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Assessment, Engagement, Opinion

Mixed Martial Arts and Life-Long-Learning

What we can learn from Mixed Martial Arts

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Henry is training to fight in a cage for a living. This new piece of knowledge sits in front of me disconnected from everything I know.

“Don’t you get hurt?” I ask in total incomprehension. What I want to ask is, how can you take pleasure in hurting others? How can you feel the crunch of bone on bone and feel anything but horrified?

“Yeah, you get hurt,” he answers. Obviously, he and I feel differently about pain.

brookemooreblogphoto

Henry is training to fight in a cage for a living. This new piece of knowledge sits in front of me disconnected from everything I know.

“Don’t you get hurt?” I ask in total incomprehension. What I want to ask is, how can you take pleasure in hurting others? How can you feel the crunch of bone on bone and feel anything but horrified?

“Yeah, you get hurt,” he answers. Obviously, he and I feel differently about pain.

“So why do you do it?” my mother asks. We’re sitting in the kitchen of my sister’s neighbors’ place in San Francisco. They’re cooking a delicious Belizean dinner and there is laughter and noise as their family members and mine jostle around the table of food, reaching for seconds and thirds. We’ve just met and there is an easy comfort. But then my mom asks Henry this question and all of that falls away as I am confronted with this person whose passion for fighting I have never understood or, shamefully, sought to understand.

“I fight to challenge myself. To strengthen my mind. It’s not about the limits of my body, it’s about finding the limits of my mind and then learning new limits. An idea I live by is this – ‘the road to perfection is endless; therefore, I seek perfection.’”

Oh.

“But don’t you get hurt?” I can’t get over this idea of pain – receiving or inflicting.

“Yes, but it’s not about pain. The goal is to get the other guy to tap out, not to hurt him. Some guys don’t tap out when they should. They’re too stubborn.”

Does Henry tap out? my mother asks.

Henry meets her eyes and says, “Yes. Getting me to the place where I have to tap out is one of the best things that someone can do for me. I look for that experience because it means I have an opportunity to learn and I can improve.”

I take out my phone and start making notes. He looks for failure so he can learn??!!!! He looks for failure so he can learn.

Henry is very good at what he does. He got into mixed martial arts because he was athletic but not good at kicking a ball or dribbling down the court. He needed to compete but he wanted to go up against his competitor alone. He wanted to challenge his mind in a battle against himself as well as his opponent. He is twenty-two and he doesn’t drink or smoke; he isn’t involved in gangs; he eats to fuel his body and is therefore specific about his diet. It’s a way of life and at the core of this lifestyle is constant and deliberate learning.

In addition to welcoming failure as his teacher, Henry surrounds himself with experts in yoga, meditation, and philosophy. He actively searches for different ways of understanding and knowing the world so he can move more deeply in his own. When he had a martial arts teacher who wasn’t good at the art of feedback, Henry started filming himself, looking for opportunities to improve his skill. This constant self-reflection requires dedication and discipline, characteristics that mean the difference between winning and losing a match.

When I see ultimate fighting on TV it’s only by mistake and only for as long as it takes me to change the channel. It’s bloody and violent and makes me cringe, but Henry has shown me another way to see this sport. I’m not saying that I will ever be able to watch it, but it turns out Henry has a lot to teach me – and the education system – about learning.

***EXCITING NEWS: Henry Young has agreed to speak at TEDxWestVancouverEd on May 11th, 2013. The theme is Rethinking Education. Follow @TEDxWestVanED for more information or follow or go to http://www.tedxwestvancouvered.com.***