Why I Like Writing Way More Than I Ever Liked Fighting
Lessons from a retired fighter.
Today I’ve got a guest post from my friend Alvin.
Hope you guys enjoy reading this article as much as I did.
The above picture was taken in 2015, when I was still a fighter. I had uploaded it on my socials, with just a single word serving as caption.
The word was, “War.”
That was my mentality back then. I was only twenty years old, twenty and gunning to be a fighter. Mixed-martial arts was just taking off then, and I was enamored by the sport. I had big goals. I didn’t want to be just any old fighter; I wanted to be a world champion, the first in my hometown, the best goddamn fighter the island of Singapore has ever seen.
And I found some early success, too. I won my first four fights without a hitch and was well on my way to to fighting for a local belt.
And then, during my fifth and last fight, I lost. I got knocked out.
Worse than that, I got injured.
I, in my infinite bumbling genius, had somehow, during my loss, managed to dislocate my shoulder. My arm popped right back into the socket, but it was never the same again.
More injuries followed. A torn MCL. A concussion. A recurrent corneal abrasion that just would not heal. It came to a point where every time I tried to come back to training, to book my next fight, I would get hurt. After my fifth or sixth hospital visit, I decided that enough was enough.
I’m not a religious man by any means, but I flatter myself in saying that I am somewhat spiritual, and being as spiritual as I am I took the above injuries as a sign from the Universe.
I decided to give up on my pugilistic dreams. I decided to stop training entirely.
I went into the bends.
Years of depression followed.
I drank too much. I worked odd jobs. I dated one flighty chick after another. But one day, a ray of light appeared. That ray of light appeared in the form of a book, and I stumbled upon it purely by accident.
It happened like this:
Then one night I was scrounging around my bag looking for beer change when out popped Post Office, a jack-in-the-box written by a long-dead man. Oh, what the hell, I thought. I’ll give it a go. I sat down, cracked open a cold one, then cracked open the book.
Then something miraculous happened. The lights turned out. The sky fell in.
Bukowski wrote like nobody I had ever read. He was a poet, yes, but his poetry was of the streets. He wrote about war and hypocrisy and the pain and plight of the common man, and everywhere I read his lines were afire with the terrible beauty of everyday life. This is good stuff, I thought. This is very good stuff. I read and I read and I couldn’t stop. The inevitable Suffering of Life was depicted not with Tragedy but with Humour, and as the night stretched into day the words he wrote burned themselves like meteors across the blank page.
When I was done with it far too soon I thought to myself: one day, when I have drunk enough beers and lived enough years and slept with women from at least three different continents, I too shall write a book like this.
It took me many, many years — but then I did.
I finally did.
Excerpt taken from my first novel, “National Service: Confessions of a ‘Chao Keng’ Soldier.
I was astounded when I read Bukowski. Astounded, yes…but not overly impressed.
His prose was simple — jagged, almost. The beauty of his words, in my neophyte opinion, stemmed less from how he said things than what he had to say. Bukowski had led an interesting life, and he recalled it in a blunt and confessional manner.
“Hell, I could do that.” I thought. “I too, have led an interesting life, what with the fights and the girls and the drinking and all…” That night, when I was done with Post Office, I put down the book and picked up the pen.
My journey as a writer had begun.
The Understated Joys of Writing
Fast forward to today.
It has been two-plus years since I started writing, and I have found some marginal success. I have a small following on Medium and have recently published my first book. And now, sitting here, looking back at those long years, I am struck by a strange but comforting thought:
I am exactly where I am meant to be.
Writing, I realize, has given me a profound sense of joy, a joy that fighting, for all its over-the-top excitement, has never given me. Writing this, I cannot help but think that I enjoy writing way more than I had ever liked fighting.
In this article, I will state the exact reasons why. And if you were never a fighter, fret not. These lessons can be freely applied to both business and work—and dare I say, even life itself.
Let us begin.
It Is Extremely Gratifying To Pursue a Craft You Know You Can Do Forever
This is one of the best yet least remarked upon perks about writing: you can continue writing at a very high level, right up to the point where you die.
Let’s look at some examples.
Joseph Campbell, he of The Hero With a Thousand Faces fame, only became famous in his seventies. George R.R Martin was in his forties when he wrote A Game of Thrones. And the aforementioned Bukowski was almost sixty when he became a published novelist. These examples are not just confined to literature, either. Think Picasso. Mozart. Beethoven. What do these men have in common, aside from the fact that they are all legendary artists of yore?
Answer: they all worked on their craft right up to the point where they passed.
In short, it is possible for one to write, and indeed engage in all manner of artistic endeavors, well beyond one’s physical prime. Knowing this frees one from any and all anxiety. There is no need to rush. As an artist, you are only limited by your imagination and your lifespan. As an artist, you age like fine wine: you can only get better and better with age.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for fighting.
A Life Spent As a Gardener is Far More Peaceful Than a Life Spent At War
When people hear the words ‘martial arts’, they often think about tiny Asian senseis, dressed in kimonos, bowing to each other in a far-flung dojo. In the background may be pink flower petals falling all around. Someone might even poetically utter the words: “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener at war.”
Sorry, but I’ve gotta call bullshit on this one.
Most martial artists I know are some of the most competitive people I’ve ever met. This is especially true if they are active fighters.
Sure, there is a good reason for their over-testosterone braggadocio. When you’re engaged in a sport where you’re putting your literal life at risk every day, it is natural to want to seek every advantage you can. I know this because I used to have a brutally competitive mindset too.
Therefore, I also know that having this mindset all the time can be exhausting.
So imagine my surprise and delight when I found writing.
Here was something I could engage in without risking life and limb. Here was something I could do without returning home feeling like I had just been run over by a truck. And most of all, here, at last, was a craft where my success depended not upon the failure of my opposition, but solely upon the elevation of my Self.
The last point is the one most applicable to real-life.
In life, seek as much as possible to play positive-sum games. Seek to engage in activities where the wins or losses of your opposition do not matter. Seek victory over yourself, and yourself alone.
Then, and only then, can you truly find peace.
Balance is the Key
When you are doing something as exciting as fighting, working, or running your own business, it can be easy for you to get lost in the chaos. It can be easy for you to become the metaphorical dog chasing its own tail, forever in search of the next grand accolade, for your next great dopamine high.
Writing has given me a gift that fighting never did. It has allowed me to understand myself, and through myself, better understand the world. And here, I’ll leave you with your last tip:
Whatever you do, make sure to balance the exciting with the mundane.
Give yourself some time, once in a while, to get away from it all. Give yourself some time to think. Ask yourself: is this bigger paycheque/newer car/shinier belt the thing I really want? Or am I just caught up by the noise, by the ruckus of it all, like a drowning victim in a riptide, like a lonely goldfish trapped in a man-made sea?
Then, when your mind is recharged and you are certain you know what it is that you want — really, truly want — go after it, no matter what it may be, with a lion’s strength and an open heart.
Because balance, not obsession, is the key to living a long and fruitful life.
If you’re interested in checking out more of Alvin’s work, make sure to check him out on Medium.
I’d also recommend diving into his novel National Service: Confession of a ‘Chao Keng’ Soldier—I’m currently about 3 chapters in.
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