From Cave to Cage: MMA and Ancestral HealthTucker MaxDelivered at Ancestral Health Symposium8/6/2011Two things before I start: #1: The speech I wanted to give is at least an hour long. I have 20 minutes. I'm going to make a lot of assertions that may be scientifically, politically or morally questionable to you. They’re all backed up by evidence, it’s all in the bibliography, but I don’t have time in the speech to go into the sources here extensively. Feel free to check the bibliography or talk to me about it afterwards, but please understand that everything I say in this speech is either backed up by a lot of research, or at the very least is a direct personal experience. #2: Please do not mistake me for the rest of the people giving speeches at the Ancestral Health Conference. Men like Loren Cordain and Art DeVany and the rest of you are the thought leaders of this movement. I am absolutely not one of you. I’ve been eating some form of paleo for 4 years now, and I am absolutely a huge believer in the ancestral health movement, and I think the idea that we should examine all aspects of human health through the lens of our evolutionary past is extremely powerful. But none of the ideas discussed or theories tested in this conference came from me. I'm much more of a participant than a leader in this movement.So why am I giving a speech here? Well, it's kind of an accident. I was only planning on attending the conference, but I looked at the speaker schedule and saw something missing. Seth Roberts is a friend of mine, so I emailed him about this, he agreed with me and asked me to give a speech about it, and so here I am.
What's missing from the Ancestral Health Conference that's so important Seth Roberts was willing to give up half his time to some guy who's never published a thing about Ancestral Health? Well, what's important to ancestral humans, to hunter-gatherers?
Violence. Fighting. Not one speech or discussion about a hugely important topic to humans, especially ancestral humans. Not one single speech on that, except this one.
Let's talk about violenceQuestion:When was the last time you were in a fight? When was the last time you had to use violence?What's your answer to this question? When was it? When you were a kid probably, or maybe never. Thankfully, we live in a very non-violent society, and we are do divorced from where we get our food, most people never have to deal with any sort of violence or death in their lives, aside from maybe a school yard bully, right? OK, I want you to hold that thought until the end of the speech. It's very important.
Violence in natureWho trusted God was love indeedAnd love Creation's final lawTho' Nature, red in tooth and clawWith ravine, shriek'd against his creed-Lord TennysonViolence is an integral part of the natural world. Not really in doubt. Nature is red in tooth and claw, and hominids unquestionably evolved in this world. Not much of a dispute here.
Violence in human historyHumans are no different. This subject is literally the type of thing that people spend their LIVES researching and thinking about, but no one really contests that humans have been violent basically throughout our history as hominids, and in fact, the most current thinking is that humans evolved as extremely violent creatures, much more violent then we are today.
Violence in human cultureThere was a notion, that still exists to some extent, that man is naturally peaceful. Rousseau was the main person in Western culture who propagated this idea, that violence and conflict were cultural creations, and that it was modernity that corrupted a peaceful and loving ancestral man. This is utter bullshit. A peaceful state of nature has never existed, especially not with humans. Modernity did make mass death possible, but the millions of deaths we saw in the 20th century is different only in scale from our hunter/gatherer ancestors.Violence as part of our genetic identityAs a side note--we are not even the only creatures who commit systematic, planned, and organized intra-species violence. Jane Goodall is the first one to record chimps doing that, and others have found dolphins and whales doing the same thing.In fact, the irony is that there has been a pretty constant DECREASE in violence as civilization has progressed. Steven Pinker has a new book coming out about this, I read a galley, its really good.The simple fact is, violence is not just part of our culture, its part of our biology. It's in our genes, literally, and vies with sex for the distinction of being the most significant process in human evolution. If we want a study of ancestral health to be serious, it needs to include this topic.
Violence even in this conferenceJust look at the conference logo.The proof of this is long and involved, and again thoroughly sourced in the bibliography, but just take this one simple example: Look at the logo for the Ancestral Health Conference--what's that?
It's a spear. A spear has one use only. Whether it be for defense, hunting, aggression--the point is has one use: Violence. Our cultural images of the people we are looking to for our health cues are not just kinda violent--violence is integral to them.
