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season 2 - episode 4

     I think it's really important for us to be balanced, and to find ways to be able to express what's important to you. We don't always get to choose, and we're not always lucky enough to be doing something and being paid for it, something that's very meaningful to you. Part of it has to do with how you plan your life, how you plan your career and what you're actually trained to do - on top of how I think we just change as people over time.


I think it's important to have that space in your life that can take care of some of those other needs. I definitely have noticed also that in Taiwan, and maybe this has to do with my parents, hobbies are really not seen as very important. You can't do something for the intrinsic pleasure and the reward that you get from just doing that activity and exploring a different part of you. If you're not the best, it's often not seen as being worthwhile. You're using up time and energy that could be focused on what would actually matter to my parents: career and making money and having a family and those types of things.


As I was growing up, as my brother was growing up, I feel that we had to educate our parents as well about the culture and the environment that we were growing up in: the American educational system, and living in the States, and the things that our friends were doing ; and how to meet those expectations that my parents had, while at the same time trying to live the way that we wanted to live - being immigrants, but still being Americans.


I apologize that you'll hear some extra sounds, maybe some whining and some playing: my dog is trying to get my attention. Hopefully we'll be able to work around that!


     Judo is really interesting for me, considering the journey and how I got to this point. I started out wanting to do sports and styles that only cared about results. There are no ranks in boxing, there are no ranks in Thai boxing. There are no ranks in things like wrestling. You're just good or you're not. You compete. You can't go to the gym and just hit the heavy bag. I would never say that I'm a boxer just doing those things, unless I actually competed with someone in a boxing ring under boxing rules. What I think is really valuable in that, is that it's about your performance, and it's not about some arbitrary measures, it's not about someone else saying to you "oh, you did a good job". It's just... It is what it is. It's very objective. It's very much: let's look at what the results are.


So when I came back to Taiwan, I was still training Brazilian ju-jitsu. I had intended to continue training Brazilian ju-jitsu, but for some work related reasons and limitations, I had to do something other than jiu-jitsu, because jiu-jitsu is still a fairly expensive sport. And I had always been interested in judo, although there were certain parts of it that I was unsure about: the more traditional nature of its structure, being a more traditional martial art, it's an Olympic sport, it's been around for a really long time, it's very regimented. But also here in Taiwan, I'm able to get a much closer experience to what Japanese judo looks like, or what it might look like to train judo in Japan, because of Taiwan's history as a Japanese colony. That part of it has been very rewarding for me, in trying to explore my own background and heritage here in Taiwan, since I spent so much time living in the States.


Judo for me, does a lot of important things. It starts from just physically how I feel. A lot of combat sports are going to end up being a mixture of anaerobic and aerobic activity, but a lot of bursts of anaerobic activity. I think that inherently, as someone who's kind of lazy, it's really important for me to be in an individual combat sport, where I can't really necessarily rely on my teammates, or I can't just accept that - oh, I'm just going to lose, end it's a matter of having less points. Putting myself on the line, if I start to slack off, I might get hurt! I think that's the kind of stakes that me, personally, just my own personality, I need to be pushed, to physically be exerting myself that much. So I think physically it starts with that.


And then also I think that the community tends to attract people who really enjoy these types of activities, but when they're actively engaging in them regularly, they tend to be pretty laid back as well. With the egos that people can sometimes have, especially when you're doing really competitive physical activities, to just be around people who are generally not as invested in proving that they're tough (I'm talking about outside of the training space)... These are the people who I'd rather be at a bar with, like a couple of people who are not going to take an insult as a personal attack that they have to defend and then go off and get into some crazy fights that I'm now peripherally pulled into as well. I'd much rather be with people who, first of all, actually can fight, and then, second of all, tend not to want to. So I think that those are all the things that are really important to me and that I do get out of judo.


But I don't think it has to be judo. I think I could get those same benefits at a good boxing gym or at a good jiu-jitsu gym as well.


Boxing to me was always seen as... Or, let me say this: when I was younger and I would watch boxing, there was very little understanding in what was happening and I didn't really respect it. I think the general view is that these are two brutish men who are big and strong, maybe, but not thinking. I think that on one level, there's the way that it looks, and there's this idea that we're cultured and that we're civilized and we're above this level of violence, maybe. But I do think that intrinsically, beyond me just finding fighting to be something that is a fun thing to do, there is a little bit more value in the physical confrontation part of it. That part maybe is a little bit hard for some people to talk about, but something that my friend likes to say a lot, is that violence underwrites all of civilization. Without the threat of violence, we don't have order. That's essentially what law enforcement or your military says: you're going to follow all of our rules because if not, we can take all these things away from you by force. It'll start with fines and fees and things like that, but it'll progress to: we'll take away your independence, we'll lock you up, we'll kill you even, right? There are some governments who will do that. And I think that it's also probably a mistake to forget about the state that our world is in, because in a very strange way, when I've mentioned that I box or I do jiu-jitsu or I do judo to strangers who don't, that makes some people uncomfortable, and some people will challenge you, and some people will make strange comments and say things like: I bet I could beat you. Because it's a fear and it's an insecurity in a lot of men's concepts of their identity, as opposed to someone who said: oh, I'm a professional golfer. No one would comment and even pretend to think that they could hit a ball further or more accurately than you could! No one feels challenged in that way, as far as their ego goes or their identity as a man. But having someone who maybe doesn't look intimidating or who isn't larged and strong, who now you're worried: maybe this person could physically hurt me or make me do certain things that I don't want to do... I think that's a very risky idea for people to accept... In the way that they see themselves, especially in the context of society - and I think that may have been one of the more important things and valuable things that you definitely learn. It is an understanding that you don't know what a person is capable of. You don't know if they've trained or not. So, one, it makes you respect anyone regardless of how they look, because you really don't know what kinds of skill sets they have, and two, you also realize that in a physical confrontation, there's a lot of things that are not controlled. And it doesn't really matter if you're the better fighter or not, sometimes if you're fighting on concrete, or if they have three friends who are going to hurt you once you're on the ground, or something like that... Those types of confrontations are not really worth it. And I don't think a lot of men will learn that until they've been placed in these situations. Yes, you can learn these things outside on the street or something like that, but there are so many more risks involved, right? So I think that that's something that can be helpful, and it can make all the people around us and the way that we interact with each other, much more directed towards what's important, and not having to deal with people's insecurities and egos and things like that.


