A 40-Something Fat Guy, Learning Life Lessons in an MMA Ring 

Most guys of my age and my physical “stature” likely spend their sunny Sunday afternoons on a golf course. Or sitting in a baseball park or at a movie theater. Maybe they just spend the afternoon on the couch, recovering from a long week and preparing for a longer one.

Instead, I spent my last Sunday at a civic center in Central New Jersey. I was there to cheer on my daughter, competing in her first “Challenge of Champions,” a regional grappling and kickboxing tournament sponsored by Tiger Schulmann’s MMA. My mini-me has been training with Tiger Schulmann’s for two years now. On Sunday, she earned a silver in grappling for 9-10-year old girls, and a gold for kickboxing.

But I was also there for me. I’ve been training a few months longer than my daughter. As a result, I spent my Sunday strapping on my gear to kickbox against the old, fat, and unskilled bracket (those over 40, more than 200 pounds, and with white, blue, or yellow belts). Unlike my daughter, I left with no celebratory hardware. Instead, I walked away from my bouts with two fractured ribs, bones broken 30 seconds into my first fight, and that remained broken throughout my entire second bout.

 
Which begs the question, why in the world is a guy like me spending his Sunday getting kicked and punched to the point of breaking? Why do I spend much of my free time sparring with men half my age and with (at least) twice the skills and athletic prowess? Why do I suffer from broken toes, fractured tibia, and more bruises than I care to count, and respond by thinking of how I can do better and how I can avoid suffering the same injuries in the future? I should be pedaling a stationary bike or strolling around the neighborhood. Instead, I worry about the quickness of my left cross and the strength of my roundkicks.

Why?

I do it because it forces me to do something that doesn’t come easy to me. Not everything should come naturally. Not everything is covered by our personal skill sets or lives in our personal wheel houses. When we are challenged to break those comfort zones, we learn who we truly are as individuals.

I do it because it eliminates the word quit from my vocabulary. Parents know how often kids want to stop doing something because it might be a little challenging. If I’m not traveling for work, then I’m on the mat training. I don’t come up with excuses to skip, and my kids (both of whom train) similarly can’t offer excuses. 

I do it to be healthier. Yes, kickboxing is an incredible workout. I’m a man who once weighed more than 400 pounds. Today, I am in the best physical shape of my life. I’m stronger. I have far greater physical stamina. More importantly, I am healthier so my kids see the importance of a healthy lifestyle and staying physically active. If dad (and mom) can do it, then the kiddos can definitely do it.

I do it to clear my mind. It may sound silly, but the hour on the mat is the one hour in a given day when I don’t think about work or family or finances or any of the other thousand and one things that weigh on me most days. I need to focus on the task at hand. If my mind drifts to a work issue, I’ll take a blow to the body (or worse, to the head). So I need to stay focused on me and my opponent. All of those professionals who embrace the philosophy of “deep thinking” or who bemoan the impact of multi-tasking fully understand the benefit.

I do it because it is a pure meritocracy. No one cares what one does for a living. It doesn’t matter how much money one earns, how big one’s house is, or what car one drives. What matters is commitment, focus, and skill. It’s about the color belt around one’s waist and the number of days one trains. As a result, my community is one that we strive for in the 21st century. It is male and female. It is black, white, brown, and yellow. It is Christian and Jewish, Muslim and atheist. It is young and old. At the end of training, we are all just brothers and sisters, working toward similar goals.

And I do it because it provides a sense of family. It may sound incredibly corny, but our little Princeton school does indeed become a family. I care for many of the other kids there as I do for my own, watching them train and develop. We have a tight group of families that train, with both parents and all kids working. It provides a sense of belonging that it harder and harder to find these days. We help each other through training issues, through work issues, through family issues, and through personal issues. And we do it because we choose to, not because of a sense of obligation.

I have no grand aspirations. I recognize that Dana White is never going to come knocking on my door, because he has been looking for someone just like me to join the UFC. I know that, no matter how much time I put in, my skills will never be great. Sure, I know they will improve over time, and I want them to improve, but few will ever look at me and use the words “skilled fighter” without adding a “not a” before it. I’ll continue to work through the bumps and bruises and breaks, using them as motivation instead of reason for surrender.

