The Dodgeball Theory
Lance Armstrong: Could I get a bottle of water. – – Hey, aren’t you Peter La Fleur?
Peter La Fleur: Lance Armstrong!
Lance Armstrong: Yeah, that’s me. But I’m a big fan of yours.
Peter La Fleur: Really?
Lance Armstrong: Yeah, I’ve been watching the dodgeball tournament on the Ocho. ESPN 8. I just can’t get enough of it. But, good luck in the tournament. I’m really pulling for you against those jerks from Globo Gym. I think you better hurry up or you’re gonna be late.
Peter La Fleur: Uh, actually I decided to quit… Lance.
Lance Armstrong: Quit? You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I’m sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying from that’s keeping you from the finals?
Peter La Fleur: Right now it feels a little bit like… shame.
Lance Armstrong: Well, I guess if a person never quit when the going got tough, they wouldn’t have anything to regret for the rest of their life. But good luck to you Peter. I’m sure this decision won’t haunt you forever.
(quote of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is from IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0364725/quotes )
In the movie, Peter LaFleur (played by Vince Vaughn) is the owner of Average Joe’s Gym. We don’t know much about his life leading up to that point, except that he seems to be genuinely emphatic person with a lot of sympathy for the marginalised fringes of society. When his gym is about to be shut down due to defaulting on tax payments, the members of his gym who decide to raise money to save it are telling, through their personalities, of just what is and isn’t what we expect in a gym, because of the modern gym culture’s unsaid rules.
The gymgoers at Average Joe’s are those who either perceive themselves as, or actually are, the rejects of society. They have self-esteem issues, mental disorders, and financial problems.
They are not the poster boys of the typical gym advertissement– square jaws for the guys, sports bras for the girls, spartan haircuts or a more granola looking pony tail, and perfect teeth, and sports apparel. Note that none of these things are things that you actually need to go to a gym to buy– nor are you actually likely to develop a broader chin by going to the gym.
The movie, being a comedy, largely revolves around making fun of the neuroses that are actually very real mental health issues in contemporary society.
It’s easy to forget that in the pursuit of building ourselves up to who we want to be, there is a lot of mental foundational insecurity that neoliberal society encourages us to cover up, rather than address directly.
The reality is that for all the “hobbies” we want to get good at, it is seldom that we run into something that we’re really wiling to pay the price to study. I mean, really, really get good at. I make a distinction between loss and sacrifice. Loss is where things are taken from you and you don’t even know where it went… sacrifice is a situation where you willingly give something up.
A person who studies all their life but knows nothing of the outside world suffers loss– but a person who knows of the outside world and does the same by choice suffers even more, because his sacrifice gives up the alternative world of possibilities in exchange for the path chosen.
I don’t have a gym (weight training) membership– I don’t think I’ve really stepped on the grounds of a gym except for a small hotel fitness room the last time [CM] and I were in Gold Coast a couple of years back, and before that, I went to the gym a couple of times upon my return from Korea.
It’s not my cup of tea– for many of the themes that come up in Dodgeball. It’s not so much the fitness that I take issue with– it’s the image of fitness. I’m sure a lot of people go to the gym for great reasons, but lets just say it’s not my cup of tea. The example I always use is that I cannot say that learning martial arts is better than ballet– both are highly evoloved disciplines that have history, standards, benefits and disadvantages. But despite that I probably wouldn’t be caught dead doing ballet, I cannot say simply that martial arts are better than ballet. I’ve just come to recognise that it’s apples and oranges: it’s a question of tastes.
That being said, there’s a famous Bruce Lee quote that says something along the lines of “nobody really develops a taste for diluted wine.”
The reason why I mention Dodgeball is that there is a quote from Peter LaFleur which explains everything about his philosophy in life. It has to do with how, if you never develop expectations, you never feel disappointed.
On that note– I have expectations. High expectations of myself and those around me.
A great deal of my ability to get through life has been to quantify these great expectations into little pieces so that I can feel progress– but it doesn’t change the fact that there are broader goals that I am aiming for, and I pursue them feverently.
Lately, I’ve been increasing my training in judo. I’ve at least doubled the amount that I did per week compared to 2013, which comes out to about 8 hours of training per week. The training there is pretty good– compared to other dojos, dojangs and fighting gyms that I’ve trained at in the past, University of Sydney Judo consistently taxes physical endurance (stamina), power (force output over time) and flexibility. How much it challenges your technical and mental capacity is up to you, it depends on how much of a challenge you try to make for yourself. But the fitness training alone is already a very solid common denominator.
Like any other training hall, it doesn’t necessarily correct a lazy attitude (which is more likely to be left unaddressed than a bad attitude), but the nature of combat sports that put you against an opponent is that you will inevitably be punished for not adhering to the expectations of the club. If you don’t do your homework, you will take more of a beating. If you don’t have the right attitude, people will be less inclined to share and learn with you.
For the last half year, I’ve been having mixed feelings about my relationship with martial arts, due to number of related circumstances.
One of the major reasons is that my outlook in life has changed dramatically from the time when I first started doing martial arts. There was a period in my early twenties where I had rebellion issues– I was lashing out against my upbringing and martial arts were one of the few activities that I could turn to that gave me a sense of control over my life.
