A Relentless Life
For the last 30 years, the World Thai boxing Oregon Camp is held in the temperate forests of Oregon. I spoke with several people including Ajarn Chai, the grandmaster of the WTBA, who said it could be the last year of the camp. I wanted to go. I felt I needed to go. So I made plans and sacrifices and went. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with Guro Jessica and the PRIDE crew from OKC.
This year it was outside of Canby, Oregon. This is a beautiful suburb south of Portland. You drive through rolling hills and past flowing rivers as you arrive at Molalla River State Park.
The Pacific Northwest is suffering a heatwave this year. 90-100+ temperatures were the average. A lot of battling heat cramps and dehydration this year. This is not the norm.
The camp itself is set up by the WTBA members in Portland, run by Ajarn Jeremy Wijers. It transforms the camp from an everyday state park to a setup similar to what you might see in Thailand. Heavy Bags are hung on temporary structures and shelters are setup with picnic tables.
A day of camp begins at 0730 with a warmup and run. Then a combo is generally taught. Ajarn Brian Popejoy would work with us on footwork. Basic footwork. Experts and Champions are people who perform the basics automatically and at a high level so they can think about strategy. We might do a rotation of stations at this time. That would mean breaking into groups of 20 as there were 150+ Nak Muay there. They came from as far away as Australia and Canada and Mexico!
8 stations. 4 rounds each.
1) Shadow boxing
2) Shadow Boxing
3) Thai Pad combo work
4) Thai Pad combo work
5) Timing Sparring
6) Timing Sparring
7) Clinch with Ajarn Greg Nelson
8) Heavy Bags
This would be supplemented with the whole group getting together with clinch sparring in groups of three, or long knee walking up a hill.
Breakfast at 1030-1100 gave us a chance to rest. Then a boxing section with Ajarn Leonard Trigg. He has so much knowledge about the sport of boxing and its application that it is amazing. Then another rotation. Lunch break and then another rotation. Dinner would end the day around 7:30 or 8’o clock.
Sometimes we would only do seven stations. At other camps we would do multiple rotations. The heat at this camp made that dangerous. We had several with deep muscle cramps, myself included, but no one that I know of left for heat exhaustion.
There were so many lessons I got out of this camp. Here are a few that stood out to me:
The benefit in working a small group of things.
Our combos had the same techniques and sequence but would change depending on what initiated. One time it would be our kick that started the sequence. The next it would be the opponent’s kick that started the sequence. Changes were incremental to allow us to remember the combo. This allowed us to play with the timing and avoid “boredom” but still get many reps. Being able to apply a few skills in as broad a variety of circumstances as possible is a great attribute to have on many levels.
Benefit in having specific objectives: Be Healthy, Train Smart, Be Healthy
Ajarn Justin Markus, who is a part of Living Muay Thai, would ask if you were early to his station a question. “What is your objective?” Being specific about what you want from a training session, a martial art or relationship can greatly improve how you interaction. Having fun can be a goal. Will that goal help you get better? Do you want to get better?
My objective became, ”Be Healthy. Train Smart. Be Healthy.” Every session I wanted to focus on what I could do to be healthy. That sometimes meant taking a break. It meant getting hydration. It meant hitting hard enough to meet the instructors’ objectives but not hard enough to injure myself. As a martial artist in my 50s who is “somewhat” competitive I tried not to compete against the 20 year old guy doing elite competitive Muay Thai. This objective was passed on to several who needed to get through the week to test. It could be the thing you need to keep training.
The power of multiple experts pouring into you
There were so many people that had expertise in so many fields. Not just different aspects of Muay Thai, but whole different arts. Everyone that taught (and many different training partners) poured as much as they could into everyone. They also had the humility to say “That’s not me. He’s the man you want to talk to.”
We only have so much time with friends, instructors and family
Ajarn Chai announced that this is probably his last camp. This breaks my heart. This event will probably go on. The Godfather of American Muay Thai just may not be physically present. He may come by. He may Zoom in. But he probably won’t be there.
We only have so much time with friends, instructors and family. We all move on. One way or another, we all stop interacting with each other.
Love and live this moment. Cherish the time with friends, instructors and family. If you are lucky, some people are all three.
by Gavin Dickson
How long have you been involved in MMA?
