1) Many High Caliber Fighters Get High
Cannabis became a major source of controversy in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community when rock musician turned MMA and marijuana legalization icon, Eddie Bravo, defeated Royler Gracie at the 2003 Abu Dhabi World Submission Wrestling Championships. Bravo openly endorses combining cannabis consumption with martial arts training and credits weed with helping him develop his highly unorthodox and effective “rubber guard” and “twister” submission techniques. “I think people should smoking weed in their late 20’s – early 30’s” Bravo writes.
Eddie Bravo turned current UFC commentator Joe Rogan onto weed while they were working cageside together. “Before I started smoking pot I thought it was for losers. I really did,” Rogan admits. Now he’s a major stoner icon who advocates marijuana as a performance enhancing drug to annihilate the stereotype of stoners as stupid, lazy, unmotivated individuals. Joe Rogan’s advocacy for merging mixed martial arts with marijuana and radical political discourse is a direct source of inspiration for 420 Fight Club. “I like to smoke pot and work out,” he unequivocally writes on his blog. “My mind juggles, focusing on technique with constant regulation of the breath and an appreciation of the music. All three dance together in a beautiful storm of moving meditation, discipline and inspiration”
Rogan claims that “more UFC fighters smoke pot than don’t smoke pot” and moreover that “most fighters in the promotion are blazing outside of their fight schedules.” UFC president Dana White agrees with Joe Rogan, estimating that 84 percent of his athletes smoke weed. “Forget about PEDs [Performance Enhancing Drugs, aka Steroids],” White writes. “If we get into this random testing you guys are talking about, you know how many guys would probably test positive for marijuana? It would probably be off the charts.” UFC Fighters Alex Cacares, Matt Riddle, Pat Healy and of course, Nick Diaz, arguably the most notorious weed warrior in the game today, have all been suspended for getting caught with cannabis in their systems. “I’m more consistent about everything being a cannabis user,” says UFC Fighter Nick Diaz.
Bruce Lee was found dead with so much THC in his system and so much hash in his stomach from his autopsy that his doctor tried to blame weed for his death – which was due to an adverse reaction to a pain-killer called Equagesic, which contained both aspirin and a muscle relaxer. Bruce Lee loved to eat hash brownies and believed that weed helped his muscles relax and remain fluid while fighting. He was even known to pass out joints when he would arrive at parties.
2) Cannabis and Combat Sports Share Similar Biochemistry
Perhaps you’re worried that weed will ruin your lungs thereby compromising your cardiovascular endurance. Perhaps you’re worried that it will lower your pain threshold and that you won’t be able to train or fight as hard as you ordinarily would if you get in the habit of getting high before you throw down.
These are all perfectly understandable concerns about cannabis and combat sports. There certainly is research which strongly suggests that cannabis can inhibit neurological processes thereby inhibiting muscular growth and control. However, it doesn’t seem to slow down the world’s fastest runner, swimmer or champion triathlete Clifford Drusinsky. Weed certainly didn’t slow down Bruce Lee who in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do wrote about developing speed through economy of form, relaxing the muscles and “to overcome the natural tendency to try too hard – to hurry, to strain, press and try to blast the whole fight at once” (1975:57).
The fact of the matter is that it would be much easier to answer all of our biochemical questions about cannabis and combat sports if our government would stop stifling and censoring positive research findings about the miraculous health advantages which began when President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law in 1970. Recent credible cannabis studies are showing us however, that rigorous exercise and excellent weed stimulate the same biochemical processes in our minds and bodies.
Researchers first discovered and cloned the THC receptors that naturally exist inside of our brains in 1990. Another naturally existing receptor for cannabinoids was soon discovered throughout our bodies’ immune systems, nervous systems, our guts, spleens, livers, hearts, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands and our reproductive organs. Raphael Mechoulam and his colleagues discovered that our bodies do indeed produce a natural “high” from an inner form of THC which they named “anandamide” from the sanskrit word for bliss.
