New book: Tapped Out: Rear Naked Chokes, the Octagon, and the Last Emperor: An Odyssey in Mixed Martial Arts, by Matthew Polly ’95 (Gotham Books)
The author: A travel writer for Slate.com, Polly spent two years in China (taking a break from college) learning the language and honing his martial arts skills with monks who taught him kung fu. He wrote about that experience in his first book, American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China, which PAW called “a raucous, wry look at his transformation from a ‘weakling’ to a fighting machine.” At the age of 36, Polly decided to put his body to the test again and spent two years studying mixed martial arts in New York, Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, St. Petersburg, and Las Vegas.
The book: In this humorous narrative, Polly chronicles his grueling yet redeeming journey. He recounts Brazilian jiujitsu instruction from a Yoda-esque master who mixed armlocks with discourses on Kant, learning kickboxing by being beaten with a stick, and ultimately stepping into the ring to take on an opponent 15 years younger than he. Polly also discusses the sport’s history and its growing popularity. Polly began his project out of shape, but he not only survived, he won his one match. How did his body hold up? “I didn’t suffer any major, debilitating injuries. But over the two years of training, I had my nose broken, my ribs cracked, and caught a staph infection while training in Brazil. The worst however was a stubbed toe. It hurt like heck whenever I tried to run or turn on it, but no one has any sympathy for a toe injury.”
From the book: “I knew I needed to change my lifestyle, but I didn’t really want to. I was an ex-martial artist who had fallen off the path of righteousness. But I was also a nearly middle-aged man who had let himself go. I weighed 250 pounds and my blood pressure was 145/100. I was a cardiac arrest waiting to happen.
“Change is painful. But MMA is more painful. … It was ironic that a sport considered so brutal that it was banned in forty-seven states might actually save my life.”
Review: Library Journal wrote: “For the four million students studying at 30,000 martial arts schools nationwide, this should be catnip.”
Read more: PAW’s story on Matthew Polly ’95’s first book in the April 18, 2007 issue.