Ultimate Fighting Championship Taught Me Conservatives Are Right

(Please note: This originally posted on http://www.stevesword.com/ and will be cross-posted on openleft too.)

"All warfare is based on deception.  Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near." - SunTzu The Art of War

So those of you who read this site regularly probably know that I like to spout off at length about the linguistics of our political culture.  But there are times when actions truly do speak much, much louder than words.  Let me begin at the beginning.

This past weekend I went to a friend's barbecue and found myself in front of the TV watching Ultimate Fighting Championship for only the second time in my life.  Many of the guys at the party were fighters themselves so I wasn't too surprised that they'd be watching fights.  I've always been an exceptionally weak schoolyard warrior so I'm not sure exactly why I didn't move to another room, but I stayed and continued to watch these athletes brawl "inside the octagon."  And while I know sometimes being a sissy drives a person to start taking self defense classes and becoming tougher, I instead decided to become a better sycophant.  Again, if you're reading Steve's Word, I think you know what I'm talkin' 'bout.  So obviously I had to ask a lot of dumb questions to get a sense for what was unfolding onscreen.

It was early in the series of fights.  The fighters got increasingly tough as the night went on, I was told by the ox-like gentleman sitting next to me.  I realized that this generous stranger would be my teacher, so I began to fire off my stupid questions:

ME: So, can you slam your opponent's head into the chain link fence?
OX: Only if you're lucky.

ME: Three rounds?
OX: Three rounds.  The title-fight is five.

ME: What about headbutting?
OX: No, that's one of the only things not allowed.

ME: Groin-shots?
OX: Oh! Did you see that! (to me) Huh? Oh, no. They're wearing cups, dude.

And so on.  After a few more questions I got the sense that I had worn out my welcome with Ox, so I shut up and continued to watch.  Mostly it seemed like the guy who's back was against the fence was going to loose and that frequently they ended up wrestling around on the ground.  I don't want to take away from the fact that the men battling were engaging in obviously some of the most intense athletics that I have ever witnessed.  At the same time, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about so I won't get into the details too much.  Each fight wore on and I kept track by getting up and getting another beverage between fights.

Upon returning to watch the fourth or fifth fight of the evening I walked back into the room and I could tell immediately that this fight was the one everyone had come to the party to see.  The room had filled with people and yet there was a quiet excitement as they all focused on the TV.  The host, my friend Brian, had taken time away from entertaining his various guests to watch.  He knew I was one of those sissy-types so he took a seat near mine and gave me the quick back story on this main event.

"So look, Jeff, this guy Griffin who's walking in now, he's pretty tough." Brian told me, "he used to be the Light-Heavyweight Champion, but this other guy... there! That's the baddest motherfucker on the planet!" At this point Brian raised his voice to reiterate the status of the second combatant.  He then continued, "Anderson Silva has pretty much destroyed everyone in his weight class and he has no one else to fight so they moved him up for this one and he's gonna take Griffin down."

"So Silva's lighter, but he's also favored?" I asked.

"Yeah man, look at him!"

Silva's highlight reel played onscreen as part of the lead up to the fight and sure enough opponents seemed to be dropping like flies.  By this point, Brian had gotten so worked up that he was trying to get other people to bet against him on how quickly Silva would take Griffin down. Someone struck a bet on Silva in two rounds.  Another guy had Silva in two minutes!  I decided not to make any bets on something I know nothing about.

And then the fight began.

(Please note: if the above link of the video still works, I'd just watch that right now and skip my amateur-ish play-by-play that follows.  If the link is down, sorry!)

Almost immediately Silva had knocked Griffin down twice, the second time Griffin had just barely escaped having his head stomped into the mat.  As he rose from the second knock-down the cameras caught a discernible expression of fear on Griffin's face.  Suddenly Silva dropped his guard to his waist and dared Griffin to take a swing at him.  Even I knew such a blatant insult when I saw it.  Griffin took a few crazy swings and Silva didn't even bother to put his hands up.  Instead he dodged Griffin's fists twice and as he backed away from Griffin, Silva swung a hook from his hip.  The awkward punch connected on Griffin's jaw and caught him completely off guard sending Griffin back to the floor.  This third time, before Silva had a chance to cause any more damage, the delirious Griffin tapped out to save himself and just like that the fight was over.  Griffin had been knocked out in the opening moments of the first round.

