Fear Itself

We were eating ceviche at a corner cafe. They’re very proud of their ceviche in Lima. But it’s different from the tidy little bowl of assorted lime-cured seafood you find back home.  They pile on big fatty chunks of briny fish and monstrous tentacles jut out in every direction. It was rough on the stomach bug I’d been battling for days. Getting sick was a customary rite of passage for new gringos.

My coach Ivan was talking to Ben rapidly in Spanish. Ben’s face lit up excitedly and he turned to me.

“Ivan said he found you a pro fight at the end of March.”

I choked a bit on a slimy tentacle.

“That’s awesome…that’s, uh, great,” I gasped out.

I felt like I’d already been punched in the stomach. My abs tightened, my fists clenched, and my pulse quickened instinctually. My mind began playing a bloody montage of flying fists and elbows. I could feel my heart beat in my throat as I sat there and pretended to be excited. But in reality, I was scared shitless.

I wasn’t scared of losing. I had made my peace with that long ago. It was a simultaneously existential and primal fear. It was a question and answer. What did I get myself into?  The answer caught me with a quick blow to the gut.

I had been in Peru about a week and had pestered Ben nonstop, “Tell Ivan to get me a fight as soon as possible. I want to get out there!” I knew the Inka FC had an event in April and I begged him to get me on the fight card.

I’ve always followed the philosophy that you learn best by doing. Even if it was painful–as this certainly would be–there is no substitute for experience. I always tried to throw myself in the proverbial deep end, knowing I could learn to swim quicker if the alternative was to sink.

This feeling was why I came to Peru in the first place. I wanted to experience that fear first hand, to measure myself against the yardstick of adversity. The more I thought about it, fear was a very healthy reaction to my situation. I would actually find it slightly insane to not feel this way.

Fear is a natural response to a real or perceived threat. The cavemen who feared the saber-toothed tiger were quicker to pick up spears and lived to pass this trait on. Thankfully we don’t have giant predators wandering our streets nowadays, but we still have this software in our genes.

Without imminent threats to our daily survival, most of us are running on outdated software. So we find other ways to be afraid as our natural impulses run rampant. Maybe you fear not getting that promotion. Or being alone on Valentines Day. I was tired of such trivialities. I wanted to meet the real thing. I wanted to chase fear down the rabbit hole and see if I could not root out its most basic and primal form. Then once I discovered it, I wanted to conquer it.

When a man-eating grizzly bear wanders into your campsite, you’re supposed to stretch your arms up high and wave them. Make loud noises, and if you have pots and pans, bang them together. While fear is the most natural state, to let it consume you is to be consumed. Bears sense the fear and see it as weakness. It’s a self-fulfiling prophesy. But by acting confident, you live to see another day.

Life senses weakness too.  When fear overcomes you, feel it, recognize it, but don’t run from it.  Steady your footing and stand tall.  When you find yourself lost in the dark woods of life and fear creeps in, like two bulging eyeballs in the dark, don’t blink or look away. Stare right back into their depths.

Want to hear more about my story? Check out my book about fighting professional MMA in Peru: The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.

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