GBB: Since 1992 (the UFC started in 1993)
What interested you?
GBB: Martial arts tend to specialize in a particular range or method. A blend of martial arts to make me more well-rounded and capable appeals to me.
Who are your mentors or those you look up to?
GBB: In martial arts, my instructors. Dan Inosanto, protégé of Bruce Lee, who at 85, still trains and pursues excellence in the martial arts. Terry Gibson, who introduced me to my instructors and showed me how to chase your goals even through adversity. He had brain cancer and eventually lost that battle 15 years after they told him he would be dead. Chai Sirisuite, who introduced Muay Thai to America and has taught me Thai boxing and about life. Harley Elmore, who has been a friend and mentor throughout my journey and pushes me to excellence in the technical aspects of the arts and makes me stay focused on the practical. Christopher Sayoc Sr. who influenced the way I think in the short period of time I knew him and continues to influence me through his art and instructors that he trained.
In the sport itself, I admire Erik Paulson, who was a pioneer in the sport, and Greg Nelson. Both are good people, good coaches, and great examples.
What made you decide to start instructing?
GBB: I originally taught traditional martial arts at the request of parents who didn’t have access to the arts in small-town Oklahoma. I continued as a way to build training partners. I eventually found that training people to be better and more capable was my calling.
Do you ever feel the art is too violent?
GBB: For what? Are we talking about the sport? Are we talking about preparation for personal protection? To answer both those questions, no. I feel that the sport of MMA should take care of Fighters both during and after their career. If we’re talking about personal protection, how violent is the world? We need to be prepared for at least that level of violence.
How do you feel about groups like the UFC?
GBB: The UFC is a business that sells entertainment. As a result, their goal is to make money. They have done that well. I don’t know if the sport of MMA is representative of the standard idea of martial arts discipline and respect.
How do you feel MMA has benefited you?
GBB: It has kept me fit in mind and body, in a time when many of my contemporaries are less capable in their lives because of inactivity. It has provided a number of relationships with friends and mentors that I would not have otherwise. It provides a needed retreat mentally from the day to day. It is hard to think about anything else when someone is trying to take your head off. It’s surprising how therapeutic that can be.
What have been disadvantages?
GBB: It is hard for me to imagine disadvantages. Some people would say injuries. I find that we all are going to accumulate scars throughout our life. My scars tell stories that I am proud of. I don’t know if I could be as proud if I couldn’t walk in my old age because I sat down and watched Netflix.
Do you think MMA should be learned by everyone?
GBB: The sport of MMA? No. The sport isn’t for everyone. I do believe that learning how to defend oneself and not be physically controlled is a life skill as important as cooking, swimming, or driving. Everyone should make themselves as capable as possible in this arena.
What would be your advice for those that are wanting to begin the journey?
GBB: Approach the journey as a marathon. It is not a sprint. Find good coaches/mentors who have the approach and the ethics that you think best matches yours. Show up. Do what you’re told. Work hard.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. — Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
The world is a complicated place with a variety of problems that people face. As much as I would like to, I am not able to pick when I face a problem. It makes sense for me to try to be competent in a variety of things.
We have all heard the old saw: “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” As students of multiple martial systems, people try to apply this to us. If we were just boxing in a street fight, that might be so. If we were just grappling that might be so. Physical encounters, outside of ring sports, have multiple components that we might have to be good at. We may have to verbally confront/deflect before deciding that we are getting ready to be punched and enter the clinch while just at that moment seeing that they have a knife in their hand. We need skill sets in all these areas. This doesn’t excuse us from seeking mastery in one or more of these areas but we need to be able to realistically train for the possibility of all the above.
While I am seeking at least base competency in all these areas, I might get beat in competition against a specialist in one of these arenas. I might lose a BJJ match. I might lose rounds to a boxer. If what I am seeking is resilience in life and the myriad of problems it can throw against me, I accept this as a possibility. I take the competition loss as a learning experience and move on. I know I am looking for competence first and mastery second.
There are studies that show that this approach leads to being not just better in a fight but less injury prone in athletics. I want you to read that as “less injury prone.” Life is an athletic endeavor. We use our bodies to move us around this world and do the fantastic things we want to talk about. Challenge the instrument that you play in the symphony we call “Life.”
