While bouncing his one-year-old on his knee, Nick Osipczak tells me that he wants to return to the way he moved as a baby.
He is trying to unlearn all the bad habits he developed from years of sitting at school desks and lounging in unnatural positions. “A baby walks perfectly,” he tells me. “A baby squats perfectly, with no joint receiving too much pressure.” Open cardboard boxes cover the floor behind him; he’s in a state of transition. The UFC veteran recently left the south London gym he founded five years ago in favor of teaching retirees Yoga and Tai Chi in sleepy Oxfordshire. He hasn’t left MMA behind, though. In fact he’s returning to fighting soon after three years away from competition, but this time he’s approaching the sport in a different way.
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Years ago, Osipczak joined a kung fu school on a whim. He’d never trained in martial arts and he’d never been in a fight. He didn’t see the point of memorizing forms, but from the beginning he loved to spar. Within months he was getting the better of the gym’s higher-ranked members, and they would feign muscle cramps and ankle sprains to avoid embarrassment. After only a few years of training, Osipczak won the UK’s National Shaolin Kung Fu Championship. Feeling confident, he visited a local MMA gym and got his ass kicked. By everyone. He promptly dropped kung fu and dedicated himself to becoming an MMA fighter.
Naturally, Osipczak was frightened by the idea of stepping into a cage with men who wanted to knock him unconscious, but he turned that fear into motivation. “I’ve always been one to move toward my fears," he says. "I wanted to see if I could overcome the immobilizing fear and implement technique in a fight.” After mixed success on the amateur MMA circuit, he signed a contract for his first professional fight. He won by first round TKO and went on to earn victories in his next two fights, both by first-round submission. For weeks following a fight he would go out every night to trendy London nightclubs with friends and get wasted, often to the point of throwing up. “Drinking is a big part of my culture, and it was a big part of my youth,” he says. When he would return to training his fitness would be shot, months of hard training undone by a couple of weeks of decadence, and he’d have to start all over. But he’d proved to himself that he could rise above his fears, and after only three pro fights, his motivation began to waver. He hated running hills and cutting weight. MMA started to feel like a job.
Then the UFC called. They offered him a chance to be on the ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter. During the show, the baby-faced Osipczak was continually underestimated, but he went on to make it to the semi-finals and earn a contract with the promotion. With only a handful of pro fights under his belt, he found himself in the major leagues. In his Octagon debut he submitted Frank Lester in the first round, and five months later he knocked out Matt Riddle to improve his professional record to 5-0. As a 24-year-old kid he enjoyed the UFC lifestyle; he got to travel the world, and with his earnings, he was able to start his own MMA gym in London.
One year later, though, Osipczak received his walking papers. He’d lost three close decisions in a row, two by split decision. Osipczak says that during the third rounds of those fights his mind would drift toward lager. “This is not what a ‘world class athlete’ should be thinking!” he says. He was surprised by how relieved he felt after getting the news of his release. He didn’t have to run hills anymore or worry about keeping his weight down. He was done.
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Shortly after Osipczak got cut, his good friend and mental coach returned home after spending months backpacking through South America. He told Osipczak about an experience he’d had in Peru after consuming Ayahuasca, a brew made from various plants native to the Amazonian jungle, including Chacruna, a shrub containing the powerful hallucinogen DMT. For centuries the brew has been consumed by people indigenous to the region as a way of connecting to the spiritual world.
His friend told Osipczak that the experience puts you in a state where you can have any question you want answered. “I was like, ‘Really? Any question?’ I wanted to do it straight away,” Nick says. They set a date for the following week to hold a traditional Ayahuasca ceremony in London, and his friend flew in the shaman who’d guided his earlier experience in Peru.
