Training update – Luzzone Dam trip!

With the end of July approaching fast, things haven’t gone quite as smoothly as I’d have liked. Business has been hectic these last few weeks (I’m not complaining – please don’t stop booking in to see me!), but it’s meant a slow start to the training plan.

I got up to Awesome Walls in Stockport a couple of weeks ago, and caught up with a friend there for a few routes. The back wall there is 23m – a full 10 metres short of each pitch on the Luzzone Dam, but still a fair distance. A couple of climbs in, I was already struggling to feel my fingers. It turns out that climbing 33 metres is really not the same as climbing 11 metres three times – a fact I seem determined to keep forgetting. My endurance is definitely going to need some work.

Last week, we were down at Redpoint Worcester for another evening session. I can’t remember exactly how many routes we climbed, but it must have been a few, because I managed to take several chunks of skin off my hands.  Just as well I don’t need those for work or anything… (oh, wait…). Some days, I swear I’m held together mostly by stubbornness and sticky tape.

Then at the weekend, we managed to get outdoors with a few friends down in the Wye Valley. We had the kids with us too, so it wasn’t an opportunity for lots of serious climbing, but everyone had fun.

We’re definitely looking to up the pace over the next few weeks, though, both with the training and our fundraising efforts. To support us, visit our Just Giving page here, or help by spreading the word.

The tallest climbing wall in the world

Diga_LuzzoneI know things have been a bit quiet round here. I’ve been meaning to reboot this personal blog for a while, but now I have a good reason to. I’m mostly keeping a record so that in a few months time, when I’m inevitably wondering “why on earth did I let myself get talked into this?” I’ll have a reminder.

It started with a conversation with Steve about my birthday.

“We should do something for your 40th this summer.”
“Uh, ok…. what do you reckon? We could go climbing? We do that all the time though.”
“What about a really big climb?”

Luzzone Dam features the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world. Someone has bolted climbing holds to the face, making a route that’s 165 metres high in total – that’s just a bit taller than Blackpool tower, one and three quarters Statues of Liberty, or 11/20ths of an Eiffel Tower.

“We’re going to need some more gear…”

Well, it’s one way to celebrate a birthday! We started putting together a plan. We’re going to do it to raise money for Mind UK, the mental health charity. It’s a cause that means a lot to me – for reasons that I’ll explain in a future blog. (If you’d like to support us, then please visit our Just Giving page – all contributions greatly appreciated.)

Before committing to it, though, we decided to have a go at covering the distance to see how it felt, and to figure out just how much training we’re going to have to do before the end of July. So on bank holiday Monday we headed down to the local climbing wall to try a “mock up” of the climb. The Luzzone dam route goes from a slight incline, through to vertical, and then becomes overhanging at the top, so we picked ourselves some routes of a similar difficulty level to mimic this. 15 laps of the wall later and, forearms burning, it starts to dawn on me that this is not going to be any kind of walk in the park. In three months time, we’re going to have to be climbing harder routes, with less rest, carrying more gear. Not to mention the psychological factor – however many times I tell myself that being higher up actually makes you safer (less chance of hitting the ground if something goes wrong), it never quite feels like that when you’re 100 metres up on an overhang. Still, it’s a project. I like projects…

Tuesday night, we were still pretty tired when we got to our regular bouldering session. Steve and I managed some easy-ish circuits for endurance; meanwhile Monkey-Boy (who’s not coming with us on this trip, although he’d like to) was busy showing off on an eye-wateringly hard problem that was exhausting just to watch.

I’m planning to post some updates over the next few months about how training is going and the trip itself (which is planned for the end of July; the exact date will depend on weather conditions). We’re hoping to be able to video the climb for our supporters (we know the rules – video, or it didn’t happen!), and perhaps even provide a live stream if we can get the technical details sorted. Any help on that front would be appreciated!

The ultimate guide to preventing and treating MMA injuries

20160825_171514When I was offered a review copy of this book by Jonathan Gelber, M.D., I was skeptical; I’ve seen popular books on sports medicine done very badly in the past. I was keen to see how Gelber had approached it, though, so I agreed to take a look.

The book covers a wide range of topics, ranging from concussion and head injury, joint problems, skin infections, cuts and lacerations, and training advice for prolonging a fighter’s career. It’s aimed at those without a medical background and includes numerous quotes from fighters, stories and examples of scenarios drawn from MMA history that show that the author has certainly done his homework. Gelber’s experience within MMA is evident, and the advice he gives mostly consists of sensible best practice guidelines for numerous different issues, along with some rehabilitation and injury prevention exercises.
No book is a substitute for individual medical advice from a professional, of course; and while there’s plenty of useful information, it’s important not to apply it without a proper diagnosis, and to be aware that in places it only scratches the surface in many places (the sections on weight cutting and PEDs, for example, explain some of the dangers, but are a little thin on practical advice that a fighter can implement). This is inevitable in a book of this nature that’s aimed at the non-specialist reader, though. If you already know a fair bit about sports medicine you’ll find it a little basic, but the stories and anecdotes add plenty of interesting context that make it a worthwhile read.
On balance, I liked it. This is an excellent book for fighters and especially coaches looking to educate themselves about the medical aspects of MMA. It’s succinct, easily readable and gives a good starting point for a reader who wants to look further into any of these topics.