When I say that my outlook was different back then, it isn’t that I never expected to live to see the age of 30– but I certainly didn’t think very far ahead. I was quite fearless. And fearlessness got me quite far. You read all the time in Japanese and Chinese literature of this concept of an “indominable spirit”– The main thing that allowed me to progress quickly was that I had little regard for injuries. It wasn’t that I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt; more accurately, even if I was afraid of getting hurt, I was able to tap into a rage at my social condition that told me “this is worth it” and fight in spite of (as opposed to in opposition to) those limitations. Essentially: I had the mentality of a shonen manga hero, which probably explains my ongoing critique of the more celebrated shonen protagonists.
The issue that has been developing over the past half year is that my body can no longer keep up with my willpower, and I can feel it. I know for a fact that there are a lot of really old practitioners of martial arts out there who are in their 60s and still kicking ass. Indeed, Randy Couture was a hero of mine for a really long time for the simple reason that he was beating the clock.
But for me… the situation is a bit different. Most of these old masters are, well, really good at what they do. By the time they slow down, they have already achieved a level of technical proficiency sufficient to bridge a large amount of physical limitation– they’ll still be able to kick around all but the most talented of a new generation with technique alone.
I am relatively new to judo, with an orange belt and zero competition points so far. I’m on average about 10 years older than everyone of the same belt grade as I am in this gym.
I think that I’m learning at the same rate as everyone else who started at the same time as me– indeed, for people who started at the same time as me, I think I can say that despite knowing very little about grappling prior that I am one of the better players out of the group that started at the same time as me.
But I’m not satisfied. Martial Arts to me has never been just a sport of forms or kata– it has been one of technique applied under pressure. Yes, we do randori (sparring)– but what is missing from my training right now is the “killing intent” that you only get from competing with rival schools.
And therein lies the contradiction– I no longer have the je ne sais quoi to work in spite of the fear of injury now.
When I was younger, I trained like there was no tomorrow. Indeed, there was a level of trust among my training partners and I that we would do anything to further our proficiency in this or that technique even by just minute quantities. ALthough I never spelt it out, whenever I fought with someone from a rival school, my life was on the line– and all I would have to rely on was the training that I had undergone with my nakama.
Indeed, although tournaments were rough, I’ve only ever seriously injured my eye, elbow, shin and ankle in tournaments. In training, the list was much longer.
However, I think that’s the correct way for things to go though– ideally, competition should be easier than your training, if you’re doing your training right.
I am training hard in judo. I’m not as capable of as high of an objective physical output as I was at my peak around 2008, but I am arguably working my body a lot harder overal than I’ve ever worked it in my life. (What I mean is that objectively overal, I may not be as fast or powerful as I was in the past, but I am able to soak up more training than I used to)
But for what? What am I training towards? What is my goal?
And that’s what’s difficult about this situation now.
I am at a point in my life where I have the mental fortitude to train harder than I’ve ever trained in my life. I am more creative and analytical than I have ever been. But my body is slowing down as a result of old injuries and mental brakes accumulated, and as a result I am no longer willing to put my life on the line. Indeed, if I went into a competition with my current state of mind, I’d be easy prey due to my lack of commitment.
That means, essentially, that I’m extremely reluctant to take on competitions, even though [Sensei] last week was telling me that the club could have taken a gold instead of a bronze at the most recent New South Wales tournament if only I had signed up for it.
I have two conflicting wants out of martial arts right now.
I want to practice martial arts for many, many years to come. I want to be able to teach martial arts to our (CM and my) children, if we one day decide to have children. I want to see generations of youths come to change their lives and their perspective on the world, and citizenship in community, through martial arts. The possibility and conceptualisation of this goal that has come to develop slowly over the past couple of years.
On the other hand, I want to continue to grow. It’s simply an extension of what I’ve done until now, almost like a Peter Pan-like syndrome– I want to continue to fight. I want to feel bones straining against bones, the grind of teeth into mouthguards. The heaviness of gravity when attempting to stand up. Dizziness in the head? Vision going dim? That might be happening to me– but you can be sure that I’m not taking this without making the other guy work hard for it. I long, not for the war stories, but the war.
But these two wants are incompatible. I became acutely aware of this when I briefly took up boxing (as opposed to kickboxing) in about 2012 for about half a year– I realised that I was at a point of my life where I didn’t want to eat any head injuries, because what’s in my brain is of paramount importance to me nowadays. It’s who I am.
I quit boxing because it was a ruleset where winning the game very acutely accentuated the fact that this is what martial arts is about– it’s about risks and rewards. And I was no longer willing to take certain risks in that context. Since then, it has been a bit of a slippery slope.
Judo is a bit different– there’s relatively little risk of me getting brain damage in judo, for instance. But the risk of more injuries to my joints is significant, especially at the competition level.
I guess the basic problem is that I’m not sure if I’m willing to risk injuries anymore. I’m not sure what participating (win or lose) in competition exactly does for me– I don’t know how to put it into words.
I just know that there’s a part of me that wants to just go in there and do it. However, the fact that my body is as bad as it is is a testament to what previous years allowing this kind of fighting spirit to go unchecked can actually do for me. I just know that it’s something I want– although I don’t know if it’s something I need.
Perhaps what I need is to figure out how to age properly.
Short term or long term…?
It frustrates me.
The reason why I refer it to Dodgeball is because I wonder if I’m just giving up before starting because it’s easier that way. Was LaFleur right or wrong?
Unlike LaFleur– I want to be strong. I’m not there yet.
Am I to admit that some people just never get there?