Leaving It All In The Ring


The word itself simply gives one pause be it in excitement or terror. The CXF Gold Rush cagefights, organized by Lights Out Promotions and Bash Boxing will be my second outing at an MMA event and my second outing at The Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City!  This is a special fight night for me and my gym-mates because tonight our very own coach Akkim Lee makes his Professional MMA Debut and Terrion “Flash” Ware is also fighting on the same card! I purchased one of Akkim’s walk-out shirts to fly at the event but shit, I forgot to pick it up at the gym.  Akkim neglected to mention it to me also but, I ‘aint complaining.
A group of us grabbed a block of the pricier tickets so that we could be right on the fence when the fights go down.  I haven’t gone through trying to attain a photo pass for this event so getting close to the cage will be important so that I can take good photos!  This is going to be a great fight night!  I had to bust ass to make it out of my day gig but I’m here ready to scream and shout for Akkim & Terrion!

Akkim’s looking good as he makes his way to the cage, a little stiff maybe, but he’s never struck me as much of an exhibitionist.

So right away there’s a noticeable weight disparity between Akkim and his opponent Joshua Jones. The kid is a big boy. He’s got that wrestler look.  I’d heard Akkim talk about him a bit during the week leading up to the fight; and Akkim expects Jones to “lay on him” and want to bring the fight to the ground.  Akkim loves to grapple but he’s a lethal striker so I hope that he chops that big ole tree down and spends no more time on his back than he needs to and gets that W.

As expected Jones rushes in throwing his body at Akkim.  Tossing his weight around accompanied lots of punches and aggression.  Akkim’s face is focused and calm though throughout.  I’m remembering one of Akkim’s go-to phrases when he’s watching me bang pads or spar: “Relax your face Charles!”  Akkim’s face looks relaxed but you can see that his mind is busy at work.  Jones seemingly wins the first round via ring generalship and out-striking Akkim.  The Duke’s back was either against the cage or on the canvas for the majority of the round.

Round 2 and Akkim’s on the balls of his feet.  It looks like he needs a round or two to get his motor runnin’!  Again, Jones is all over The Duke.  Throwing that weight around and smothering Akkim’s ability to strike.  I’m thinking that Akkim could be more elusive and strike Jones while he’s on the move.  But you know, everyone’s got something to say from the other side of the fence!  Jones scores a big take down, picking The Duke up at the waist and turning him over onto his back.  Akkim did manage to cut Jones open with an elbow in close, but Jones keeps pressing Akkim. Laying on top of him with that body weight and striking Lee, until Jones ultimately finds a way to submit The Duke.

It was strange for me watching my coach get tapped.  I felt an urge to go help him.  Funny, like when I was young: “Hey, that’s my boy, get off my fuckin’ boy!”   After the official decision was announced, we solemnly watched Akkim step out of the cage under his own power which is in itself also a victory!  It wasn’t long before he was out in the crowd shaking hands and smiling alongside his wife, friends and students, whom were present in droves and all excited to have Akkim out of the cage and out of harms way.

see the entire photo set here

Terrion Ware was soon after in the cage with Rob Gooch and ready to show the room how he’s earned his moniker “Flash”.

Terrion and Rob look like an even match up from my seat.  The fight opens with Rob Gooch landing a couple of times and Terrion visibly shaking his head at himself as he critiques his own performance.  It’s so interesting to watch fighters consciously thinking, strategizing and correcting during a fight.  It’s like playing chess whilst being punched in the face.  It’s an amazing journey for me personally as well, striving to get to that place I might add.

It wasn’t long tho before Terrion became, well basically just hard to hit.  I was yelling at the top of my lungs during this fight and when Terrion’s feet and hands started to fly I just yelled louder and louder!  Ware shuffled, slipped, bobbed and weaved and all the while kept a consistent sharp jab in Rob Gooch’s face.  Terrion Ware won a Unanimous Decision and is already set to fight Melvin Blumer at RFA 40  Congratulations Terrion!  You’re doing the damn thang!