Life after fighting


Two years ago, I retired from MMA competition. My last fight was on Cage Warriors against now UFC champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk. I knew at the time that it was probably going to be my last outing; after 12 years in the sport, it was time to move on and do other things.

2016 has seen both the return of Cage Warriors to the UK, and TUF23 pitting Jedrzejczyk against Claudia Gadelha as the first pair of coaches from the women’s 115 lbs division. Three English women competed – Kate Jackson, Lanchana Green and Helen Harper. It’s a good time for European and women’s MMA, and it seems a good time to reflect on life after fighting.

As far as the MMA world is concerned, retirement is the end of the book. What happens after a fighter hangs up their gloves is something that we don’t generally give a lot thought to – often including the fighters themselves. An MMA career is a story in its own right, with its highs and lows, and we may forget that it’s just a chapter in something larger. Perhaps this is one of the reasons athletes find retirement so difficult; it’s seductive to keep chasing after that Hollywood ending (the one where we make another comeback, win a world title, and go out on a high) long after it makes any sense, because that’s how we want the story to finish.

In reality, though, the book doesn’t end there. Every fighter however famous or successful will, sooner or later, experience the point in their life when the cameras stop rolling, and the fans move on – but life continues regardless. There are still blank pages to be filled, whether we’ve thought about it or not.

“Do you miss fighting?”

I’m asked this question often, and yes, I do – all the time. There’s certainly plenty I don’t miss about the fight world. I don’t miss the politics of MMA, or trying to balance fighting and making a living, or sacrificing time with friends and family, missing out on celebrations and holidays. I don’t miss feeling constantly sore and exhausted from training, worrying about injuries, or having to train through pain when my body’s telling me to rest. But despite all that, there’s something about competing in MMA that nothing will ever quite replace for me.

I miss being in the gym with my team mates every day, being part of that team effort, and the sense of family that goes along with that. I miss the excitement of having a big fight coming up, the drive to train harder, being pushed to the limits of what I can do, and realising that I’m capable of more than I imagined. I miss the intensity of competition, the feeling just before a fight when everything is sharp and bright and I’m truly alive.

We find pieces of that in other places. Many former fighters coach, which brings its own unique rewards as well as being a substitute for what we miss. I still train jiu-jitsu, and have plans to start doing some grappling competitions again; it’s not all-consuming for me in the same way that MMA was, but it’s easier to balance with a career and family. Leaving the world of professional fighting behind has meant re-evaluating my relationship with the sport that consumed so much of my life, and looking again at what I love about it now that I’m away from the distraction of the big shows and fans and the media. I’m training for the sake of training, and not because I’ve got a fight coming up. This involves a whole different mindset that still seems alien at times.

The last couple of years have given me the opportunity to focus on some other things. Life is all about trade-offs. We have only a limited time on this planet, and there’s a lot to see and do in that time. Doing one thing to a high level means making sacrifices and giving up opportunities elsewhere. There’s a time for that, certainly, and I’m glad that I did; but I’m taking the chance now to explore other sports and learn some new skills. I’ve started climbing: there’s something about getting to the top of a hard route that I’ve been working on or being out on the rock, halfway up a cliff face, that pushes some of those same buttons that fighting once did. It’s not the same, of course, but it’s opened my eyes to a whole new set of challenges.

As a fighter, it’s easy to put off things that are important in the long term, but not as immediately attention grabbing as that fight coming up. Finances, long term plans, investing in the future – the boring stuff. Fighters are really good at delaying gratification, as long as it’s on an eight week schedule. Anything happening after fight day was on “the other side”; it might as well have been the distant future. Over the last few years of my fight career, I became aware of a growing list of things that I was avoiding dealing with: some practical, some personal. Perhaps, in a sense, being a professional fighter had become a way of running away. You can only postpone the future for so long, though, before it catches up with you.

Fighting is inherently a selfish pursuit – it has to be. It means focusing on what you need to do, putting your training and preparation first at times when you’d rather not. The sacrifices we make inevitably affect the people around us, and put a strain on families, relationships and friendships. It feels good, now, to be able to skip training sometimes and spend time with my partner instead, or to go and watch my son play football. I’m enjoying spending weekends with my family, or outdoors falling off a bit of rock instead of in a gym, sports hall or arena.