A study commissioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations showed that single sport athletes are 70% more likely to suffer an injury that are multi-sport athletes. Multi-sport athletes enjoy better performance success and see lower injury rates than single sport athletes. In the 2018 NFL draft, 29 out of 32 first round picks were multi-sport high school athletes. These studies imply that our mixing of arts isn’t just better for our self-defense but for the development of our young athletes as well.
We need to move in a variety of directions with a combination of pushing and pulling to have a capable body. The variety of movements that our arts provide includes striking in multiple disciplines using different parts of the body to controlling/pulling motions from Muay Thai, Silat and grappling. It includes the circular motions from the use of weapons and the groundwork of Silat and the grappling arts. The range of motions and strengths that we develop resemble the broad spectrum of problems that we could face in our day to day lives as well as in a personal protection encounter.
I want to do what I want for as long as I want. This requires that I move my body in as many different ways as possible - pushing motions, pulling motions, hinging motions, aerobic activity and getting up off of the ground. I am thankful to be involved in a multiple discipline study of martial arts that involves all of these things.
Specialization helps you succeed within a narrow window. Generalization helps us have more options within the huge array of things that life can throw at us. By learning a broad range of things and becoming competent we become more capable to succeed. Train to thrive and not just survive.
We live in an anxious world. While you may not be anxious (if so, you are in a growing minority) most of the world is. It seems that the 24-hour news cycle, instantly available wherever you are due to smartphones, is driven to introduce a new unsolvable crisis to us minute by minute. This background emotion of anxiety affects not just us, but our kids. A study published in Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics in April 2018, found that in just five years, anxiety-disorder diagnoses among young people had increased 17 percent. Anxiety is also shown to be one of the major contributors to more serious psychological problems.
The question becomes: What can we do about it?
A major contributor to anxiety is a feeling of lack of control. We need to build in ourselves and our children a sense of self-determination. We desire to be in charge.
The Stoics said there are only two things: What we can control and what we can't. Anxiety comes from not knowing which is which. The Stoics were saying our reactions to the world are all we can control for certain. They also advocated making things happen in the world. Here are three things that we can do to help our kids and make us feel like our actions make a difference.
11 1. Progressive resistance
To do 50 pushups in a row is a good physical goal. It is something that all junior black belts must do. Here is the thing - no one starts at 50 pushups. They start with sets of 5. Gradually that becomes sets of 10. Each belt in the kid’s curriculum adds 5 more pushups and leg lifts to the number required. By the time they get to Jr. Black Belt, the pushups are challenging but doable. This same approach works with decision making and life skills. Let's look at how this model is applied.
We have always felt that we want our kids to be “independent people of good character who realize that their decisions affect other people.” How do you make independent kids? You let them be independent a step at a time. You start with small things with little risk and gradually build to bigger things. This helps them move to the things that they will need to do on their own. These approaches are not quick or easy fixes. The following are some examples. You may have different examples. Let me know what your favorite way to do this is.
Grocery store trips are great for this. Have the kids go get something from down the aisle or another aisle. Have them pick the cheapest item or the best item. If they pick the wrong item, tell them why you would like a different choice. Be as positive as you can with them. Affirm good choices. Your goal is to build confidence. This will also help when they turn of driving age, and you send them for the thing you forgot for dinner. They know where things are in the grocery store and can go get them. If possible, send them with cash, so they stay on a budget. This will pay dividends when they make their first trips to Walmart in college and when first setting up a house.
Navigating on the car trip can be a phenomenal skill set that has little cost in time. While coming to the martial arts school, turn your cell phone GPS on with Relentless Martial Arts as the destination. Just have them read it turn by turn. Have them help look for the streets. You don't have to follow their directions if they get turned around or do something silly. You know the way there. Guide them gently and calmly as the GPS re-routes them. Sooner or later have them navigate you there without the GPS. You can also have them use the GPS to take you to a place you are familiar with, but they aren’t. As they get better, they can help navigate on road trips. The ability to navigate with GPS and later with a map will help them for a lifetime.
You may have noticed that we have a lot of student-led activities at RMA. I have led the kids through the exercises that they lead many times when I ask them to teach. They will get immediate feedback from the other kids by inattention or unruly behavior if they stray too far from the formulas. They will get feedback from me as well. They need practice in leadership. It is so low risk to allow them to demonstrate or teach a kickboxing 4 count. I am present if it goes off the rails. I observe their management skills and can praise them. Believe me when I say, that letting them teach is one of the hardest things I do but it pays off.
