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Wednesday, Oct 12, 2011

Book Review: “Caged: Memoirs of a Cage Fighting Poet”

By Tim Schwichtenberg

There are very few, if any sports today that are harder than mixed martial arts, both physically and mentally. Those who choose to step into the ring or cage spend countless hours in training, pushing their bodies and minds to the extreme.

The fruit of all that hard training and punishment is had in competition, where one gets to perform in front of an audience. The fighter gets to show how talented and tough he or she is. In success or defeat, there is nothing to take away from someone who stands toe to toe with another and fights his or her heart out.

I’m hard pressed to think of anything harder than stepping into a cage against another man. There is one thing that comes to mind though, and that is baring your vulnerabilities, fears, and deepest and darkest moments for the whole world to see. Cameron Conaway has done just that in “Caged: Memoirs of a Cage Fighting Poet”.

Cameron is a mixed martial artist and a writer. These are two careers that rarely cross paths. In my four years training in various gyms around the United States and Brazil I’ve met only one writer other than myself. The fact that Cameron is not only a writer, but resides in the genre of poetry only adds to the rarity of his story. The impressive part isn’t that he can fight and write though, but more so that he can fuse the two and take from one to better the other.

“The cage, this time, did not conjure up thoughts of violent and shamefulhuman spectacles. Instead, it was lifeless compared to the warriors who entered it. I saw its soft corners and compared it to the sharp muscular cuts of a fighter’s forearms. The real cage was the one I lived in daily; this physical cage stood only as metaphor.”

For fans of the sport, this book gives a look into the mind of a fighter in training and in the moments before, during, and after a fight. The emotions presented are raw, untouched by politically correct hands.  There are times in Cameron’s description of fighting where I feel he was on the biggest high of his life, and times where he shows his weakness in blunt, written form.

There are plenty of books written about the psychology of athletes and fighters, many of which I’ve read. There are few that take you through the emotion of an entire fight, from one’s arrival at the venue to post-victory celebration. The ways in which Cameron describes his own emotions are the cornerstone of his writing about his fighting experiences.

“Something suddenly exploded in me. Something beyond arrogance. Indestructibility.  There was nothing this other body could do to hurt me. I had done everything possible in training. All doubts evaporated about my cardio, my strength, my grappling, my striking or my state of mind. The nights spent fighting sleep’s pull into darkness, standing up to my father, my mom front row like she had been at every basketball game, everything in my life came to fruition and wiped my slate clean of any insecurity. I didn’t hear the music and I didn’t hear the fans. I felt primal, pure, and ready.”

While I recommend the book for its take on fighting alone, there is much more to the story. The book is about self-reflection, looking at yourself and your life through an honest, sometimes harsh microscope that opens you up to minute details and connections you may have never made.

After reading the book, I started to reflect on my own life and thought about how some of the situations I encountered as a child and throughout the rest of my life have shaped my views on the world today.

One of the main themes of the book is Cameron’s relationship with his father, both how it ended years ago and yet remained a guiding factor in many portions of his life. While I didn’t have this same kind of experience with my father, I found Cameron’s view on this relationship, or lack thereof, eerily similar to many relationships I have had in the past.

His ability to write not just about what happened, but also how it shaped him as a person and the effects it had on other areas of his life, was some of the most thought provoking material I’ve read in a very long time.

“Caged” is a book about Cameron Conaway, a poet and fighter. It’s about relationships and family. It’s about fighting in the cage and in life. It’s about looking at yourself and how your life has gone, and trying to make sense of it all.

If you’ve ever watched a mixed martial arts fight, trained in the sport, or faced adversity in either the ring or in life in general, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of “Caged.”

posted by FCF Staff @ 11:52 am
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