It’s All About Choices

Melissa Stringer

I know a young woman, in her early 20s who’s a very serious MMA fighter. She lives to train with her team, and they train hard. They train for hours a day, sometimes two or three times a day. Melissa’s whole world is about taking care of her body, nutrition and fitness.

She’s a pretty girl and typically, when Melissa leaves the gym or says good buy she says, “Make good choices!” in her adorable sing song voice.

I think that might be the smartest thing anyone can tell any of us. Simply “make good choices”. At work and at home. Choose to work a little bit harder, choose to be a better parent, brother or sister. Make good choices when dealing with people, choose to be kind and polite. Choose to be hones and supportive. Those are all good choices.

For teenage boys,I know, this is an hourly battle. Bad ideas explode in their brains like popcorn. And they struggle to learn which bad ideas to latch onto and put into motion and which to ignore because it will no doubt result in a grounding, a ticket or an arrest. They are really smart but they desperately want to pass the slow truck on a curve even though it’s raining. Why not to throw the water balloon at their friend in the living room? Skateboarding down the tile staircase seem like an awesome idea.

Melissa constantly has to make “good choices” or she’ll never be ready for her next fight. It’s all about the decisions she makes.She has to be very, very careful what she eats or she’ll never make weight. When her friends are eating pizza and Oreos she has to go with a protein shake or she’ll never achieve her dream. Like all the fighters she trains with, Melissa has to decide to go to bed early,instead of hanging out with her friends or she can’t train early in the morning.

Adults aren’t above making good and bad choices. I wish I made good choices more often. I wish I’d pay off our car instead of insisting on a vacation. I wish I ate a salad for lunch instead of the giant delicious gnarly brisket burger. I wish I went for a hike with my son and the dog instead of watching The Big Bang rerun for the third time.

But I’ll keep trying. Because there are folks like Melissa out there, reminding me to “make good choices.”

The Wisdom of Dawond Pickney

dawond pickneyWhen Dawond Pickney was ten years old he remembers holding a spit bucket in the corner of a boxing ring for his father Harold . “I was his trainer, his corner man, his cut man, even thought I didn’t really know that much about that.  I’d get him up in the morning and make him run and work out. But you know I was a young guy so he could run over me, I guess that’s why he used me as his trainer. He didn’t have the discipline, he liked to party and do other things a fighter’s not supposed to do.”

In the movie Knight’s Tale John Thatcher, a poor father tells  his young terrified  son to “Change his stars.”

Most of us  blame our stars for all the misfortunes and bad luck in our lives. Very few are ever brave enough to actually try to change our stars, to step out on faith and try something that’s probably impossible.

Dawond Pickney is a 35 year old MMA fighter in Hot Springs, Arkansas. As an amateur he was 7-5, as a pro he’s 1-1.

Thirty five is a little old by most people’s standards, but Dawond doesn’t see it that way, “I’m pretty sure I still have a few good years in me,” he said so quietly I had to move the recorder closer to his face.  But that’s Dawond. Despite his success  in the cage and his reputation as one of the most dangerous cage fighters in Arkansas, he is humble and unassuming… no chest thumping…no bravado.

When he’s in the cage it’s a different story.  There he has an almost laser like focus and intensity. He stalks his opponents as though the outcome is inevitable fight.  His hands are ridiculously fast, but there are professional boxers on both sides of Dawond’s family. His grandfather on his mother’s side fought Leon Spinx (who went on to be world champion) twice.

“My dad was a good fighter, a terrific fighter, but he just never had any discipline. But watching him, that’s how I figured out how to be a good fighter. From the time I was little, we’d watch his fight films every week, two or three times.

Several years ago Dawond’s cousin brought him a poster for what they thought was a tough man contest. He entered, not knowing much about MMA.  “That first fight I was nervous and I hadn’t trained.  I told my mom, “dog gone, I’m nervous” and she said ‘You better not lose”.

Dawond won with a first round knockout.