I do so because it makes me a better, more complete individual and because it makes us a stronger, more capable family. I’m reminded of that when I see a group of people cheering their hearts out for my daughter as she took home the gold. I’m reminded of that when I see those members of my Tiger family who waited until the very last fights of our friends were fought late on Sunday evening. And I’m reminded of that when I see the resiliency, commitment, and respect my young children demonstrate on a daily basis because of it all.

At the end of the day, I am a writer, a father, an advocate, an agitator, a strategist, an innovator, and a fighter. And through all of the ups and downs all of those identifiers bring me in both my personal and professional lives, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

(Eduflack is a high blue belt training at Tiger Schulmann’s MMA in Princeton, NJ. A version of this piece also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Can We Check Our Impulse to Condemn?

It should come as no surprise, but we aren’t the most open-minded, slow-to-judgment crowd in education policy. We haven’t been for generations, and we certainly aren’t now. And that’s a crying shame.

The embodiment of this in 2017 is the Pavlovian response by many to condemn everything and anything that may be proposed by EdSec Betsy DeVos almost as quickly as she unveils it. While dear ol’ Eduflack gets that there may be a great deal of policy disagreements in the coming years, are we really willing to say there isn’t a single issue where there may be some common ground for a discussion? Is there not a single idea that may be put forward that is at least worth a productive discussion?

We examine this topic on this week’s #TrumpED program on the BAM! Radio Network. My hope is that we can soon all just take a collective breath and actually consider before condemning. But the realist in me realizing my hopes are often unfulfilled.

Regardless, give it a listen.

A Textbook Case of Bad Crisis PR

Before Eduflack focused his attentions completely on education policy and school improvement, I used to spend my days in crisis communications. I counseled Fortune 500 companies, national non-profits, and name-brand politicians on how to navigate potentially crippling PR issues that they did, or that were done to them. And I was pretty good at it.

So in watching the Kathy Griffin PR fiasco unfold this week, I was aghast with how poorly she was advised (or how poorly she did what she was advised to do). Over at LinkedIn Pulse, dear ol’ Eduflack offers some analysis of how Griffin went wrong, and what she should have done.

The big takeways? Take responsibility for one’s actions. Don’t look to blame other people, Don’t make it a racial issue when you are a privileged white person. Don’t make it a gender issue when it has nothing to do with gender politics. And don’t forget to say you are sorry while promising to do better.

Give it a read. Remember the advice. Hopefully, you’ll never need it.

Is Budget an Education Strategy?

Last week, the Trump White House released its education budget. Most of its content was no real surprise, as it mirrored the skinny budget the Administration offered earlier this year. But as the education community continues to wait for a clear blueprint on how the Administration intends to make public education great again, the budget substitutes as strategy. We now read what we want to read out of the numbers, whether it be true or not.

On the latest episode of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore how budget just can’t substitute for strategy, and how EdSec Betsy DeVos could go a long way focusing on the latter, rather than defending the former. Give it a listen.

Some PR Advice for the EdSec

It’s been four months since the start of the Trump Administration. Three months since EdSec Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing. Yet most are still waiting for DeVos to take control of the ED bully pulpit like her predecessors did. And waiting. And waiting.

Over at the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog, Michael Petrilli offers some advice from PR pros on how DeVos could, or should, up her comms game. There are some valuable thoughts there. Then there are some insights offered by yours truly. You may be right, Eduflack may be cray-cray. But I do think it would be a master stroke to have DeVos ask Randi Weingarten if she can address the full AFT at its summer gathering. 

Give the full article a read. You won’t be disappointed.

Home Schoolers Don’t Want to Be a “Choice”

Earlier this week, EdSec Betsy DeVos continued to tease the details of the big school choice plan that is likely to come from the Trump Administration. The next day, the President’s budget reflects that same commitment to dramatically expanding access (and dollars for) public charter schools and vouchers for private education.

In all of the discussion, though, an interesting voice has spoken out asking NOT to be included in the expanded school choice plan. That voice? The homeschool community. As Eduflack explains in the most recent edition of #TrumpED on BAM! Radio Network, the reasons for this make a great deal of sense. With federal dollars comes federal oversight and regulations.  And while the homeschool community may largely trust President Trump and his administration on the topic, there are no guarantees that a future President or EdSec will hold the same level of respect for homeschoolers.

Give it a listen. I promise it is an interesting examination of an equally interesting topic.