MMA in human historyFighting is part of who we are, which brings me to the topic of my speech: Mixed Martial Arts.Make no mistake about it, organized hand to hand combat is ancient. The original Greek Olympics were defined by one contest, the most important contest to them: pankration.
MMA has become a huge part of my life and changed me in fundamental waysThis eventually evolved into the purest (and safest) form of hand to hand combat that now exists, Mixed Martial ArtsMartial arts have developed and changed since then--the history is very cool and if you are interested there are a ton of books about it--but we have ended up with what I think is the best form of real combat with really fighting: Mixed Martial Arts.I started training in MMA in 2007, and it changed my life at least as much as eating paleo did. Probably more. To make my larger point about the role of MMA in the ancestral health movement, let me tell you how MMA has affected my life:
MMA has me in the best physical and mental shape of my life“MMA fighters might not be the fastest or the strongest or the highest jumpers, but on balance they are the best athletes in sports."-CarlonColker, trainer for dozens of elite athletes, from Shaquille O'Neal to Andre Agassi to Olympic skiersMMA is the best way work out there is. I've done everything. I played all four major sports growing up, and I’ve done pretty much every exercise routine there is. Nothing comes close. I did crossfit for awhile and I loved it--but I have not been back since the day I discovered fighting. But there is NOTHING like being in fight shape. I cannot tell you how many triathletes who have come into my gym, or crossfitters, or college football players or whoever to try out MMA, and they are destroyed after only 5 minutes of light rolling. You can doubt me, but come on the mats with me, and you'll understand why pretty much all trainers who work with MMA fighters say things like that.It's also helped my sleep, my posture, helped me in innumerable physical ways.
MMA has made me LESS violent because now understand violence"You have to don't worry about the guy who gets loud and acts tough. He's scared. Worry about the quiet, focused guy. He's done this before."-Advice given to me by a bouncerI could give just an hour speech about this topic, but the empirical evidence is overwhelming: The best way to reduce overall aggression and violence in people is to have them study martial arts. One example: Tons of studies have shown that police that are trained in submission techniques--MMA basically--are three times LESS likely to use force to subdue a suspect. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but once I started fighting, it made perfect sense. If you are untrained and get into a situation requiring violence, you are unsure of yourself and insecure about what will happen. You don't know what to do. MMA took the randomness and mystery out of violence, and made it into something you can understand and control. And more importantly, MMA taught me in a very real way the consequences of violence. The only people who want to get into fights are the ones who haven't been in enough of them.
MMA taught me not just self-defense, but real self-reliance "The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting by fools." -ThucydidesI assume you can see the application of MMA to self-defense. I mean, MMA is what the armed forces teaches as it's hand-to-hand fighting system, so that should be obvious. MMA did more than teach me how to defend myself though. It gave me a deep feeling of true inner belief--I knew I could handle anything that came my way physically now. I've been there. I've swam in the deep waters of physical combat, I know I can handle them. MMA is sort of like the force--everywhere you go, it's there with you. It becomes part of who you are. There is a notion that we aren't allowed to be violent, that violence in and of itself is wrong. That's ridiculous when you think about it; most of our greatest heroes are warriors of some sort or another. But I think that this notion of violence as evil is also a tool of social control--if you think that violence is not an option, your choices are limited. Your freedom is limited. The point is not that violence is good, its that violence is always an option. Even if you decide to never be the aggressor--which is proper moral choice--what do you do when an aggressor comes at you? If you can't defend yourself because you think you CAN'T be violent, then what? Then you have to rely on the state. You have given the state the choice to use violence or not, and at that point, what are you but a vassal?Please understand that I am NOT advocating some lawless world or anything like that. I like cops and the army as much as the next guy. I like that we live in a world of rules and laws and not a world of brute force. I don't want to change one single bit. But the fact is, cops can't be everywhere all the time, and violence is a fact of life. The best way to deal with that reality is not to pretend it doesn't exist, but to be ready to handle yourself just in case it's ever needed.
