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Fight Club

The first rule of fight club is: You Do Not Talk about Fight Club. -Tyler Durden

And yet for Fight Club to grow in Chuck Palahnuik’s anarchical novel-turned-blockbuster-movie, Fight Club, someone, everyone had to break that rule. 

My first exposure to fight clubs came in the United States Marines as part of active duty training. My first experience of those being ceremonial events came at a Sacred Sons event in which we did “Sacred Combat.” In that Utah Men’s Circle I help facilitate, we call it Conscious Combat. When someone learns of my participation and advocacy of this type of activity, it’s always met with some version of, “Really? Why?”

I think this response indicates something about our society and this generation’s upbringing. There is an old adage, “It’s better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.” The common sentiment seems to be, “Can’t we just eliminate war altogether?” We have developed into a soft society, and I am not sure that’s for the better or for the worse. Being conscientious is always a win. Having purpose mixed with thoughtfulness and mindfulness feels like the most appropriate balance. I hear the narrative that for thousands of years men perpetuated violence and created patriarchal societies and that became human’s normal for far too long. I've come to reject the idea that someone hell bent on capitalism, war, leadership, and being penetrative and assertive are all wrapped up into a comprehensive and non-nuanced messy ball that is manhood. I don't believe that fighting inevitably leads to war and violence any more than a woman being proud of her body leads to desire to be promiscuous. Enjoying one's appearance and being proud of it, and enjoying physicality and being proud of one's ability can stop at those feelings. It's only when something additional is added to the mix that things turn to war and casual sex (and that is not to say that either is inherently right or wrong.)

Consider this: Fighting, even if escalated to war, is rarely considered bad when it comes to defending one’s self from a force threatening health, safety, happiness, or well-being, or individual liberty. Imagine the extreme of someone approaching you with a gun or knife promising death or dismemberment. You may not wish that person death in return, but I doubt anyone is upset with the person that’s able to disarm that person, even if required a measure of violence.

And even non-violent protests like India's Civil Disobedience spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi or America's Civil Rights movement, involved people who trained in fighting. Fasting and meditation amidst criticism is fighting. Resisting the temptation and natural desire to punch a white person in the face when a black man shows up to a white diner in his Sunday best for a "sit-in" takes training in the art of fighting.

I’d go so far as to make the argument that men not participating in the standard physicality popularized and "gorrified" by “Fight Club” is more dangerous for a society; and not because it leaves the society more susceptible to outside forces. It’s because it leaves the members inside unfulfilled, frustrated, and without the skills and tools to fully be themselves.

My Fight Club Experience

Naivity & Doubts:

Allow me the chance to use my experience of fight club and the gifts it has given as anecdotal evidence:

I remember fishing with my dad around age six on Strawberry Reservoir in Eastern Utah. I remember catching more fish than I had spent years on Earth. My dad would hold the rod for hours catching nothing. The minute I touched the pole, a fish was on the line and I was reeling it in. I was clearly a better fisherman than he and I was not shy about telling grandparents, siblings, and anyone else who would listen when I got home. It was almost 10 years later that it dawned on me what was happening. And while I appreciate the sense of pride I gained at six, my naivety revealed that I wasn’t quite the fisherman I thought I was, when I realized he was catching them and I was merely doing the last few yards of reeling.

At a certain point, a valuable right of passage is the realization that life doesn’t come that easily and that we must push against life and life must push right back in order for us to elevate and grow.

As violent as our society seems, the truth is, most people haven’t been in a fight, at least not the kind that don’t involve sibling wrestling matches or grade school scuffles. There is anxiety around fighting. “Could I handle myself?” “Would I be able to control my emotions?” “What’s my limit and my capacity?” and by far the most common, “I’m truly scared of being punched in the face.”

Gifts of Fight Club

Ego Workshop

I remember playing basketball against my dad and knowing that he was taking it easy on me. He could steal the ball and block almost every shot. I would have given up before I developed a love for the game if he hadn't been the good dad and taken it easy on me while I learned. Then there came the day where he realized he didn’t have to take his foot off the pedal and if he didn’t actually try, he was going to lose. This is where the game truly became fun for both of us because I was getting his full effort, which means I was fully able to measure my skills. I’m not sure I ever beat him before his knees started betraying him, so things had to be settled on the golf course. I was a fully into my 30s before I legitimately beat him at his full effort and even then, I knew I wasn’t beating him in his prime.

Growth is most available when we find our edge and the resistance is just enough to cause struggle, yet achievement still feels possible. If fighting is a rehearsal for a battle with death, it feels important to know what one is made of before the event arrives. This is all to emphasize the value of being able to put all of your strength into something and knowing that the thing that’s receiving all that strength can handle it and give a reflection back. Men don’t get that opportunity in life. Maybe it's rare for humans to get that in general? I have experienced how good it feels to be vulnerable and emotional with someone that has the capacity to hold all of it. To further that concept and relate it to fighting, the fear, the aggression, the energy of fighting is much more deeply emotional and just expressed through physicality, as is sex, or other activities that attract men. Even in plant-medicine spaces, I witness men process their emotions through physicality. Fight club is a vehicle for that.


