Friday, 8 June 2012

Cubicle to the Cage

Boyd Sharpe 
Cubicle to the Cage is a documentary series which features hardcore MMA fans who are attempting to make the transition into professional fighters.  I train at Titans MMA in Halifax, NS, where a lot of the documentary participants' training takes place with our MMA Coach, Renzo Gracie Black Belt Peter Martell.  He looks scary in this photo but he's one of the nicest guys at Titans; he's a very effective coach and based on what I've seen since Titans BJJ and Titans MMA merged clubs in January 2012, he really cares about his fighters.  They certainly respect him and the quality of his training is reflected in their fight performances; Roger "The Hulk" Hollett, Ricky Goodall, Mike Kent, Gavin Tucker,  Mike Mallott and many others have been successful under his guidance. 

Peter Martell
Today I am chatting with Boyd Sharpe, the man who developed the concept for the documentary series.  Check out the video below to see how it all got started.




Sally:  I've been following Cubicle to the Cage since January when the women came to Titans MMA to try out for the show. Since then I've seen a lot of people come and go but you're still training as hard as ever. I know it's probably impossible for you to quit since the show was your idea, but what do you think has helped you the most over the past six months to stick with it?

Boyd:  Cubicle to The Cage started with 36 trainees, or "cubes" as Pete likes to call us. Peter had originally expected to lose half or even two thirds of those people in the first 2 or 3 months. To our surprise, that didn't happen. After 4 ½ months of training, we still have over 20 people in the program and at least 15 of those folks are training very seriously 4 - 6 days a week. Of those 15, there is an even smaller group of 8 - 10 people who train twice a day, stay after class for extra help, study videos, and do most everything they can to prepare themselves to fight. I'm not saying they are going to make it... but they are at least attempting to do most everything they can.

We've all had our ups and downs thus far in the program, and I'm sure we have all considered quitting at one point or another. The first 2 or 3 months was an incredibly tough conditioning test. When you are talking to someone who has never trained MMA it is very difficult to explain what your body goes through in even an average training session. I've played one sport or another my entire life, I spent 4 years training Tae Kwon Do when I was a kid, and I've run marathons in the past. Nothing I've ever done physically could have prepared me for training MMA. To have even the slightest hope of meeting the trainers' lowest standards we had to push past our endurance and pain thresholds every single day. Near the end of a second month, a co-worker who had seen me limping up the stairs asked how I was feeling. I told him if he really wanted to know he should find a long, steep set of concrete stairs and throw himself down them 3 or 4 times. That being said, the physical challenge quickly became a psychological challenge as we had to find some way to ignore the pain and exhaustion and train 4 - 6 times a week. Finding the intestinal fortitude just to show up for class became my greatest challenge. But those of us who remain in the program each found a way to do it. I'm not sure if it's a character strength or a character flaw, but many of us seem quite simply incapable of quitting, even when all evidence indicates that is perhaps the smartest thing to do.

Peter Martell and Boyd Sharpe
It's funny, a number of people associated with the program have commented that many of the remaining cubes share a common personality trait. Many of those who remain have an ability to focus, that borders on almost being an obsessive component to their personality. It's not so much that they are passionate about MMA, it's that they have a passion and a determination to succeed at whatever they do.  One cube looked around the group one night and commented, "You know, of the 36 people who started this program, the same 20 would probably still be here no matter what the challenge was. If we were sailing across the ocean or making a quilt, this same 20 people would probably still be here. And each of them would be trying to sail the fastest or make the best damn quilt they could." I think there is some truth to that.

For me, every obstacle is an opportunity. Whether it's overcoming an injury, learning a difficult technique, or breaking through a psychological barrier (like being hit, being more aggressive, enduring pain), I just take it one challenge at a time. I'm not often confident in my abilities or happy with my performance, but always in the back of my mind there is a voice telling me that whether it takes 10 minutes, a whole class, a day, a week, a month or the whole damn year, every time I overcome another challenge, I am that much closer to my goal. And I think everybody has that little voice somewhere in the back of their mind. They just need to listen real hard to hear it sometimes.  



Sally:  It sounds like you have a lot of respect for the other Cubes; do you feel that being in it together has made it easier?  I see a lot of reality shows where there is a lot of drama and competition against each other.  What do you think is different about Cubicle to the Cage?  I know Titans MMA is a very tight and supportive team; has Peter set the tone for the Cubes as well?

Boyd:  Being in contact with Team Titans has really influenced how we came together as a team. Just being in the culture of a tight knit team has had a positive effect on us. Don't get me wrong, it's not all hugs, high fives and pats on the back. However, there is an underlying respect for your team mates that Peter, and the rest of team Titans both demand and foster. Once that underlying respect is there, it opens a lot of other doors. One of which is the constant and incessant teasing you get in the gym and through social media. There is little room for self-doubt and thin skin in the fight game so fighters constantly attack each other verbally. It's kind of like verbal leg conditioning for the brain. It either breaks you down or toughens you up. Just like we do physically when we spar, we take verbal shots at each other all the time. Seriously, I think it keeps you sharp. A fight gym atmosphere is just so different from every other environment. If you are in any other situation and someone is really, really pissing you off, you are probably thinking, "God I'd love to punch that guy in the face." Well, when you are in a situation where you ARE going to punch the guy, and kick him, and choke him... well... what then?" You quickly get past your petty frustrations and can connect with your team mates in a more meaningful way. Or maybe I've just watched too many episodes of Band of Brothers.
Titans MMA Team Members Mike Kent, Nathan Hamilton, Mike Malott, Peter Martell, Michael Murphy, Ricky Goodall, Gavin Tucker
The other advantage for being part of a team and truly trusting your training partners is it allows do things you wouldn't normally feel comfortable doing. A case in point was evident when we were drilling Judo throws the other night. The first couple of throws both my partner and I were quite stiff and anxious. Then he said, "Shit... you really gotta trust your partner on this one." Once he said that, everything changed. I realized I did trust him. He wants to get better, but he also has a real, honest desire to see me get better as well. Immediately, we both relaxed and began more aggressively drilling the technique, each trusting we weren't going to get hurt. Ironically we both nearly knocked each other out as we increased the intensity. But that was a good thing.

