Diego, a true professional, does not usually spar or grapple with students on their first day of practice. But I told him it was for an article, and soon he was gladly sweeping the leg, tossing me around the mat, and putting me in chokeholds and arm bars. I spent the rest of the day icing my neck back at the Thrillist office.
Diego also gave free guru guidance about the nature of fear. He taught me that as you repeat activities that frighten you, your body and mind become accustomed to fear. The first time he sparred, his body reacted the same way as mine did -- tensing up, heart rate going berserk: reasonable responses to getting choked out.
“But if you get to that point often enough,” he said, “your body starts to react like ‘Ok, this again?’” Fighting, he said, makes everything else seem quiet. Diego’s also a standup comic, and he said that training MMA helped him skip the “stage fright” phase of performing comedy -- as bad as a tough crowd can be, they’re nothing compared to a tough fight.