Researchers used to believe that endorphins, our body’s inner opiates, were responsible for the “runner’s high” effect which researchers are now attributing to endocannabinoids. We all have anandamide, the inner chemical key to bliss inside of our bodies, however it is considered a fragile molecule with short lived effects. People who have lower levels of stress and higher levels of anandamide typically feel anxious or paranoid when they smoke weed since they’re already high on their body’s own inner stash. Some of us however have a harder time accessing our inner bliss molecules because we have higher levels of stress and therefore higher levels of Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks anandamide down into arachidonic acid and ethanolamine. THC, which acts upon the same endocannabinoid receptors exactly the same way as Anandamide does, is a more durable molecule however that can remain in the body’s fat cells for weeks.
I personally crave CBD, which you typically find in indica strains or in specially grown sativas such as Charlotte’s Web or Harlequin and gets you high by suppressing FAAH, thereby triggering the release of anandamide and the sensation of a natural, euphoric, blissful calm. Chris Barnacle, winner of the 2015 420 games, said that the powers of CBD for performance anxiety have yet to be unlocked.
Forget about the old cliches and stereotypes about stoners being stupid lazy couch-locked burnouts. Weed helps people with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy exercise more frequently and more effectively and it also helps people without life-threatening neurological disorders enjoy their workouts more. Dedicated pot heads typically have waistlines that are typically 1.5 inches smaller than non-users and we’re about 30% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than our seemingly sober puritanical counterparts because marijuana actually speeds up our metabolisms.
You’re a sucker for the lies of cigarette companies as well as the Government if you think that smoking herb will ruin your lungs and your life just because industrial processed tobacco surely will. Smoking weed is exercise for the respiratory system and the key advantage of using marijuana to supplement your martial arts training in my humble opinion. There is solid scientific evidence to believe that smoking weed will actually strengthen your lungs. Studies in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012 failed to discover any proof that smoking pot will lead to lung cancer or any other pulmonary complications and indeed suggest that weed actually prevents lung cancer, even in tobacco smokers to some extent.
The 2012 study also found that smoking cannabis actually improved lung functioning for sufferers of asthma which isn’t surprising since researchers have long known that cannabis is a bronchodilator, increasing airflow to the lungs. I myself was diagnosed with athletes induced asthma after a doctor made me run up and down two flights of stairs as a kid. I was unable to run a mile in gym class without slowing down to walk and I used to breathe so heavily during kick combinations in Tae Kwon Do and Capoeira classes that I would get splitting aches in the side of my stomach. Reefer taught me how to love the joys of running! Getting stoned and going for a swim is great too!
Yes, I still exercise and train when I run out of weed. Training is indeed one of the only things that will keep my negative emotions at bay and my anandamide levels high enough for me to feel more peace and happiness when I’m dry and waiting for the herb to come back around. However, I always prefer to get high before I train if possible since, much like Clifford Drusinsky says, it helps me focus on my form, on absorbing information from my teachers, training partners and opponents whereas I would be more self conscious, irritable and prone to injuring myself and others without it.
Marijuana has of course been a gateway drug to meditation, inner peace, a higher spiritual consciousness and physical health for ages in African, Chinese, Tibetan, Hindu, Rastafarian and Judeo Christian traditions and weed will work the same way in any martial arts practice you can apply it to. Cannabis has also given me an even greater appreciation for internal styles of martial arts such as Tai Chi, which makes sense given how meditation, massage, yoga and acupuncture are known to stimulate the endocannabinoid system.
There is some research which suggests that weed may lower your pain threshold. There is other research however which suggests that cannabis simply changes the way you emotionally react to physical pain. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in red-hot chilli oil, was spread on a small patch of skin of several research subjects who were also given some weed to smoke. They reported that the pain they felt was just as intense to them as it was to the controlled group of research subjects who weren’t given any weed. Similar capsaicin studies using MRI imaging revealed that activity in the mid-cingulate cortex of the brain which correlates with our emotional processing of physical pain, as well as the right amygdala which processes fear, sadness and discomfort, was significantly reduced. This is why people didn’t report any change in the burn from capsaicin even though they reported that the pain bothered them less.
