Members of the Fight Club
L OOKING AT ADAM DEANE, IT'S NOT HARD to guess that he has a secret.
He has all the accoutrements of his official job as a CPA for Bank of America in
Naples — the well-tailored suit, the clean
shave and ever-present cell phone. Still, there are a few things about his appearance that keep him from looking like an average banker. Most notably, he's huge: 6-foot, 1-inch, 230 pounds — all muscle. And like Clarke Kent at his day job, you get a sense that there's something else going on there.
By night, Mr. Deane is a fighter, a heavyweight Mixed Martial Arts gladiator, trained to take — and dish out — the most brutal type of punishment still acknowledged as a sport in the United States.
As far as sports go, MMA is relatively new. It had its genesis in Japan less than 25 years ago, when German wrestlers taught the basics of their technique, known as shooting, to some top Japanese martial artists. Two of them, Masimi Soranaka and Yoshiaki Fujiwara, combined their existing knowledge with Russian Sumo wrestling and bare-knuckles boxing to create MMA. Also known as "strong style" or "shootfighting," it's the bloodiest and most extreme fighting style ever allowed in the ring.
Adam Deane Many legislators, including former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, have tried to have MMA banned as too dangerous. But despite the severe brutality of the sport, or more likely, because of it, shootfighting has grown wildly in popularity in the U.S. and throughout the world.
It turns out that Florida is a major arena of the sport. Today, the oldest and largest organization sanctioning matches is the Fujiwara Gumi, run by founder and former champion, Yoshiaki Fujiwara. The current Fujiwara Gumi world champion is Miami's Bart Vale, the first non-Japanese fighter to attain the highest level of the sport, and the man who coined the term shootfighting. He is presently promoting matches throughout Florida and California.
MMA competitions have their own rules. Pro matches run a non-stop 30 minutes. "But," grins Mr. Deane, "they rarely last that long."
Inside the ring, competitors are allowed to kick, knee or elbow any part of the body except the groin. Head butts and bare-knuckle punches are allowed. Any type of throw or takedown is also legal, as are joint locks, chokes against the side of the neck and striking a downed opponent. Though there are lighter divisions for amateur competitors, professional shootfighting consists of only a heavyweight division — 200 pounds or more — and matches are won when a competitor is knocked down for a 10-count or forced to submit.
"Although shootfighting is, well, bloodier, I don't believe that it's actually as dangerous as, say boxing, where a combatant might take 100 or even 200 shots to the head," says Mr. Deane. "Shootfights are faster and they look gorier, but they're probably not as likely to cause a brain or other long-term debilitating injury."
Professionals train up to 14 hours a day. Mr. Deane has a day job, so he can't work out that long, but he does train daily to maintain his strength and stamina. At 39, he's definitely a senior fighter, and he acknowledges that aging joints and old injuries do affect his performance.
"On the plus side," he asserts, "I'm a much more level-headed and experienced fighter than I was when I was younger, and that counts for a lot. I'm less rash, less emotional. I have more patience. I can draw an opponent out, force them to expose their weaknesses, to tire themselves, without expending too much of my own energy."
Yoga is an important part of his regular workout. "It's very rigorous physically, and it's taught me to control my breathing and my emotions — especially anger," he says. "Anger is a bad thing to feel during a fight. It makes you impetuous. Reckless. Good MMA is all about self-discipline."
Originally from Texas and the son of a military man, Mr. Deane considered entering the Navy Seals at one point. "I ultimately chose a different path, but I'm glad that I have MMA to satisfy the physical part of my nature," he says.
"It's an adrenalin rush. But there's a lot more to it than that. The camaraderie, the mutual respect among the fighters. It's all a real high. I think that facing down your fears, conjuring up the courage to get in to the ring and the heart to stay there, are qualities that ultimately improve a person."
Barry Polonitza agrees. He has run the American Kenpo Karate and Shootfighting Academy in Bonita Springs since 1994. He has been aware of MMA since its inception and spent considerable time training with Bart Vale in Miami. According to Polonitza, some of the pressure to limit MMA in the U.S. has been politically motivated by boxing and wrestling organizations that have a vested interest in keeping the newcomer out.
Mr. Polonitza trains MMA fighters at his studio and also teaches more traditional forms of martial arts. He concedes that MMA is a grueling sport, but he also believes that with proper training and the right attitude, MMA provides a unique opportunity for immense physical improvement, as well as for the development of self-discipline and selfknowledge.
"Today's young people are very impatient. They come in to the studio claiming that they want to be trained as MMA warriors and they're full of enthusiasm until they realize the tremendous amount of time, and the sheer level of work that is required. A lot of them give up pretty fast," he says.
Mr. Polonitza partly blames the martial arts world itself. "Kids today sign a contract with a studio and expect a black belt designation in two years or less. In many cases, the standards have been watered down," he says. "But there's no way to water down MMA training. Anyone who steps in to a shootfighting ring without being completely prepared is asking for trouble."
Psychology experts are taking serious note of the interest in MMA among young men, believing that boys today lack outlets for their natural physical aggression as well as productive and socially acceptable ways to prove their masculinity. "Their bodies mature, but they aren't given anything productive to do with them," says social psychologist Lawrence Greene. "There are also very few rites of passage that introduce boys into manhood. As a result, we have men who act like boys until they're 30 — or more. This phenomenon is very unique to our age. Before now, properly directed male aggression was considered a benefit to society and a natural part of masculine development. It doesn't surprise me that young males are looking for some place to vent their physical instincts."
Despite its designation as a blood sport, MMA attracts a surprising group of participants. According to Ultimate Fighting Championship statistics, an astonishing number of shootfighters are college-educated, white-collar men — lawyers, investment bankers, engineers and corporate accountants.
Despite the obvious physical brutality of the sport, shootfighting is not just about pounding your opponent, says Mr. Polonitza. "Success requires a great deal of thinking, planning and strategy. Patience: the ability to draw out your opponent, to coax them to expose their weaknesses to nullify their strengths, to out-maneuver them mentally as well as physically. The whole process is way more akin to a strategic military battle than a schoolyard take-down," he adds.
Mr. Deane agrees. "I would certainly never go out looking for a fight on the street, but in the ring, I can feel comfortable with my own aggression. I know that my opponent knows what he's getting himself into and that he has trained and prepared, just as I have. There doesn't have to be any hesitation or guilt for either of us. It's not personal, it's a contest. May the best man win."