MMA is poised to become the biggest sport in the world"Look, other sports are great, but nothing compares to fighting. The best part of most sports are when the fights break out."It's not like MMA is a fringe topic. MMA is right now the fastest growing sport in the world right now. It only started in 1993, and in 20 years has already overtaken boxing and WWF in pay per view draws. Gyms are exploding all over the country. The UFC is a multi-billion dollar company now. MMA is huge and it's here to stay. You can't turn on cable TV without seeing cage fighting.And this fact I think says something about how much we need violence as a culture, but we are are sick of getting it from bullshit like Grand Theft Auto or stupid movies with unrealistic consequences. Hollywood presents an unrealistic and harmful portrayal about violence, one that glorifies bloodlust, and one that ultimately fails us in our lives. MMA doesn't do that--MMA is real.
MMA is the truthThese quotes kinda says it all. Fighting is who we are. It's in our biology. You test yourself in ways nothing else can. Fighting teaches you about consequences, about limits, about reality. Where in this society do you find truth? REAL TRUTH? Nowhere. Everything is bullshit; politics, sports, dating, jobs, media, everything. Not fighting. Not in the cage. In the cage, the truth finds you.I hope I don't sound like a kook when I say this, but the reality is, fighting taught me who I was in a way that nothing else in modern society was able to. After a really tough sparring session, I love that guy I just fought, because he gave me the chance to test myself in a primal, visceral way, and see how I measure up. It doesn't even matter if I win or lose--the fact that I tested myself is what matters. Where else can a man do that? Where else do you get to lay it on the line and really see what you're made of, but in a safe, constructive, and ultimately rewarding environment? MMA does that, and nothing else I've ever experienced does.Last, I know I am presenting a very male-centric perspective on MMA. Cause I'm a man, but there are a lot of women who train in MMA and love it. My best friend is a girl and I got her into fighting, and she could have given almost this exact speech about how MMA has changed her life, only the details differ, so please don't think about this as a male thing only.
Try it and see"How much can you know about yourself, if you've never been in a fight?" -Tyler Durden"A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood."-Tyler DurdenI am not just guessing at this. This is not an academic exercise to me. I am telling you this as someone who lives it, someone who trains almost every day. MMA is as much a part of my life as eating, socializing, all the basic human functions.The thing about fighting is that it hits you in such a visceral place, it's hard to describe. Fighting hits me in a such primal place in my soul that I am convinced that fighting is a natural expression of humanity. I am trying to use words to explain things that are wordless. There is a major difference between understanding fighting from outside the cage, and feeling it on the inside the ring. A lot of what I'm saying may not resonate with you, but that's probably because you've never FELT it. Get on a mat. Just take a basic intro to BJJ class, it's very very safe and calm. Roll around and see. You'll understand what I'm talking about.
Conclusions"The ultimate aim of martial arts is not having to use them." -Miyamoto MusashiViolence is part of our biology and our evolutionary history. The question is not "should this be true", because we know that it is true. But the problem is that with the VAST majority of academic disciplines, you CAN'T talk honestly and reasonably about violence, about its history or its future or where it fits into our identity. The discussions get bogged down in politics and religion and other bullshit; people talk about violence in the way they want it to be, not the way it IS. I think if there is ONE PLACE where people can have an honest discussion about about the questions surrounding violence and fighting and their relationship to humans, THIS is the place. I think MMA is one constructive and rewarding way for humans to safely express our violent sides--but MMA is not a total answer to all the questions about violence in our past and present. I don't have the answers to those questions. I don't even know if I know all the questions. But that's the point: to show you, the thought leaders of the Ancestral Health movement that violence is such an important part of who we are, and you're all ignoring it.
Remember this?Did you figure out your answer?
Now, ask yourself this: "How do you think a hunter/gatherer living 50,000 years ago would answer that question?"Remember this? What's your answer? Now I think you understand that there is massive hole of understanding about violence and its place in human health that needs to be understood.