22 2. Be Realistic
I volunteered at one time to be a school resource officer. One of the jobs was to teach life skills classes to elementary and middle school kids. During my classes, the number of kids that were future NFL/NBA/Pop Stars was enormous. My job was not to crush dreams. The curriculum I used focused on the same progressive resistance model to help kids develop goals. If a kid followed the model we put out, they were bound to be successful whether or not they were a Sportsball star. We started by breaking down that everyone has the same amount of time in their day. There are tasks that they must do. These included school, family activities, chores. We then started comparing how they spent their time to how the stars spent time. Many still wanted to “live a normal life.” Often many kids still insisted that they would do the things required. We then began to ask how many NFL players came from the same middle school class. Often the realization of the difficulty of those careers began to dawn on them. It isn't just the amount of work that separates the great from the not so good.
Passion plus time on task, enabled by progressive goal setting, is a good formula for success.
SMART goals are important - the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. (Hint: Homework generally follows the above principles.)
If you are not working towards the goals, this may not be what they really want to do. I found that often the kids wanted the money or the prestige (often the love) that they thought the careers would give them. We tried to show kids that there were plenty of jobs that helped them make enough money to reach their real goals of financial security and love from a group of people.
If you want your kid to be a doctor and they want to be a zookeeper, let them be a zookeeper. Your passion for the medical profession is not theirs. Realize that they can have the things that you believe the job provides in a place that feeds their passion and serves their calling. We need to be realistic in goals for our children. That includes not just thinking about their potential but their passion.
This leads into the last point:
3. Let there be "I"
We love our kids. We want the best for them. We cared for their every need when they were infants. One of the hardest things we can do as parents is letting go. We need to let there be “I.”
We aren't applying for college. She is applying for college.
We didn’t make the football team. He made the football team.
She made the A or she made the F. He got a great SAT/ACT or he needs to take it again.
We share in their successes and failures. They are responsible for them. There are only 2 ways to get to this in a way that doesn't break our hearts or kill them. Trust them and let them fail.
Craig Groeschel said that there is only one way to learn to trust someone. He said to be careful to write it down.
Trust them. Give them a goal. Don't give them a task with step by step, micromanaging and helicoptering. Give them a task and let them do it. If they have the skill sets needed, tell them to do whatever it takes to get it done. Tell them you trust them to get it done. Give them feedback. Be as constructive as possible. Let them do it until it is successfully completed.
Wow, this is hard. It might not be as hard as the next thing though.
Let them fail. Let them fail in the small things. Let them fail in something that you don't have the final say in. Homework. Running out of gas in their first car. Not making the cut because they didn’t practice or train enough. Self-taught lessons are often the best ones. The earlier they experience setbacks, the sooner they can learn to deal with them. There is at least one thing all of us taught our kids where we followed the model. When they learned to walk.
We had to watch them struggle. We had to watch them fall. We created an environment where it wouldn't damage or kill them if they fell. We knew instinctively that they had to fall to learn to walk. If we made their life easy by always bringing them things, they would stop trying. We want them to walk and then run. We want them to be successful human beings.
During our last camp out, I asked the kids to individually make a one match fire. I made it a race. They gathered fuel. They could use a knife to make a feather stick or tinder. They had full autonomy to do the task after some guidelines and suggestions. I asked them to play with fire. There was no safer place for them to do it. They could burn themselves, but we would save them from serious injury. They could not get a fire started and fail.
Almost every kid got a fire started with just 1 or two matches. In less than 10 minutes from go. I expected to use cheats like cotton balls with petroleum jelly or alcohol hand sanitizer. No kid needed it. We just trusted them to get the job done after seeing they had made preparations.
The mission statement of Relentless is Building Better Heroes. Heroes overcome obstacles. If we remove their obstacles, we are taking away their chances to grow into the person they can become. Let them fail at the things that they can afford to. Create opportunities to practice being an individual. Let the tasks be difficult but doable. Give them the goal setting skills and the passion to create their own world.
