Joel Tudor scares me. Standing in his living room, between sips of herbal tea, Joel told me how he loves to fight and choke people out. He told me how Brazilian jiu-jitsu crushed his competitive drive for surf competitions saying that it's way more satisfying to choke out your entire division than it is to catch the best wave in the final.
The reality is that Joel is friendly and easygoing, but he possesses a confidence that intimidates me. I wanted that self-confidence, which is why I found myself drinking foul-tasting (1) herbal tea in Joel's living room, sweating about another masochistic Surf Tip experiment.
Surfing is well within the Darwinian paradigm. The strongest, most accomplished and often, the most intimidating species will leave the water with the highest wave count. For too long I have been intimidated by those who are higher up on the food chain. Since my surfing ability alone is not going to get me to the top of that chain, I devised a plan to meet these ends through more intimidating means—I would learn to fight. Or at the very least, learn to defend myself against those higher predators. In fact, this is the reason Joel started Brazilian jiu-jitsu five years ago. After being on the receiving end of a confrontation in Hawaii, he decided it was time to learn how to defend himself. Now he's a Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion runner-up. I have no such aspirations, but certainly stood to learn a thing or two from him.
The pre-fight hype:
I'm not a fighter. I consider myself a pacifist. A title bestowed on me not by my personal beliefs, but rather by my personal history. I was knocked out cold by a rogue sucker-punch when I was 16, and then, in my 20s I was socked in the throat by a farmer's daughter at a bar in J-Bay (2). My sparkling track record notwithstanding, the terror I experienced on the drive to the gym was unparalleled. Joel made it worse by recounting how, a few weeks earlier in a fight, he had broken his nose when his face slammed into the floor. He also showed me which teeth he had recently lost fighting. My teeth were a point of pride. I would miss them.
Joel trains at the PB Fight Center in Pacific Beach (3). When we arrived I reluctantly put on a gi (4) and sat next to a large gentleman named Ox. He wore black and must have weighed 220 pounds. Fight scars under his eyes and nose were obscured by a thick beard and a tangle of matted hair. Hypothetically, if Ox dropped in on me, I would probably let it slide. But contrary to his appearance, he immediately offered a greeting by way of a grizzly bear hug. With my personal space already invaded, a sweaty man with cauliflowered ears motioned for me to fight him. His black belt had me looking for an exit immediately, but it was too late now, there was no escape.
Sometimes I wonder about my profession, and finding myself straddling a sweaty half-naked Brazilian man counted as one of those times. In essence, the spar was an exercise in learning the fundamentals of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I was pretty good, I thought, but at the end of six minutes, the black belt threw me onto my back and I immediately began losing consciousness. A tap from my oxygen-deprived hand released the choking grip and brought me back from the brink of oblivion.
Joel Tudor vs. SURFER Magazine:
Granted, as a magazine, we didn't exactly put our best foot forward. Our office houses a Virginia wrestling champion and some other burly men of various descriptions. Including my previous tiffs, I had a total of six minutes and three seconds of fighting experience (5). So when I squared off against Joel, the outcome was inevitable. The order to fight, as always, came too soon. And before I had even fathomed a plan, I found myself flat on my back unable to move. My right arm twisted and bent by the force of the vice grip. It felt as if my arm teetered on the verge of snapping clean in two. I would later find out that a maneuver called "the triangle" was the cause for my discomfort. Regardless, letting out and unintentional yelp somehow freed me from the hold. I lay on the ground panting and somewhat embarrassed. The whole emasculating ordeal lasted a mere 13 seconds.
With freedom from Joel's grip came the knowledge that my position in surfing's hierarchy would remain stagnant and that I would have to rely on my pacifist methods of catching waves, indefinitely.
My six-minute romp with the sweaty black belt left me sore for days. Joel believes that through fighting, he's in the best shape of his life and the obvious benefits of being fit in the water cannot be overstated. He also maintains that there are similarities between Brazilian jiu-jitsu and surfing.
"The mental aspect is very similar," he explains. "A wave is constantly moving and unpredictable and the same goes for your opponent in a fight. You learn to think quickly and your body reacts quicker." If this seems like a bit of a stretch to you, I advise you to take it up with Joel, because as far as I'm concerned, if Joel Tudor says something, I'm not going to argue.
(1) Sorry Joel.
(2) She was huge.
(4) Just like the Karate Kid.
(5) She really was big, I promise.