K-1 and MMA fighter Mark “The Fight Shark” Miller is doing a weekly blog leading up to his miraculous comeback this May. He will step back into the ring for the first time in six years, and become the first fighter ever to do so after having open heart surgery.
“The Game is a foot. Follow your spirit…” ~Shakespeare~ “Henry V”
This past week my sparring has picked up. I am lucky enough to have my coach be one of my primary sparring partners. Early on Friday morning Rob Kaman called me and said simply “meet me in the park in 20 minutes. Oh, and bring your mouth guard, we will be sparring today.”
I love working with Rob in any aspect, so I was excited. The only nerves crept in when we arrived at the park, bright, sunny and warm, and Rob says “I am in a terrible mood.” The sub-context there being “Bring your A-game kid, because Iʼm coming for you.”
I have no fear of the pain. For Christʼs sake, I had my chest sawed open, my ribs split, my heart removed from my body and worked on for nearly four hours on a table next to me.
Iʼve had drills shoved into my kneecaps, my face reconstructed, my back cut open, scalpels taken to nearly every extremity, and I jam needles into myself on a daily basis. Thereʼs NOTHING that could happen in the ring that could hurt me physically in a way that Iʼm not prepared to deal with.
As Kenji Miyazawa says “we must embrace pain, and use it as fuel for our journey.” I have had no choice but to learn that pain is ever present, around every corner. The only fear or nerves I ever feel is due to an intense desire to not be bested. To prove myself somehow.
It is the ever imposing shadowy legacy of my massive six-foot-six-inch athletic father looming over me, pushing me to win. The crush of loss I have felt and wish to never feel again, in any way.
We began with drills. This quickly turned into sparring. The Dutch do not (expletive) around. Thereʼs no pitty-pat BS with them. When they spar, they put it on you. After nearly eight rounds of this I was bloodied, my nose leaking, right quad throbbing from hellacious leg kicks.
I was pissed off that I had somehow not been able to avoid some of the strikes, frustrated with my mistakes, failing to notice any competence I exhibited. I just sort of stalked around, bleeding on myself, on Shelby, blowing blood bubbles out and cursing.
I was inconsolable and annoying as (expletive) to be around Iʼm sure.
Rob removed his shirt and threw it at me for my face, sat in the sun and said softly “you know, there really isnʼt anything wrong with you. Your technique is good, your power, very good. You are better than almost everyone out there. You are harder on yourself than I am. You need to have fun.
This is the best part. The fun part.
He is so right. I get so wrapped up in my head sometimes. Tangled up in the ideas of what finite mistake I might make or have made, that I forget to enjoy it, and by the time I am through it, Iʼve punished myself more than anyone ever could. I have a lot of ghosts with a lot of loud voices. I think many fighters do.
Saturday night I was relaxing, watching TV, when a notice popped up on Twitter that I had been mentioned. A kind young woman from Texas had tagged me in a post. She had also posted a link to her blog in the same entry. Apparently her husband had been watching TV that same night, when he suddenly began shouting for her to come and see what was on.
I guess my episode of “Inside MMA” was on. The original aired May 13, 2011. Her husband wanted her to see me, as I was talking about my heart surgery, and I guess their 13-year-old son Jacob had been through the same surgery already. Twice. This woman was glad she could show her son that there were examples of people born with CHD (congenital heart defects) who could go on to great things, who could go on to be strong.
I was so humbled and moved. I responded with gratitude and then thought of something I once heard about courage being the knowledge that you may not win, and still trying. If Jacob can still try, and be so positive and kind to me, then the least I can do is continue to push harder and harder, and try to not be so hard on myself.
There is always the risk of losing in fighting, in any sport or competition, but worse than that for me, is the risk of not being the best ME I can be. I know I can win, I want to be better than that. I want to show you all something beautiful.
You will see the best me ever in that ring on May 28. Count on that.
Follow Mark Miller on Twitter: @fightshark_com