Recently I was asked to go on a combination moose hunt and sightseeing excursion to Palmer Alaska. The moose hunt would require hard four wheel ATV travel for 3 miles and difficult hiking for 3 miles to a hunting camp. We would be required to carry everything we need. That included shelter, water filters, food, clothing and hunting gear. We could be required to shoot and potentially stalk a 1500–2000 pound animal. We would then have to field dress it, and pack the meat and our equipment out. Tuhon Harley Elmore, who invited Lisa and I, described it as very difficult. He had been years previous and while the trips were worthwhile challenges, they had not yet killed a moose. He invited us and then said,” if you come, be ready.”
I speak regularly about the need to challenge ourselves. I talk about the forging power of hardship. I also bring up how shared hardship builds bonds. I couldn’t say no.
It is one thing to prepare for an event that might happen. It is another thing altogether to prepare for something with a date. It is like saying “I will get married someday” versus saying “I will get married on June 19th.” The intensity difference between “I might want to take a Muay Thai match” and “I fight on November 12th” is orders of magnitude. When you place a challenge and a date on an event such as this, it becomes real.
This trip of around one week was amazing. Alaska is a magnificent place to see. The scale of it amazes. That mountain “over there about 500 yards” turns out to be miles away. Things that are normally easy take much more effort because of the isolation of much of the state. It really is like living in a different country. In one of the native tongues, Alaska means “Great Land.” That is not an overstatement.
After a long flight, our team of hunters came together. The team was made of some of Tuhon Harley’s longtime friends. Most of our spouses came to sightsee during our journey and afterward. The hunters were Tuhon Harley, Greg Macpherson, Bobby Nash and me. Although I grew up in the country, I was the least capable hunter of the group. We loaded up mid-morning and headed up the mountain.
Our friend and host, Jonathan Jester, had gotten hurt seriously 2 weeks prior to our trip. This meant he could not do much of the preparation that he had done for the group in years past. He said that the four wheeler portion was the only part that he was concerned with.
Jonathan is so much of an optimist he makes me look like Debbie Downer.
The four wheeler trip up the mountain was challenging. Two men were riding on each four wheeler. Often the passenger would have to dismount in order for the driver to get up the very steep hill or through mud that was of uncertain depth. This portion of the trip was 3 miles.
The next part was the hike. All of us tried to limit the weight of our packs to 40 lbs. I don’t think any of us made that goal. The terrain was like a 70-degree incline in many spots. The trails were like a 50 yard steep river bank. They were composed of slick black mud and silt. Sometimes you would just slide down 5 feet when we had just made it up 4 feet. We started talking about it as if we were running sprints. “Just make it to the next light pole.” “Just make it to the next mailbox.” We would make our next objective and rest some. It was a very demanding hike.
Camping is not hunting. Hunting is not camping. We made a hunters camp. It was not designed for comfort. It was designed to keep us comfortable enough to hunt effectively.
Water was a 30 minute walk down a mountain, 30 minutes of pumping from a mossy bog and 30 minutes walking up the mountain.
If you didn’t have the right gear, the right preparation and the right mindset, the first night could have driven you off. Hard rain, temperatures in the 30s and over 20 mile per hour winds on a mountain top in bear country can keep an Oklahoma boy awake. There were some laughs that first night as Tuhon asks me, “what do you think of this?” We both started laughing.
The next day we struggled to get on the hunt before dawn. Hunting is not a team sport but when a member of your team shoots a moose within two hours of setting up, cleaning, and moving that moose is a team activity. At least for us.
A 1500 pound animal yields 500 pounds of meat after 2 days of skinning, and field dressing the animal. This meat (and its component parts) had to be moved from the site of the kill to an area that was safer from bears but not on top of our camp.
The site of the kill was 600 yards or so in as the crow flies but 1.5 miles of walking up and down hills through scrub brush. So out and back several times for supplies as well as to carry 80-100 pounds of meat to this staging area.
In the two days after we got the moose, there was a time for each of us when we thought we had met our limit. We would look at the group. That look would reset us. It would bolster our hearts.
There were some incredible stories about the trip that I can tell. We were met with challenges at every turn. The more important part, at least for me, is the remarkable men I went with and the bonds that this trip built.
At one of the most critical parts of the trip, Tuhon Harley asked me what I felt like. I said “If none of us go the hospital, this is still an amazing adventure.” And it was.