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The Travel Chronicles, Part 1: From Heart to Limb to Pen

(Photo courtesy of Chi-town MMAniacs)

By Elias Cepeda

For me, it’s simple — there’s only so long I can watch something I find fascinating before needing to try it for myself. I saw the first UFC when I was ten and I began training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when I was 15.

Growing up admiring the Gracie family and studying their history, I’d often wished that I didn’t have that five-year gap. More recently, however, I just wished I’d made better use of the time I had.

Less taking off for basketball seasons in high school and more drilling in class. Less time getting old in a chair at work and more reps in the ring.

Saulo Ribeiro, BJ Penn, and Gunnar Nelson all become elite black belt grapplers in just a few years. That isn’t me and no matter how much time I would have spent grappling I wouldn’t have been a BJ Penn.

But I could have been a lot better than I was at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, competed more and learned more about what I can and cannot do. That’s the thing with fighting – you find out what you know and who you are.

Technically, this is true. You may think you’re good in a position or with a move because you hit it on your friends in training, whose games you know and with whom you are comfortable. But wait until you are under duress against a decidedly non-friendly opponent in competition or a fight and see if you execute the same way you did in the gym.

If so, you trained well enough to say you really do know that position, that submission. But if you hesitate, if you freeze or if you’re sloppy because of the added adrenaline that hits you when you fight, then you weren’t exactly as good as you thought you were.

The fight brings that knowledge out about yourself and your technical abilities. It also brings out much more essential things about your being.

Who are you when you’re under attack? Who are you when you’re alone? Who are you when you’re afraid?

In 2010 I fought two amateur MMA fights. The first I took on three days’ notice and the second I had about six weeks to prepare for. I was tired of being an inconsistent Brazilian Jiu Jitsu student who, furthermore, had never tested himself in the type of competition that interested me in the martial art to begin with.

Street fights are one thing — and they are important — but there’s something extra daunting about fighting another person who’s trained specifically to hurt you for weeks or maybe months.

I did better in the fight that I had six weeks to prepare for than I did in the one I took on short notice. The ball was rolling for me and I wanted to continue fighting and learning in 2011.

Instead, I used work, injuries and laziness as excuses to not fight again and the whole year passed without my competing again. I had to do something in 2012.

This past summer, from May to September, I traveled through two countries, across five states and provinces – from West to East and places in the middle – trained at renowned gyms, fought three times (twice in MMA and once in boxing) and spent time with experts and legends like Randy Couture and Renzo Gracie to learn more about fighting and life through their experiences and philosophies.

I fought injured near my hometown, fought in the main event of a televised international card against the organization’s heavyweight champ. I drove across deserts and took long bus rides and many connecting flights.

I trained in the fight capital of the world. I had my hand raised by a UFC ref and had ribs broken.

I won, I lost.

What follows is a series about what I did this past summer — my effort at “doing something.”

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Cagepotato Comments

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LoneWolf- October 12, 2012 at 11:31 am
Great story, one of the most sincere I've read on this site.
mookiestick- October 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm
That was a fascinating article. I'm not a fighter although as a child I fought often in the streets. Perhaps because I lived in an abusive household and had an alcoholic father. Still I'm not a fighter an all that doesn't matter now. Those three sentences "who are you?" really sum it all up.

I'm in my 40's now. A Black Belt in Shotokan Karate. Have sparred hundreds of times and even competed at a high level. Still, they were not fights. No one was out to beat you senseless. It was very structured point fighting. I never knew who I was. I still don't.

I do know how to stand up for myself and others but have always talked sense into my aggressor as opposed to attacking. In fact it happened twice over the weekend. The word is full of loonies. Knowing how to defend yourself can save your life.

That was such a good article that I can't wait for the next episode. I also want to learn more about who I'm not and what I can't do. I guess, I'll have to train and fight now. Thanks for making me want to go out and get my ass kicked. I'm way too old for this shit.
imnotgay- October 11, 2012 at 4:06 pm
way too many words needs more pictures
Houstons db- October 11, 2012 at 7:35 am
I thought this article was too long as is but there's a part 2! Nooooo!!!! Post the vid of this fight to make it worth the read.
hooligun- October 11, 2012 at 5:18 am
Best piece ever, awesome mate!
tosr- October 10, 2012 at 11:57 pm
Great article, enjoyed every word.
Zescape- October 10, 2012 at 9:08 pm
Really well-written and engrossing article so far. I watched the live stream of your fight, so it's interesting to hear the back story behind the opponent change and your reaction. I look forward to part II.

No punchline. Thank you Elias. Best piece of writing on CP in a while, maybe since Old Dad.
Clemmie- October 10, 2012 at 8:50 pm
Clemmie- October 10, 2012 at 8:49 pm

In a total "wants to sex you" kind of way
NomadRip- October 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Not in a "wants to do sex to you" kind of way.
mandible- October 10, 2012 at 3:31 pm
amazing article, really enjoyed it, can't wait for the next segment.
angry little feet- October 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm
I agree - I don't want to wait till next week.I actually got so engrossed in reading this that for a while I forgot I was at my crappy job and should be doing something productive. Not something I ever expected to happen here. No offense CP ;)
Elias- October 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm
lil feet, glad you're into it. Keep reading! BenG deserves all of the credit for this feature happening. Yes, he's capable of being hilarious and snarky better than just about anyone out there, but he's an editor with real vision.
apogee- October 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm
dude i held in a poop for 10 minutes to read this article.. and theres no ending?!?!?! i might as well just shit in my computer chair
Elias- October 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm
HA!! Agreed, just go for it
2DaDeath- October 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm
Great read! I'm hooked!
Elias- October 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm
Thanks, glad you like it!
The12ozCurls- October 10, 2012 at 11:54 am
We gotta wait a week. Don't get me wrong, I know how this fight ends, but come on. Good read EC - I dug it.
Elias- October 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm
Thanks brother!
Fried Taco- October 10, 2012 at 11:58 am
No spoilers!! Ahhh, can't take it man, I gotta know! He loses, right? His knee gets blown out, but he pulls a Brett Rogers and goes three rounds without figuring it out, and loses by unanimous decision.
The12ozCurls- October 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm

My man EC is actually a quadriplegic now after this fight and all his beloved filet o fish sandwiches have to first go through the blender because he can never eat solid food again. Stay tuned to next weeks addition of The Travel Chronicle where EC actually finds out his dread-locked opponent is a real life Predator. GET TO THE CHOPPAW!
Fried Taco- October 10, 2012 at 11:34 am
Is that you punching the ref in the pic?
Elias- October 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm
I did punch the ref with all of my might...*spoiler alert* he then proceeded to beat the fuck out of me