A good couple of weeks passed before I finally had an opportunity to ask Akkim the one question that I had wanted to know during and ever since the fight.

“So coach, what was going thru your mind during that fight?  I mean, did you really want it?  Were you really there or just kinda going thru the motions?”  Akkim paused and chuckled to himself a bit before responding: “You wanna know what I was really thinking about during that fight?  Looking bad in front of my students.  That’s what I was worried about more than anything else.  I really didnt want to let my students down.”

Damn. I was taken aback.  Of all the things to be thinking about when another man is trying to hurt you I thought. Like any injuries he may have been harboring going into the fight, or the weaker points of his fight game or better yet the strong points of his opponents fight game!  But when Akkim went to war he was thinking most about his students.

This moment hung with me prominently for some days and as I write this now I can feel that poignancy visiting me once again.  Look, I’ll be honest.  I’ve had my moments with my coach. The times where I felt like I wasnt getting the attention I thought I needed, wanted or deserved.  “These drills are too basic…” or “Class was kinda weak today, coach is phoning it in.”  There were times where I thought that maybe I should explore aligning with a different coach or a different gym altogether. But during all of those moments, there was always a piece of, something, lingering there inside me advising me to be patient; advising me to “Check that ego!”  This is why I love fight sports and especially Muay Thai.  The learning is infinite, constant and the lessons transcend the sparring and the training right into my life and how I’m living it.  I am compelled to step back and consider just “How am I showing up in the world?”  I’ll tell you, whenever I do take a look, almost always I see that I could be doing better.  I could be more mindful, more honest, more patient, more consistent, more responsible, more present.

So just as each time I have considered cancelling my Krav Maga membership (to save some $) and end up taking away something from class that I know I will only find at Krav Maga; I realized at that moment that what I find with coach Akkim Lee I will only find with coach Akkim Lee.  Look, I’m not saying that Akkim Lee is the end-all-be-all of Muay Thai trainers or that I dont enjoy, desire and need to train with other coaches, krus and fighters.  I’m just saying that there’s a re-occuring mantra here that at the risk of sounding cliché, I must acknowledge.  Whatever you do, listen to your inner voice and be as true to your feelings as you possibly can be.  It can be a difficult act in this world of illusions and distractions but the truth is ever present, ever unchanged and ever within.

I along with the rest of the muay thai/mma/jiu-jitsu students who train under Akkim Lee’s tutelage all let the coach know that we were proud to be there that night making that cage rattle with our support as he went in to do battle.  Akkim’s classes are more filled up today than ever and I invite anyone reading this to come on by A4fitness anytime to experience the training and the comradery that we share there.

But for the record, there is no such thing as a poor performance in the ring, on the mat or especially in the cage in my book.  The simple act of stepping into that ring makes you a winner the moment your feet touch the canvas.  The only thing left to discover is what you’ll leave behind after you’ve stepped out.

Okay coach, lets talk about MY first fight!
Train hard, live well, love much, laugh often.  Sawaddee kap!

see the entire photo set here


Training Partners

I’ve been training muay thai now just shy of one year.

I’ll never forget my very first sparring experience at A4fitness under the supervision of coach Akkim Lee.  It was at the latter portion of the class and I was warm, loose, was sporting a nice sweat and brimming with confidence.  Then it began… an onslaught of punches, kicks, schoolyard-style pushing and ultimately punctuated by a shocking thud as my opponent’s glove made full contact with my face straight on!  Whoa!!! I was in unfamiliar territory.   I think I was punching back, at least I hoped I was. I finallyI turned my head away to avoid eating another 16oz. sandwich and then: “Breaaak, breaaak.” The coach put a hault to things as he shook his head at me: “No good, never turn away, that’s how you get beat up.” I thought, “Shit, I ain’t gettin’ beat up”; so I went back in.  I launched a punch at my opponent which was met by an even more aggressive cascade of punches and kicks which basically took my breath away right along with my confidence.  I waved my gloves in front of my face and quit.