When I ask him to tell me about his mother he leans back, “My Mom, she’s a good good woman, beautiful woman. She supports me, she’s at all my fight. She goes crazy. They video taped her once running up and down the isle yelling ”you better not lose, you better knock him out.”

dawond 2If you tell most people a young man is training in mma or cage fighting they assume it’s a bad thing, that mma breeds punks and thugs, like pit bulls.  For Dawand, it was the opposite and everyone around him realized he needed to be focused on something. “People who knew me coming up, well I was wild, so they knew it would be good for me it helps me stay focused and determined. I was really wild, but this helps me, it grounds me in a lot of ways. And I like the discipline. I love the discipline.  Martial Arts is a discipline and to be a good fighter, whether it’s boxing, kickboxing, JiuJjitsu, you gotta be disciplined. ”

With that in mind, Dawand trains two or three times a day, five or six times a week.  In the morning it’s an hour or more working on stand up skills and cardio. During his lunch break at work he goes to the gym and focuses on strength, cardio or circuit training and every night, Monday through Friday he’s at the gym from 6pm-9pm training with his team. And he works full time 40-50 hours a week.

“If you read about the best at any sport it’s all about the discipline and drive. They other day I watched a video on Arnold Schwarzenegger  and he was talking about “the drive” and  what it takes to the be the best. You can’t say “maybe I’ll do something” you gotta say “I’m gonna do what it takes to accomplish my goals.”

“You gonna have failures, get whooped, you might get dissed, but you gotta have that drive. I remember one day I got knocked out, really knocked out and I ain’t gonna lie, my dad was in my corner and he said, “now this is what it’s gonna take to see if what type of fighter your gonna be. Are you gonna quite or are you gonna hit the gym and try to be a successful fighter? I said “I ain’t no quitter”. And that’s why I’m here today right here. I don’t know how good I’m doing but I’m gonna reach my goal…to be the best fighter.”

Other fighters and his coach, Bob Edmonds, are blown away by his skill and technique.  But it’s the man’s attitude, discipline and work ethic that are awe inspiring and set the standard at Off The Chain MMA. When I mentioned to one fighter I was writing about Dawond, he just smiled, shook his head and said, “man Dawond is awesome.”

MMA is plagued by stereo-types.  Lots of fighters jump on top of the cage after a win, they scream and flex up. It’s easy to assume humility isn’t part of the mixed martial arts world. But Dawond destroys that misconception. “I read about George St. Pier and he said “every time he goes in a gym he’s a white belt. Ever time, and me too, I’m the same way, especially when I go cross train. I go everywhere but when I walk in the door I never voice my opinion. I’m there to learn.”

Since the dawn of time some men were born to fight, some were born to watch. And when Dawond tells me he’s not afraid of anybody and he’d be willing to fight anyone….I believe him.

“It’s like my daddy used to say ‘You see me fighting a bear you better help that bear’

Dawond loves to fight, he loves the discipline and he loves his family and daughter. He brags about her and  she motivates him to do other things, not fight, but to be a great dad. “My little girl she loves to fight, but she’s a good girl, she walks past people,  and says excuse me, she’s a good kind girl.”

What drives a man to push himself so relentlessly? It’s hard to say, but some men have the drive, the discipline and the guts to change their stars. And it seems, Dawond Pickney’s stars have already started shifting.





Wise Men At The Liquor Store…It’s My Redneck Christmas

Fountain Lake, the community I live in, is tiny and decidedly red neck. I just ran a couple of errands, two nights before Christmas, and was overwhelmed by the Holiday Spirit.

In Fountain Lake the Holiday Spirit is a little different, but just as sweet.

First, I spotted three Wise Men and an Angel waving at strangers in front of the Fountain Lake Liquor Store and Sub-Way. How beautiful is that?

Then Pat, the generally tight video store owner, didn’t collect my late charges. He said, “Merry Christmas,” and waved me away. Cool!

As I passed Insane Auto, a buy here, pay here car lot, I realized there, behind the light up nativity scene, right behind Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus there was a pick-up truck wrapped  in Christmas lights! It was so pretty I almost teared up because the Insane Auto folks obviously spent a lot of time putting their lights and decorations out and it graces the Fountain Lake community, every year.

And finally, Tony, my daughter’s, tatted- up, kickboxing coach surprised everyone by making fudge. I sure didn’t see that one coming.

Every community celebrates the Christmas season differently. At Sandor’s school  in the Christmas pagent this year there were six little kids dressed as reindeer with antlers. One of them actually had a beanie with real deer antlers poking out. A six point buck died for the Ft. Lake Christmas play. How about that?

So love and appreciate your community, whether it’s a Starbuck sipping village with tiny silver and gold lights or a Rebel Yelling crossroads where camouflage, lip gloss and a Santa hat constitute party wear.

*Thanks so much for reading Hampoland. Merry Christmas!