It's something that, maybe, I identified with in terms of trying to figure out how to be a strong individual, but not a bully. To be someone who's strong and not a victim, but not a bully either, and how to project that in the right balance. I think that's what it is. So balance is, like, a big thing, and I think it's good for people to have exposure to these situations and these environments. That's why I think the sports are so important, because then it's under a controlled setting, where the safety is emphasized and is important, and you have a coach, and you have rules, and you have ways for things to stop before they get to a point that's dangerous.


This is one of the things about Brazilian ju-jitsu or judo. It exists in both, but it's really more of a thing in ju-jitsu, because it is the only way that you end a competition or a match is the tapping, that exists. Tapping is to say: I submit. Tapping just means: something is wrong, something might be getting more dangerous, and I want to stop. That is very powerful and it allows, for the aliveness of grappling, and specifically for Brazilian ju-jitsu, to have increasing resistance. So you're training against resistance, but with this safety valve, with this agreement between the two of you, that you've consent into this exercise, but the moment you tap, you are taking it all away. You're saying: I'm done with this, and I'm not doing it anymore, and you have to stop. So that part of it allows you to go really hard and to figure out whether or not you can execute techniques and strategies against a fully resisting opponent. But, still... With this mechanism that allows you to be fairly safe, does it prevent all injuries? No, not at all. There are definitely some techniques and submissions that maybe happen too fast, or some things, that you may be in a certain scenario where the bodies are falling, and momentum and gravity and someone does get hurt, that happens.

Even in boxing, when you're being relatively controlled and you're working with someone who is your training partner, who you're not trying to hurt, you're still punching each other in the face where you're getting hit. And there's an inherent amount of damage that happens there with that... Bringing all this up to say that as I started to participate in it and as I started to understand the nuance and the strategies and the techniques, I understood that it was much more complicated than how it was portrayed. And I think that the more aggressive or the more that there is risk within the activity, the less that part of you has to be expressed in an unhealthy way.


This is part of what I think is so important about martial arts. And this is part of what I think is so valuable about having someone go and, in a controlled setting and environment, find out whether or not in a physical confrontation with someone else, what's going to happen, whether or not you would win or you would lose.


I think that combat sports is an excellent outlet for people who don't know how to manage some of these instincts and feelings and issues that they have. My experience has been - some of the best fighters that I've known, including professional fighters, are the most calm and peaceful and least violent people, because they know what they're capable of, so they don't have anything to prove. And they also understand the nature of violent confrontation and how little control you have over a lot of these things.


     My experience with combat sports... I think that an easy place to divide the two would be in striking styles ; I guess you could just say there are striking styles and striking sports and then there's grappling sports, right?


Striking is what you would think. So it's punching and kicking, maybe using elbows and knees and things like that, or headbutts with less restrictions. And then grappling are things like throws and trips and pins and basically not hitting someone. And so striking sports are things like kickboxing and boxing, karate, taekwondo (태권도). Grappling sports are things like judo and wrestling, shuāijiāo (摔角 / 摔跤), tai chi / tàijí (太极拳)...

There is a little bit of a difference between the two, in terms of how close you end up with your partners and your opponents. I do think that grappling sports require a closer amount of contact and so there's a certain intimacy there, especially with the people that you're training with all the time. And the most contact is probably something like wrestling or Brazilian ju-jitsu, where there's a lot of pins and you're really just skin on skin, if you're not wearing something with a barrier, like a gi (着), the uniform, or even just a compression clothing or a T shirt or pants or something like that.


And so I think that that's a good thing, as far as getting physical contact between people, there's this level of connection that you can get with someone, especially when you're a modern Westernized man, often does not always have opportunities in their lives to have healthy physical contact with someone outside of, say, a sexual context. There's something missing, it's sad, I think it's very sad.

This is something actually, I would say even more in Taiwan, that are... I know people, they don't know the last time they hugged their parents. It's something that I think in my family, we forced my parents to start to be okay with it, to this physical intimacy and this expression of love - it's still a little bit weird for them, and we just kind of make them do it because I think it's good. I think it's important. I would never want, at the end of the day, if something happened to my family, to have felt like they didn't get that expression from me or they didn't know how I felt, that I feel that I really care about them.

And so I do think that wrestling and ju-jitsu allows for that development of physical contact with other people in a really healthy way, and that level of trust as well, is a secondary benefit, but maybe is one of the more important things that you can get from it. But yeah, I think that there is an underlying need for all of us. It's a human need to be connected to people and to touch them and to know that we're here together in this experience, whatever it is, for our time here, really... in more philosophical way.

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