I was bummed for the rest of the day, not about my performance but about the fact that I quit.

I questioned my every fiber of being.  “Who am I?” I thought.  “Man, that guy wasn’t even winded and I just stopped.  What else in life will make me just quit like that?  And more importantly, where else in my life have I been quitting already?”

So, I reached out to the one friend who I knew that I could talk to about this and who would give me proper feedback, honestly and without filter.  I’ve known Claude Lawson III since childhood. He’s a trained martial arts champion and when were were kids he’s usually the reason I didn’t end up fighting when a fight seemed bound to happen.  So I hit him up and told him about my experience.  “Charles, you’re not a fighter.” was his response.  “You’re closer to fifty than to anything else and you’re gonna get hurt with what you’re doing.  Just train and get in shape.”  Wow!  I’m not a fighter?  That comment just hung above my head!  Almost every minute of the day.  I mean, okay, I don’t have a lot of street fights under my belt; but I know I’m not a coward.  And I fight all the time in my life just not with my fists.  I know that I have a fighter spirit, just because I don’t use my fists does that make me any less a fighter?

The next morning it was time for my 7am Krav-Maga class so I geared up and went in.  I had a great class!  Krav Maga is a very practical self-defense system and the instructors, students and environment at Krav Maga Worldwide is supportive and nurturing, which is just what my wounded ego was in need of.  Soon I was back at A4fitness in muay thai shorts and donning my boxing gloves.  That sinister student who punched my face wasn’t there on this day so I looked around for find a training partner to spar with whom looked like a less menacing threat.  I banged the pads hard that day and had a much better time sparring with other students not as powerful and aggressive as my first opponent.  I spoke the coach after class about my dilemma.  “When was the last time you were hit in the face?” he asked me.  “Ah man, I can’t remember the last time I was hit in the face” I responded.  “So, you’re just not used to it.  Keep practicing, you’ll get better.”  He was very matter-of-fact about it.

Since then I've trained and sparred at gyms all around Los Angeles and Chicagoland and yes, I've been hit in the face a bunch and its gotten easier.

I even enjoy it a bit as it tends to bring me more into presence and excites me to be honest. Oh, what about that first opponent who slapped me around?  Well, I’m not going to say that I’m handling him nowadays because the truth is, whenever I spar with him he still owns me, but I enjoy it much more these days.  I can even get a few good shots in of my own which is always an accomplishment and enjoyable. 🙂

(L) Charles Little, (R) Igor Tischenko @A4fitness

I even enjoy it a bit as it tends to bring me more into presence and excites me to be honest. Oh, what about that first opponent who Igor Tishenko has become one of my most valued muay thai training partners at A4fitness.  He doesn’t waste time talking or goofing around but he also isn’t taking things too seriously.  Sparring with him is always a learning experience, always enjoyable and always challenging.  It’s been a mission of mine to become a source of learning and challenge for him as well.  I try to change up my attack, my defense and try to stay relaxed and aware. The challenge of sparring with a larger, stronger opponent is still intimidating and always makes me nervous.  The nervousness is really what I’m trying to change so that when I finally do step through the ropes I’m calm and ready to enjoy myself while I spank that ass!

Sparring is essential training IMHO whether you plan to fight or not. Its likely the only chance you might have to exchange strikes with another live human who is not actively trying to hurt you. So if sparring isnt yet a part of your training regiment I hope that you cross that line and get in on the fun.  If you’re already  that <i>down to scrap</i> sort, just rememeber that sparring is not a fight so, slow down killer; unless you’ve communicated with your partner and you’re both on the same page.  I always want to be as good a partner for others as I hope they are for me.  So commuicate with your partner whether you’re holding the pads or  you’re the one banging them.  Watch videos online that illustrate pad holding techniques and principles and always watch the masters train like Buakaw, Malaipet, or whomever you like to follow.

Train hard, live well, love much, laugh often. Sawasdee krap.

Photographs by@kengomega