22 Jul

Off-Topic Tuesday: Embrace the Grind

Sometimes, I feel like having such varied interests works against me when it comes to making a brand out of myself. Also working against me? Not liking the idea of making a brand out of myself. The common wisdom, available in photoshopped images of lightning on mountains and tweets ending in #truth, says that I should just “be myself.” I try to run with that idea, but I think it sometimes leads to confusion.

Bruce Buffer - It's Time
“It’s TIIIME… to discuss preconceived notions about acceptable interests in geek culture.”

During a discussion of interests, someone I had only recently met through gaming circles said, “Oh, so you’re a bro.” I didn’t really know what that meant. After some thorough research –apparently, I must be a pretty nerdy “bro”– I was happy to learn that I was grossly misclassified. The source of the confusion? My disinterest in several popular science fiction and fantasy series combined with my interest in mixed martial arts. MMA is, apparently, “bro” territory.

Instead of launching into the “well your interests are dumb, too” death spiral that powers the internet, I’d rather explain one of the reasons why MMA speaks to the writer in me.

Embrace the Grind

Every morning I get up, pour a cup of coffee, and write. The best days feature work that pays, projects with contracts behind them. The hard days are putting words to paper in the hope that someday those words will make money. It’s very possible they won’t. But those dead words are training, they are the practice for the words that will matter.

Ronda Rousey Throw
UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey throws her training partner. Did I mention I drank a cup of coffee so far this morning?

Along with that first cup of coffee I wade through the heavily sorted lists of my Twitter account (through TweetDeck, for those interested). The day is young and most writers don’t seem to be out of bed yet. But the fighters are. The mixed martial artists I follow have eaten a breakfast healthier than anything I’m likely to touch all week. They’ve run for miles, lifted the equivalent of four me’s at a time, and gone nine rounds in a boxing ring with someone just as driven as they are. And they’ve done it all week long.

Me? I’ve finished my coffee.

Writing is hard. I tell myself that all the time. Sometimes I tell other people, too. Just like the “be yourself” common wisdom, there’s no shortage of quotes about the difficulty of writing. (Suspiciously, most of those quotes come from authors.) The difficulty, perceived or not, does not take away from my desire to do it, to succeed at it. If writing was easier, I’d do it. If it was harder, I’d do it.

When it comes to the men and women who fight in a cage for a living –or to try to make a living, “starving artist” applies to martial artists, too– I often hear the same thing. They pursue MMA careers because it’s what they want and, from nearly all of them, I hear the same mantra: “Embrace the grind.”

The same training, the same routine, day-in and day-out, all undertaken to perfect technique. I look to them and see the need to mimic that approach because every day is the same room, the same monitor, and the same need to hone an art until it looks effortless. Then, in those gleaming moments when it does look effortless, when it flows smoothly and fans replay that one moment –a perfect hook– in their minds, the effort of the grind simultaneously disappears and reveals itself.

Inspiration and Parallels

There’s a lot more to it than that. Beyond striving for the same level of motivation that allows someone to break a toe and continue to kick with a damaged foot for three rounds (I’m looking at you, Uriah Hall), I find inspiration in their stories and their perspectives.

“If you’re not going after you’re dreams, you just exist. You don’t want to just exist, you want to get the most out of life.”

Roxanne Modafferi
Meeting “The Happy Warrior,” Roxanne Modafferi, both a fighter and a “geek,” at UFC Media Day in Vegas. I don’t often smile like that.

Among mixed martial artists, there is no shortage of difficult lives that have been overcome, women and men who remain overwhelmingly positive in the face of incredible adversity, and just genuinely happy people who happen to like punching people for a living.

So, when I’m not finding inspiration in cutting edge science and shady politics for my writing, I’m finding inspiration from the human side of fighters. Occasionally, my Twitter feed will shift from #writing and #RPG to #UFC and #MMA. Sometimes, my eyes will glaze over when you discuss Dr. Who, and then I’ll become incredibly animated when a promo for the next fight card appears on the TV.

It’s OK, though.

Fandom is fandom, and there are a lot more parallels than you might think.

4 thoughts on “Off-Topic Tuesday: Embrace the Grind

    1. Much like roleplaying games, or science fiction, and so many other interests, I recognize that MMA will likely never appeal to everyone. For a lot of people (and understandably), violence is violence. I could go on about it, and I likely will occasionally return to the topic in later blog posts, but to stay on-topic about my interest itself:

      I periodically find myself explaining my interest, that it’s not for the sake of violence but in viewing it as an incredible art of self-discipline, self-motivation, and competition of body *and* mind. At times, the violence falls away completely and it becomes moves on a chessboard. Other times, I’m unashamed to admit, I see the violence at the fore and wince at a particularly hard strike or reflexively grab at my elbow or knee as I see someone deciding whether or not to submit to an arm- or knee-bar.

      Even more than I am, my wife is often called on to explain *her* interest in the sport, which easily rivals my own. As a writer and gamer, I’m only saddled with the “bro” classification at times, and I’m frequently given a pass because “writers are usually into weird things.” For her, as a woman and a business professional, the shock and disbelief is even more pronounced. (I will add that this reaction is *outside* of the MMA fandom. Internally, women are increasingly well-represented both inside and outside the octagon.)

      1. And it is always really fun when your special interests are ones you can share with your spouse. I think that’s something really neat about the modern world, we’re to a place where both people in the couple actually want to talk about a thing. (Not all their things typically, we’re multifaceted people, but normally at least a few big ones).

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