Fighting Injury – On the Business of Becoming Hardened

I once trained with Nathan ‘Carnage’ Corbett while writing an article about him for International Kickboxer Magazine. He had a big fight coming up against a European opponent, and Carnage was then, as he is now, in a unique position; he’s almost never been beaten. Two men can claim the distinction; former Australian Cruiserweight and International Muay Thai Champion Paul Slowinski achieved it early in both of their careers, and gigantic American super-heavyweight, Alex Roberts.

Carnage made the most of the engagement, but Roberts, six-and-a-half feet tall and a good twenty kilos heavier, swung two massive round kicks at Nathan and the second, being a head-kick, introduced him to the canvas for his second (and last, to this day) career loss.

The day I trained with Nathan, he was a little under the weather.

“I’ve got a broken bone in my right wrist, a tear in my right shoulder, and I went out to do some sprint training the other morning and put a first-grade tear in my left hamstring,” he said.

“So what are you doing?” I asked.

“I punch a lot with my left hand, and kick a lot off my right leg,” was the reply.

Nathan is very selective about his opponents, and learned from Roberts that he shouldn’t fight anyone that significantly outweighs him. Personally, I support this; no one in any other weight class, other than super-heavy, is expected to fight anyone who outweighs them any more than five kilos up or down. The fact he’s never lost also places great pressure upon him, and no one expects more of the man than Corbett himself.

He fought shortly after and won, as he does, by way of KO.

In Amsterdam in 2008, Gokhan Saki took on Paul Slowinski at the Amsterdam Arena. Slated as the underdog to Slowinski, who was making a big splash in K1 under trainer Ernesto Hoost, Saki knew this was his chance to get K1 to notice him. He and I did some sparring just prior, as I was one of the tallest men in the gym and of similar stature to Paul. Possibly also because I was Australian, Saki’s eyebrows would begin to twitch and out came this near-fatal hurricane of arms and legs (I describe it as sparring, but calling what we did sparring is a bit like saying the whetstone is sharpened by the knife).

One day, Saki asked me if I knew much about injuries.

“I’ve been to the physio a few times,” I replied.

“I’ve got something wrong with my left shin. Just here,” he said, and pointed to the spot, gingerly.

“Here?” I asked, touching my fingers ever so lightly to his leg.

“YEEEOOOW!” said Saki, almost jumping through the roof.

A few weeks later, he fought Paul and knocked him right the fuck out in round one. He was kicking off that injured leg, as hard as he could.

When I started fighting, I was very careful of injuries. If I got one, I nursed it and lay off training until it came good. This was the attitude supported by physios and what every one says in reasonable circles. ‘Train, don’t strain’, is the advice on the Goodlife Gym program cards.

When I fought Tafa Misipati in 2010, he had a record of 12 fights for 11 wins, his only loss being by decision for a New Zealand heavyweight title. He’d had double my fights and I was fucking petrified. By the time the fight rolled around, I knew I had a perforated eardrum from sparring.

“The good news is, you can’t perforate it twice,” said ring doctor extraordinaire, Peter Lewis. By the time I stepped into the ring, I had discovered, by way of Dr Lewis at the pre-fight medical, that I also had a broken nose. It had been broken in sparring, but no-one noticed because it hadn’t moved (my nose has been broken twice but fortunately, has never gone anywhere. It may however, explain why I snore like a chainsaw).

Once the fight started, of course, I didn’t feel it. That was my best fight, and I have Tafa to thank; rather than brawling like a pair of adolescent roosters, we fought a measured, leisurely fight that ended with a crushing knockout.

During the training, my left hand was so sore I had to tape my wrist rigid so it didn’t move. I became more and more tired and sore, but I continued to train, against the concerned advice of everyone around me.

When I trained in Holland, everyone was injured. In fact, I consider that to be the hallmark of professional sport; you’re perpetually injured and you have to learn to carry it. You train through every injury you have, unless it’s something that requires a reconstruction – immediately. In fact, even if you broke a rib, you got two weeks’ off and had to tape it up and get back. Those men were as hard as the hammers of hell.

As a personal trainer, you are paid to be in charge of people, and it’s a strange little paradox; realistically, you’re in charge as far as they allow you to be. That’s fine with me, but if someone had put themselves in my hands as a candidate for a fight, I would torture them to the point of fainting. You have to, because that’s exactly what an opponent aims to do. ‘Train hard, fight easy’, as the cliché goes.

Of course, no one ever fights easy.

The thing that keeps me endlessly fascinated with training, or practice as they call it in Yogic circles, is because I consider training to be what going to church is for religious people; a ritual assertion of values through action. At risk of pitching toward the pretentious, I wish to make an assertion.

This is the truth of your existence, here on this mortal coil; if you suffer, your body will adapt to the stimulus and become stronger. The word commonly used to describe this is evolution.

Life is suffering, as the Buddha says. The fighter understands that the great trick of survival is in learning to like it.

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2 Responses to “Fighting Injury – On the Business of Becoming Hardened”

  1. ilfiore66 Says:

    Training is just that: meeting the challenges and making each workout count. Good writing.

  2. Kentus Maximus Says:

    Completely agree with the sentiment! Not a professional by any stretch – but having consistently played high level state, national and weekend warrior sport for years (as well as had your good self torture me for over a year) – I subscribe to the same line of thinking. I am always pushing myself to breaking point a lot of the time and always carrying some injury be it a little niggling one or something more serious.

    But I find that doing so coninues to make me fitter, stronger, more able to cope with pain during competition and I am now at the point where I actually crave that feeling of being completely cooked or in pain at the end of any training or competition.

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