More and more, men are lonely. Even if you witness yourself or a man, going out to the bar, watching the basketball game, or hitting the climbing gym with another man, there’s a lot of superficiality in male relationships. Men feel lonely because they can't be their full selves very often. Friends, family, and partners a like generally like to see the iceberg. 15 percent above water is good, keep the other 85 percent below.

This feels great for surface inclusion, but it fails to incorporate everything. It’s like the shit that didn’t mix at the bottom of the protein shake. Sparring (which better explains what conscious combat is, rather than fighting) is like dancing with a guy and simultaneously providing and participating with something physical to maneuver with. This is how the emotions start getting processed. Most people new to the event will go through a wave of these basic emotions:

• Pre-fight: Anxiety and Fear of Anticipation: Most of this is drawn from expectations, both internally and externally.

•First seconds of the fight: Surge of Adrenaline, emotions wash out, instincts take over.

•First time getting hit: Anger & Fear. The protection comes in and the choice to fight, flight, or freeze is activated

•Fog of War: Not being able to think exactly clear, but being driven inexplicably toward a goal.

•Fatigue: Adrenaline wears off, body starts getting tired, the event isn’t over. How deep can you dig?

•End: Empty, emotions come back online.

Post-Fight: Relief. Lessons learned, measure self, realize that the anxiety and fear were misplaced.

Aftermath: Appreciation that another man went through the same range of emotions, was able to hold your physicality and you were able to hold his. You both survived and helped each other.

This last step reminds me of Forrest Gump in the Vietnam jungle, where it rained so much that the jungle seemed to be raining upward. Bubba and Forrest find themselves needing to sleep, so Bubba puts his back against Forrest’s and says, “I’m going to lean up against you, and you just lean right back. That way we don’t have to sleep with our heads in the mud.”

Conscious Combat brings this. Each person needs the willingness and participation of the other person to suck the marrow out of the moment. Sex, Dancing, they all have these things in common. It’s a moment of extreme vulnerability, and that vulnerability is met with an instantaneous connection and resonance. 


The ego exercise and bonding that comes from sparring are a form of catharsis not really possible anywhere else. This catharsis is what gives men the ability to go back home and show up and hold space for their kids, their partners, their jobs, and all the other stresses leaning against them. This is better described as a function of masculinity and not just maleness. My friend Joe Speredon (who co-leads the Men’s Circle) put it well when he explained that the masculine polarity is like the river banks, and the feminine polarity is like the water. The water needs the boundaries of the banks in order to be its self, whether it be calm, choppy, serene, muddy, or all the other forms that water can be. Within each individual, and within every human connection and dynamic, this polarity of masculinity and femininity is at play. Maleness is just more pronounced masculinity and more subdued femininity. Femaleness is the inverse. When men get to spar against other men, they get to trust in their own boundary and ability to hold space for others because they got to hold space for themselves first. Ironically in that endeavor of personal power, it still requires the power of another to help that realization take place. Perhaps that’s what the Tao Te Ching meant when it says everything is defined by its opposite. The color white is helped clarified and defined by the color black, and vice versa.

The Magic of the Dance

If someone was to witness a sparring in action, and not just from a preconceived image, they would see the beauty. Beyond the emotional stages described above, the ritual and consciousness brought to the Men’s Circle’s form of sparring is more of a ceremony.


There’s an invitation for a man to come into the center of the ring and state he wants to spar. That man can invite another man into the ring, or open the invitation to anyone who might be interested.


Gloves, head gear, and mouth pieces are worn, and the man who helps him get ready is asking questions about intentions and getting the intentions process started.


Both men come to the center and discuss what their process was in agreeing to step into the ring. This comes with the statement of intention and what a person hopes to get out of the moment. There is also an agreement to the level of effort that will be exerted.


The spar begins. The men not sparring create the circle. Drums are played, reminders are shouted on keeping hands up, movement, and stated intentions. Everyone gets hit in the head. It’s part of the dance. Inevitably people get tired and go through the range of emotions described above.


The spar ends. Gloves and gear are removed. Each man collects his breath.


Each man is invited to reflect and share what he gained from the spar. Often this involves reflecting on how he was met by the other person. A hug is almost always shared afterward.

Sparring is a Metaphor for Life

Clayton, The instructor for my most recent sparring session, is the owner of Fortified Krav Maga. To paraphrase what he related, he mentioned how metaphorical sparring is to life. He said that life is unpredictable, and life is bound to hit you in the mouth from time to time. It’s your ability to get hit in the mouth and continue to fight, maneuver, keep your hands up, and more importantly, keep your wits about you so you can respond with wisdom and intelligence. The end of the spar also requires a person to dig deep, to breathe, and corral every last ounce of energy in the pursuit. All of these are as applicable to life as they are to sparring.

For this reason, I’ve looked at sparring more as a tussle rather than a fight. For me, fighting involves survival, anger, and meaning to cause harm and death. If necessary, I love the idea of valuing my life enough to perform that type of self defense if I have to. Again, I’d rather be a warrior in a garden than the other way around. I like the word tussle even more because it acknowledges the need for physicality and scrappiness. It also is mixed with the idea of play and fun. What point would there be in physically moving and scrapping with life if there wasn’t play and fun involved along the way? 

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