I don't have to like everyone I train with, but I'm developing a great deal of respect for them. And that makes me want to invest in their improvement. Ultimately, the better they get, the better they will make me. It's kind of the opposite of the crabs in a bucket analogy. I want my training partners to elevate their game because I know they will pull me along with them. And if I get the the point where I excel at a certain aspect of the fight game I'll gladly return the favour.



Sally:  One of my teammates at Titans, Renzo Gracie Purple Belt Josh Wincey, was saying a couple of weeks ago that it's very hard to tell how you're progressing in training when you're with the same group of people all of the time.  As training continues, though, you'll find yourself being able to escape the arm bar of a guy who always used to catch you or land a punch on someone who has always been elusive.  How has the team been able to measure progress?  I know they recently brought in some bouncers from the bars for you to fight and Peter has given you all report cards; how did you do and did that affect your confidence in your training?

Boyd:  I agree for sure. It would be great at this point if we could rotate into classes with other, more experienced folks. Gavin Tucker and Mike Malott have been joining a lot of our classes lately; that's an eye-opener. I personally have tracked my progress by how my training partners and I tend to leap frog each other; it seems we learn at different rates. One week I can get the better of a certain guy, then he's dominating for a couple of weeks and then I start getting the upper hand. We also have the good fortune of having some guys who are 'better than the average cube' in the program: Sonny Adamski, Sebastian O’Malley, Morteza Shahi, Jerome Wilson and Sonny Wilson. Several of the cubes have some training or skills in one form of martial arts or another. We can gauge our progress by how we compete with those guys as well.

Another way that I came to realize I'm getting better / learning was when Pete brought in the bouncers to grapple with us. When I saw those guys standing there I was thinking, "Oh crap... I'm going to get creamed here." They certainly weren't an athletic bunch by any means. But hey WERE big... and, I assumed, accustomed to man handling people. It came as quite a shock when the cubes won probably 70 percent of the matches. I personally took a great deal of confidence from my matches. Out-grappling a guy who outweighed me by 40 or 50 pounds would not have been possible 4 months ago. But I was able to do just that, and quite easily, in under 60 seconds. I can only take that as a good sign. In another match I had to work for 2 or 3 minutes against a guy who did in fact have some grappling experience and I was able to execute what (for me) was a complicated series of jiu jitsu moves to secure an arm bar. THAT was huge... because it taught me that the technique we are learning actually works. This will encourage me to trust my technique and not feel like I have to only use strength when I fight.


Mike Malott and Gavin Tucker
Sally:  Gavin and Mike are beasts.  I did guard passes with Mike last week and got tossed on my ass about 50 times in 7 minutes.  And Gavin seems like such a calm, sweet soul when he's not grinding your face into the mat.  I find that BJJ and MMA have allowed me to express a part of my personality that I usually suppress.  I still have a hard time with being aggressive because I've been so conditioned by society to believe girls don't behave that way.  It's addictive though, and I'm missing it a lot now that I'm injured.  What has your training taught you about yourself? 

Boyd:  My training has taught me a couple of things so far. Neither of them I'm very proud of. While I talk a good game, even to myself, I constantly find myself fighting the urge to cut corners. A phrase Pete likes to shout at us when we train is, "When you train for MMA, don't look for ways to make it easier, look for ways that make it more difficult. The harder you work now, the easier you'll have it in the fight." I will find myself taking that extra big breath before staring my burpies. I'll take a bathroom break when I really don't need one. When it's time to spar or grapple I won't be the first one to dive onto the mats if I'm feeling tired. I struggle with that. It's like a lazy reflex. I have to remember to push myself.

I am at a critical point in my training right now. We had our half way through the program 'report cards' from Peter last weekend. While he did have a few positive things to say, I was disappointed, but not overly surprised to hear him say that he's not sure I have what it takes to be a fighter. He (and I) feel I have at least some ability to learn the skills. But neither of us know if I have that intangible, fire inside that you need to actually become a fighter. There are lots of gym rats out there who look like killers when they are hitting a heavy bag or striking pads, but if you threw them in a cage and told them to fight, they would crumble. The next few weeks is going to tell the tale for me. Pete has presented me with another one of those challenges I mentioned earlier. If I'm going to become a mixed martial artist, I have some serious soul searching to do. It's time to find out if I have a fighter's spirit, or if I'm just a guy who likes hanging out at the gym and training martial arts. If you want to know if I am up to the challenge you'll just have to tune in to radX Network next year to find out.


Boyd Sharpe
Sally:  Well, Boyd, I think having that fire is a decision people make and self-talk has a lot to do with it.  I have a quote by Henry Ford pinned to the wall of my cubicle that says, "Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right."    I'm looking forward to seeing how this journey turns out for you and the rest of the Cubes; seeing you guys come into Titans for training inspired me to try muay thai and MMA and I'm enjoying the challenge.  Since the show was your idea, I guess I have you to thank.

Thanks so much for chatting with me today!  I wish you the best of luck and I'll definitely be watching Cubicle to the Cage on radX Network next year!  

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