There’s a lot of chemistry to figure out and optimize for those of us who are interested in combining cannabis with martial arts training and conditioning. Different styles of martial arts emphasize different mental attitudes and physical attributes just like different strains of herb have different cannabinoid attributes with distinct medicinal benefits. Writing down notes about specific martial arts techniques in a journal is a great way to improve your technical skills. Writing down notes about which strains of weed you’re combining with your practice, as well as conditioning and nutritional regimens, are an ideal way to figure out which strains of weed will work best for whatever your goals in the martial arts are, especially if you’re green to cannabis and combat sports. Sticking with strains that are high in CBD content is a great way to help you focus on acquiring skills, sparring, and for eliminating competitive performance anxiety without any psychedelic effects. Strains with really high THC content are better suited to help you prepare for, push and recover from physical conditioning as a very general rule of thumb. Combinations of both main cannabinoids are ideal for speeding up physical and psychological recovery from serious injuries. Next, you can begin learning about the various medicinal properties of terpenes to optimize your training and recovery regimens.
3) Marijuana and Martial Arts Share Hidden Histories
Every martial art was born out of interpersonal oppression if not asymmetrical or guerrilla warfare. Styles of martial arts lose their potency and appeal, and can go extinct just like certain strains of weed. All of the martial arts that we continue to practice today have more or less been proven to help seemingly weaker people defeat seemingly stronger people. Daily martial arts practice helps people grow stronger just like daily cannabis helps sick people grow healthier. Combing the two together is power and not at all new. The history of marijuana and martial arts are both histories of global imperialism and the importance of weed in the history of the martial arts has long been overlooked.
Adrienne Mayor of the Stanford University Classics Department revealed not only that Amazon warrior women were real people, but that they were terrorized patriarchal Greeks with horses, hunting dogs, falcons, bows, arrows, lances, swords, lassos (just like Wonder Woman), axes and lots of hemp burning devices caked with resin buried along with their weapons in their tombs. Mayor also revealed that so-called “Amazon’s” are still very much alive and well and that you can still train like an Amazon!
Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons reminded the world about the myth that the word assassin is derived from hashshashin which referred to an Ismaili sect of Shia Islam known for infiltrating and gaining the trust of their predominantly Seljuk Turkish victims before stabbing them to death in carefully organized, well-rehearsed surprise attacks. Their leader, Hasan-i Sabbah, “the old man of the mountains”, was known for punishing two of his sons for using alcohol with death. Marco Polo claimed that he used hash-fueled orgies to lure young recruits into potentially suicidal stabbing plots and that the hassassins got high to train and to kill their enemies – hence the name hashshashin. Polo’s claim was likely based upon propaganda intended to portray the assassins in an understandably negative light. In an Ancient Ops Netflix documentary about the hassassins, Sifu Julian Hitch doubted in his interview that the hassassins used “drugs”, believing that it would ruin their focus on missions. The modern science of cannabis along with the plant’s arguably proven place in modern martial arts however doesn’t suggest any reason why the hassassins wouldn’t have used weed to cultivate their killing efficiency.
Cannabis has a long history in Ancient Japan. Peasants were more likely to have access to it than did to rice-based sake. The plant was used for a variety of industrial, medicinal and spiritual purposes. Travelers carried it, left it as offerings at shrines. Families burned bundles of it in their doorways along with incense to welcome back the spirits of the dead during the Shinto O-Ban fall festival. The Shinto religion played a major role in the development of ninjutsu which suggests that cannabis may have had a stealthy role in the development of ninjutsu as well. Japanese cannabis expert and historian Junichi Takayasu saw a picture book when he was three years old that “showed how ninjas trained by jumping over cannabis plants. “Every day they had to leap higher and higher,” according to Takayasu, “because cannabis grows very quickly. I was so amazed that I told my mom I wanted to grow cannabis when I was older.”
4) Marijuana and Martial Arts Prohibition Have Much in Common
Martial arts prohibition is a time-honored inhumane form of social control. Ancient forms of jujitsu and karate were banned in Okinawa by the Japanese in 1477. The ruling elite of the Qing Dynasty (1636-1911) banned the practice of martial arts, forcing underground societies to practice and pass on their arts in secrete. Practitioners of the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira were perhaps even more heavily persecuted, arrested, tortured and maimed by police after the abolition of slavery in 1888 in Brazil than they were when they were in bondage. Capoeira was prohibited everywhere in Brazil by 1890. The Japanese also banned martial arts in Korea such as Tae Kwon Do along with their language beginning in 1910. The United States prohibited Kendo and Judo, as well as hemp production (which was just as vital to their war effort as it was to ours) in Japan after WWII in order to undermine militarism, according to Takayasu.