On the night of the ceremony, 15 people sat around the concrete lip of an indoor pool, the glow of the underwater lights illuminating their faces in the darkness. The shaman stood by the pot where the shrubs had been stewing over a wood fire for the previous 10 hours, and one by one they got up and approached him to receive a small clay bowl. He let out guttural chants as they cringed from the brew’s bitter taste. His songs guided them throughout, interrupted only by the occasional heaving sounds of someone undergoing “la purga,” the vomiting the brew can induce, traditionally seen as the release of repressed negative energy and emotion. Osipczak was one of the few who didn’t purge that day, something he attributes to the cleansing nature of his previous life. “Because of my martial arts training, I was good at this,” he says.
According to Osipczak, the Ayahuasca state is the place we go when we dream, the place we go when we die, where we reconnect with our spirit from a time before it had a physical manifestation, where we see that everything is one and that this one consciousness has in some form or another always existed. “When you’re in this state, there is a familiarity to it, and you realize it’s a place you’ve been before,” he tells me. “It is realer than what we normally consider reality.”
Osipczak notices the befuddled look on my face and tries to break it down even further: “This interaction could be perceived as me, Nick, talking to you, Drew, but that is because we’re drawing lines and creating distance. In reality, it’s just everything.”
“So, um, you think we are just rearrangements of, uh, elements that have always existed?” I ask.
“Yes,” he answers too quickly and too assuredly, sending me into an existential crisis mid-interview. I suppose his theory might be plausible, since matter can’t be created or destroyed, but I’m getting dragged out of my element here. In this state of oneness with all other things Osipczak says he was able to feel how others experienced Nick Osipczak. “You directly experience from the other person’s side actions you’ve done to them in the past,” he says. He saw the root causes behind hurtful things he’d done or said to people in the past. He also became more aware of how he was treating himself and undermining his potential.
“Drinking to the point of throwing up, obviously, by throwing up, it’s not what your body wants,” he laughs. He says he’d been afraid of how great he could be but that he now believes that we all possess limitless potential. He quotes author Marianne Williamson’s famous line: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond all measure.”
Osipczak realized he'd wanted out of MMA and that subconsciously he’d created his own escape.
“Looking back at those losses, losing decisions was my way of getting out without getting beat up too bad,” he says. “I believe we create our realities.” He says alcohol no longer appeals to him, that the natural highs he now experiences through the internal arts are far more euphoric and longer lasting than what drugs can provide.
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MMA is constantly evolving, and Osipczak predicts that speed and strength will be less of a factor in the sport’s future and that the mental game will become paramount, though not in an overly conscious, Greg Jackson sort of way. He says he won’t develop a game plan for his return fight next year or try to visualize how it might unfold; there are too many possibilities and unpredictable variables. As he talks I can’t help but think of the famous scene from Enter the Dragon in which Bruce Lee is given a final quiz by his master: When the opponent expands, Nick Osipczak will contract, and when the opponent contracts, Nick Osipczak will expand. And when there is an opportunity, Nick Osipczak will not hit; “it” will hit all by itself!
When Osipczak finally returns to MMA, he says he won’t be “fighting” in the traditional sense. “There are only a few reasons that people want to fight,” he says--some are insecure and feel the need to prove they're tough; others had violent childhoods and know they can take a beating. But in a more general sense, “People compete in an effort to control others and feel like they can’t be controlled themselves,” he says. “This is fear-based.” These animal emotions are part of our evolutionary legacy, but we can advance beyond them through the dissolution of the ego.
Osipczak believes the UFC would be a great platform for him to spread his ideas.“Gradually from within grew the idea that I’d be the one to bring the internal arts to the masses,” he says. He believes it is his destiny, and that the most efficient way for him to fulfill that destiny is to become the top martial artist in the world. “Everyone has their path, and right now mine is martial arts,” he says.
He utilizes affirmative mantras to combat creeping doubts. After a long training session he’ll step outside and pronounce to the sky, “10 wins, 10 first-round finishes.” He visualizes taking the UFC belt by his seventh fight.
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When Osipczak first began to learn about the internal arts, he tried to tell everyone about it, but he found that pushing ideas onto people had the opposite of his intended effect. “It’s best just to be about it, and they will pick it up off you like osmosis,” he says. “Everyone is on their own journey. Everything is unfolding perfectly, just as it should.”
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