I was stunned.  Stunned because of the blatant way that Silva had disrespected his opponent.  Stunned because of the way that Griffin ran out of the octagon (once he was able to stand back up again).  Everyone else was annoyed that they had all gathered for a fight that hadn't even lasted an entire round.

What struck me about the fight was the utter Jedi Mind Trick that Silva had used to defeat his heavier and (by most accounts) formidable opponent. The slow motion replays only served to confirm that while Silva's knock-out punch connected cleanly it really wasn't the fiercest blow of the evening.  Silva had already convinced Griffin that the fight was over when he dropped his hands at his sides and demanded that Griffin land another blow.  You can see how after that point Griffin was totally terrified.  Terrified to take the bait and swing at Silva.  Terrified to sit and wait.

Okay, so I will admit that I couldn't have known what Griffin was thinking there and then.  Maybe he was as cool as a cucumber right before he dropped like a rock.  What I do know is that he did leave the ring as soon as he was able to stand.  He didn't even wait for the judges to call the fight in Silva's favor.  I could tell by the way everyone else in the room was booing Griffin, that his premature exit was pretty unheard of, even for real UFC aficionados.

I think I've been a loser enough times to recognize when someone else is coming apart because of the realization that all those expectations - you're gonna lose, the other guy is better than you are, etc - are coming true.  It's commonly referred to as getting "psyched out." This is not striking when it happens to me, because I've never been a great athlete especially in head-to-head competition with others.  It's striking because Griffin is NOT a loser.  He's won a UFC championship and he's (probably) upset opponents many times before.  He should know how to stay within his own head-space and not loose his cool.  The fact that Silva was able to drive Griffin out of his own mind-space so quickly and so obviously really speaks volumes about really how skilled an athlete Silva is.

Sun Tsu lived around 2500 years ago and would have been proud of Anderson Silva's picture perfect use of his teachings.  I'm not a martial artist at all, so I won't try and get into what aspects, if any, people who train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (like Silva and Forrest Griffin) actually study and practice directly off of his collected wisdom in the book The Art of War.  I've always had a love/hate relationship with that book because I think it activates a great number of conservative strict-father frames.  Yet seeing that one punch revealed to me how accurately Sun Tzu's tactics could be mapped onto today's world.  It's strange, but for a minute I felt like I understood why we attacked Iraq six years ago.  Let me explain.

You see in Sun Tzu's world there is only kill or be killed.  It's not pretty but neither is UFC.  Sun Tzu's world-view shares many similarities with that of the Mixed Martial Arts of which UFC is a part.  Both obsess over authority and power.  Both assert that in order to have authority and power you must be disciplined.  In both Sun Tzu's world and the MMA's world the person with the most authority and power is also the most disciplined and that de facto that person is also the best and most morally correct.  For example you don't question the general or the dojo master or you get a court martial and/or a collective ass-whooping (btw, I know all this about martial arts and the military because I watched Beverly Hills Ninja, Kung Fu Panda, Full Metal Jacket and Glory recently.  This also means I understand what it means to be overweight and to live in the year 1864).  And within a Neocon mindset we had to make a "preemptive strike" because of WMDs and also it's "un-American to question the President." All of these ideas have always seemed ultimately bogus to me.  That's probably the real reason I never got into martial arts (or maybe it's because I'm a pussy).

Regardless, watching those fights made me seriously question my own moral grounding because it proved to me that there are some times when there really is nothing but you versus an opponent and you have to be ready to kill or you will be killed yourself.  And this realization got me thinking, as I often do, about politics.

There is a certain irony about it all when you look at the current political cluster-fuck of health care reform and the way liberals have always historically argued for bipartisanship.  We here in the nurturing-parent fold have always viewed government as an all inclusive game where laws are better when everyone has a hand in making them.  Unfortunately for us, we're up against the Anderson Silva's of politics who realize that when it comes to health care reform its the general public versus the insurance industry.  So in order to get this legislation done, we lib-ruls have to understand that sometimes the conservatives are right and if we don't take a page out of their playbook we're not gonna get health care reform done.  It's us versus them and if we don't all step up and show our support for the Progressive Block, we're all gonna end up on the wrong side of an Anderson Silva shot to the jaw.  No jokes, call your Congress-peeps today!

Tags: anderson, Bush, Forrest, George Lakoff, Griffin, health care reform, Iraq, neocon, Silva, Sun Tzu, UFC (all tags)

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