The relative stability since I stopped competing has been good for me, but even after two years I’m still adjusting to it. Fighting is about negotiating a series of crises; and to quote Chekhov “any fool can handle a crisis, it’s the day to day living that wears you out”. Fighting can be stressful, but that kind of stress is balanced by the simplicity of having a single minded focus. Get up, eat, go training; day to day decisions comes down to “will this help me win the fight?”. Everything centers around that one goal, and other stresses fade into the background. It’s tough, but simple; the sort of stress that comes in a definite form, with a straightforward plan of action: train until you’re too tired to worry about it, sleep, then train some more. Getting things done without the pressure of a fight to concentrate my mind is a skill I’m now having to work at; it turns out that after a decade of lurching from one adrenaline spike to the next, adapting to a more comfortable and sustainable routine doesn’t always come naturally.

I knew when I retired from MMA competition that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life looking backwards. It was a chapter of my life; one that I’m proud of, and that I learned a great deal from – but  I’m keen not to define myself by what I’ve done in the past. Part of the challenge of building a career away from the sport has been letting go, not clinging too tightly to what was or what might have been, but looking to what lies ahead. I’m fortunate to have a job that I love, that allows me to continue working with fighters and athletes as well as the general public. I’ve got a great relationship and family, I’m in the process of building a business and I’ve got plans that I’m excited about for the future. Life is good.

I know that this makes me one of the lucky ones. Being a professional MMA fighter is taking a gamble; however talented you are and however hard you work, there are no guarantees. For every fighter who is successful and walks away on their own terms, there are many, many more who sacrifice careers, relationships and physical health to the sport only to be left with little more than memories to show for it. Few MMA fighters get into the sport primarily for the money (there are certainly easier ways to earn it). We’re caught up in the adventure; young enough to feel that we’re indestructible and have all the time in the world – and it’s all too easy not to notice the other opportunities slipping by until it’s too late.

I think it’s helpful to look at a professional MMA career for what it is – a short segment of our lives, not all of who we are. If I were to offer any advice to someone starting out in the sport, it would be to put your heart and soul into it, for sure – more so, because you have a limited time to do it – but give some thought to what comes afterwards. Don’t neglect life outside fighting, because one day you’ll need it.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” – Ecclesiastes

Strength and conditioning for combat sports

2016 S&C for MMA.Final

As a few of you know, I’ve had some exciting projects in the pipeline recently. This is one of them. I’ve been working with the guys at KBTEducation to put together a strength and conditioning course specifically with the needs of fighters in mind. It’s aimed both at PTs and conditioning coaches who work with combat sports athletes, and combat sports coaches who want to update their S&C knowledge, or gain a recognised qualification. It’ll cover general conditioning principles, together with the sport specific knowledge to help you apply them.

This course might be for you, if you’ve ever wanted to know:

  • the fastest ways to make your fighters stronger and more powerful;
  • how to fit strength and conditioning work into your fighters’ training plans;
  • how to train for endurance that’s specific to the demands of MMA;
  • how to structure a fight camp so that your athlete peaks at just the right time, without overtraining;
  • how to train smart, to reduce the risk of injuries;
  • how to make sure your fighter doesn’t blow all the hard work by screwing up their weight cut;
  • plus lots more.

The first course is set for the 7/8th of May in the West Midlands, with more dates and venues to follow.

Places are going quickly – so have a look here for more information, or to book.

Another way life mirrors jiu-jitsu

There are some people you roll with who are focused on getting it right; they’re the technical guys and girls who’ll push you, but you always feel like you’re getting something out of it. If you’re training, they’ll be good training partners and if you’re competing they’ll fight hard but cleanly.

And then there are those who are more interested in winning every roll at all costs. When you train with them, there’ll be thumbs in eyes, flailing elbows, fingers bent backwards. Any time they feel vaguely threatened, they’ll go mental and do their best to drop you on your head. They’re not usually terribly effective – at least, not against anyone good (although they’ll be the first to tell you about who they’ve tapped in training) because they never put their ego to one side long enough to actually learn anything. But even when you win, you come away with bruises and niggly injuries, feeling like you’ve just wasted 5 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.

Dealing with people in general seems much the same; attitudes towards personal and professional relationships seem to fall into the same two categories. Life is much better when you pick your sparring partners carefully.

Time for a clear out

2015-07-27 15.11.30The last year has seen a lot of changes for me. Since I retired from MMA in 2014, I’ve been busy figuring out what I want the rest of my life to look like, getting my osteopathy business running smoothly, and making a start on some new projects.

One of those projects is to do a lot more writing. With that in mind, I’ve been doing a bit of clearing out and renovating on this old blog – a lick of paint here, some tiles there, maybe a rug or two. I’ll go through and re-blog a few of my old articles (suggestions welcome); but mostly the plan is to focus on some new ideas and directions.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to do things better – playing sports, recovering from injury, getting stronger, learning new skills, critical thinking, relationships, parenting, politics, life in general. That’s reflected in much of what I write. If I bumped into a version of my eighteen year old self in an alternate universe, it’s the sort of thing I might chat to her about over a coffee or four.

Bear with me while I get things up and running – more to come soon! In the meantime, my professional website for my osteopathy work is here.