MMA has come a really long way since 1997 when Senator John McCain called the UFC “human cockfighting” and attempted to ban it from the airwaves. Years later, the former presidential candidate told UFC Champ Jon Jones that he would watch his April 26, 2014 fight with Glover Teixeira and that he would have participated in MMA as a young man in the Navy had it been offered in the military back then. New York was the last state to recently legalize Mixed Martial Arts and MMA fans can finally be able to watch the UFC live in Madison Square Garden this coming November.
In spite of how much the sport has done to help dispel the lazy stoner stereotype, weed is still every bit as illegal for UFC athletes even if it’s legal in their home states. UFC president Dana White won’t be attending any ultimate cannabis cups anytime soon since he doesn’t smoke weed, however he doesn’t support suspending athletes such as Nick Diaz who has been caught with it multiple times. “Look at how long Nick Diaz is out right now for marijuana, it’s the same as a guy who’s taking steroids. It’s crazy, so the whole system is messed up.”
The good news however is that the chemistry of cannabis and combat sports, the hidden history of hemp and martial arts, along with the politics of pot in the UFC, are all incredibly useful sources of wisdom and knowledge which can help us determine how to best utilize martial arts to help fight for an end to the global war on drugs as well as all of the interpersonal oppression (bullying) stemming from a variety of social problems we need to address. Women suffragettes learned jujitsu to fight for the right to vote in late Victorian England. The Black Power Movement’s fascination with the popular martial arts of the 1960s and 1970s has an ancient historical context since the history of African martial arts is as old as Ancient Egypt itself. T.J. Desch-Obi explained the historical significance of what he called “tricknology” in black martial arts during slavery in the Americas in his mind-blowing book Fighting For Honor.
420 Fight Club is by no means the first modern example of a western social movement to utilize martial arts as solidarity building exercises, although it may very well be the first time that a cannabis legalization coalition may have done so. The objective of course is to start a trend of martial arts practice among revolutionary activists and organizers to make our social movements less angry, less aggressively confrontational and indeed even less violent than they ever have been so as to ironically make them more appealing and therefore far more potentially effective.
I’ve found that teaching martial arts techniques in public is a great way to encourage people to come out for good causes like cannabis legalization. I’d love to see more pro-martial artists teach some free lessons at political gatherings to get people more interested in cultivating healthier, safer lifestyles, to promote more humane forms of combat and self defense, and to score some business for their schools as well. I’d love to see more UFC champions and pro-martial arts instructors taking more public political stances.
I also believe that many police officers will betray the politicians and the bankers that pay them when they see that we’re capable of kicking ass but that we would rather get high, just train and have a good time. Then the authorities will respect our non-violence as a deliberate moral decision as opposed to a strategy of necessity born out of desperation. Then we will have occupied and broken the One Percent’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. The point is to show law enforcement officers that they shouldn’t have any authority over us unless they can use much less violent techniques for keeping the peace. Cops should be paid with good public sovereign money for teaching citizens martial arts in public places as a means of community policing in my opinion. The Judo sensei I’m currently studying under is also a Vietnam War Vet and a military police officer who told me that you couldn’t be an MP if you needed a gun as opposed to some training, some common sense and some courtesy to take care of yourself. I occasionally get to train with a current NYPD officer who told me that he wouldn’t have entered Ramarley Graham’s home like his former partner Richard Haste did because he didn’t have the same kind of killer instincts that the armed forces instill in their troops.
Photo by Cerena Leigh
In the meantime however, I’ve found that teaching capoeira to cannabis users is a great way to distract law enforcement officers while we’re getting high since martial arts are thankfully a little bit more legal than weed is at this moment in history. I’ve also found that weed helps people feel calmer about trying martial arts for the first time especially in front of strangers as well as the police.