formed in mind. It was 190lbs (to allow me to compete in BJJ at 194lbs in the gi or MMA at 185lbs) and it always seemed so far off. But as I hit that figure (at time of writing this I’m 1lb shy!) I realise it means very little. Apart from the obvious tangible aspects such as lean mass and body fat percentages, it’s more about knowing that I’m not going to stop. This isn’t the end of the journey. It’s a significant milestone for sure but it doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s just a tool to help point the way. What I’m constantly learning about myself is far more important and far more exciting.
If you got this far and you’re still reading I’d like to thank you for your time. I won’t take much more of it.
Something I’ve come to believe is incredibly valuable is surrounding yourself with people who motivate you in positive manner. You are a product of the people you spend the most time with. To that end I made some hard choices along the way and purposefully severed ties with some friends or family who are stuck in a negative or confrontational mindset. I am however very fortunate to have found several groups of people in my life who do the exact opposite. They challenge me to do more or think more. They support me, challenge me and tell me I’m being an idiot when it’s appropriate. I am thankful for every single one of them, they know who they are.
I’ve put together a ‘Tips & Tricks’ page with some information that has helped me along the way and gives a slightly more detailed idea of how I go about my diet and exercise. Use it or don’t, the choice is entirely yours but that’s what worked for me. In any event if you want to make a change I encourage you to breath deeply, take the red pill and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes…