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Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet Paperback – September 1, 2011
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From the Back Cover
"I was inspired."
-Ken Shamrock, UFC Hall of Famer
"Cameron Conaway's fierce, fearless memoir offers a clear-eyed look at a brutal childhood, an
angry father, and a son's gathering demons. In the end, though, the author carves his way
forward through an unlikely combination of mixed martial arts, poetry, and human connection.
This book never fails to surprise, and along the way Conaway gives voice and hope to all
young men who must learn to grow up and out of their fathers' footsteps or risk falling into the
-Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire
"I couldn't stop reading. Conaway's writing style is as captivating as his story. He takes you
inside the heart, mind and soul of a fighter. He is the voice for all fighters that battle their
demons inside the cage."
-Glen Cordoza, author for Victory Belt Publishing
"Poetical version of Jiu-Jitsu!"
-Saulo Ribeiro, World BJJ Champion, author of Jiu-Jitsu University
Conaway presents us with a candid story of a never-give-up attitude and an appreciation of
life despite all of its challenges. His expressionism effectively details his endurance in battling
his demons through mixed martial arts and the human spirit. Caged shows us how something
many consider brutal can actually be a vehicle for achieving purpose and a better understanding
-Jim Arvanitis, Black Belt Magazine's 2009 Instructor of the Year
There are writers who have ideas, and there are those who have craft. Conaway is both."
-Lisa Hickey, CEO of Good Men Media Inc.
About the Author
Cameron Conaway has come to be known as "The Warrior Poet." He teaches Shakespeare for Ottawa University, is an award-nominated teacher of creative writing for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and writes about MMA nutrition for ESPN-affiliate Sherdog.com. He's received the Richard Russo Award for Creative Writing, is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, was the University of Arizona's 2007-2009 Poet-in-Residence and is 2-0 at 155lbs as an MMA fighter. His debut collection of poems, Until You Make the Shore, will be released in January 2012 from Salmon Poetry. Cameron has trained with Renzo Gracie and is now studying Muay Thai in Thailand under sponsorship from WhatsYourFight.com.
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Much of the motivational jet fuel that propelled his drive came from the strong feelings about his father, who himself had been a trophy-winning karate practitioner in earlier years. this is no "Daddy Dearest" memoir but at times it appears that Conaway has more baggage than an O'Hare skycap about his father. And who can blame him, at least based on his depiction of the upbringing he received and the treatment of his mother and sister?
In CAGED, Conaway wrestles -- sometimes figuratively and other times literally. The questions he grapples with and touches on are
* What is the role of the martial artist in society?
* What exactly is the "art" in martial arts?
* How is cage fighting an avenue toward self-knowledge and self-improvement?
* How best to integrate the physical, spiritual and intellectual in modern life?
Though I don't think he uses the word samurai in Caged, in my view Conaway's book is no ess than a philosophical musing on what it means to be a modern day samurai. He strives to wield the sword (figuratively, through his MMA skills) as well as the pen (through his writing endeavors, via both poetry and prose). The quest to blend the power of the sword and the pen positions Conaway in the philosophical line of succession with samurai. He continues the tradition of authors such as Yukio Mishima, who also sought to blend the disparate realms of combat (Mishima's was the classical Japanese sword discipline of kendo) with the intellectual realm.
Most MMA autobiographies -- those from Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Forest Griffin, Urijah Faber, Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, Brock Lesnar, etc. -- have a predictable element of, "I fought this guy and then I fought that guy ..." This is not a knock on those books. For MMA fans, these volumes can be informative and entertaining. I've enjoyed them. They fill a growing bookshelf.
CAGED, however, is on an entirely different level. CAGED is to most MMA memoirs as chess is to checkers. It goes beyond the surface of MMA and combative sports to tap into the visceral and primal drives that propel men (and now -- with the likes of Ronda Rousey -- women) into an 8-sided steel fence cage to fight for dominance.
Having said, that Conaway's writing skill brings you right into the cage during each of the three MMA bouts that he describes in CAGED. You feel you are right there with him -- that you ARE him as your opponent is in your sweaty guard, breathing hard, grimacing through his mouthpiece, trying to rearrange your face with punches and elbow strikes.
It would be tempting to dismiss CAGED as an intellectually pretentious attempt to impart to MMA some kind of unwarranted intellectual underpinnings. Some might think it odd to include "intellectual underpinnings" in the same sentence as "MMA." Oxymoronic? I don't think so.
A suitable companion book for those who enjoy CAGED would be Forrest Morgan's 1992 classic (in my view), LIVING THE MARTIAL WAY. Even for those who have never laced up the 4-oz. gloves and who have never stepped into a ring to engage in physical combat, CAGED offers an absorbing read and insights into those who seek self actualization and transcendence through hard, challenging experiences.
Living this martial way does not require that you join the armed forces. It is a mindset of taking on challenges -- physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. As Conaway writes (p. 181), "The warrior code demands bettering the self by any means necessary." For Conaway and others on this path, the journey is the reward.
Conaway exorcizes his personal demons as he exercises his muscles and lungs. CAGED is a remarkable memoir, not just for the MMA fan, but a tale of self-awareness and coming to grips with life's challenges.
Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet is an interesting, 250-page memoir to say the least. It starts off with a quote from Chinua Achebe and then flows into a mixture of verse and prose covering manhood, relationships, writing, childhood, work, teaching, mixed martial arts (of course), philosophy and strangely enough acting. As I mentioned before, Conaway's book does not flow in a straight linear pattern like most other books; rather it flows more like a poem that centers out the themes he feels are important strands in his life and life lessons for his readers. Along the way, you are treated to quite a ride where you might feel shocked, start laughing, or feel empathetic. For example, in Chapter 5 ("Watching Me"), Conaway discusses his philosophy on spirituality, you are taken on a discussion that uniquely combines the rapper Ja Rule, religion, mixed martial arts, and a workout log (not to mention a poem titled Varicella Zoster). In just about any other book, that could be a recipe for a disaster. Conaway, however, pulls it off using his own original style that readers should appreciate. This style is one of the strengths of the book.
Another strength of Conaway's book is his frank and open discussion about himself and his life. With an honesty and detail that I have seen in few other memoirs, Conaway details the good (winning matches as an MMA fighter, getting accepted in grad school) and the bad (verbal abuse from his father or his parent's divorce, for example). As Cameron states later in his book, he's gotten to the point where he no longer needs to justify or prove himself. This freedom which he expresses in fight and in word, in my opinion, are the author's ultimate lessons for the martial artists who are sure to read his book as well as anyone else who will be drawn to his tale of overcoming the odds.
The only thing I would caution prospective (and current readers) to do is to suspend judgment about the book until the complete book is finished. To get the whole picture, you want to read all of Caged: Memoirs of a Fighting Poet; otherwise you will only get a glimpse of the insight that can be gained from this book. After I read the whole book, I was able to see what Conaway intended for you to see when you he wrote about his father, or working in the grocery store, or receiving a paper cut.
So, if you are looking for a book that combines the philosophy of Bruce Lee, the literary style and feel of Fight Club, mixed with a little of the language and swagger of Got Fight by Forrest Griffin, this book will be a great book to read.
Unique writing style for a memoir-The book is a workout and fight log, journal of reflection and poetry that delves into the
mind of a fighter instead of just talking about it.
Honest & frank language that makes it accessible to all readers dealing with the issue he covers-Conaway details scenes that shaped his life in a way that is both graphic, yet highly insightful and riveting all at the same time.
Insightful work that builds in complexity as one reads the book
Writing style may be a little peculiar to readers not familiar with Cameron Conaway's background- The plot skips around to different points in his life, mixture of poems & prose and Conaway provides really detailed description of mixed arts moves.
"Sailor's language" and some shocking scenes-For those not used to Conaway, his use of four-letter words in some intense moments may be a little shocking. Conaway's honesty leads to claims that I never heard mentioned in other memoirs.
For an author who touts a MFA degree, I was surprised at the editing errors and occasional spots of marginal-quality writing.
In talking about his father, a parallel theme throughout the book, Conaway's anger and condemnation felt uncomfortable for me as the reader. I can only hope that as Conaway gets older, he will better understand that parenting is one of the toughest jobs in town and perhaps he'll be able to cut his father some slack. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and I'm certain Conaway's father would have his own, equally compelling accounting of why he made the choices he did. Conaway's arrogant, self-righteous tone made him unlikeable for me in spite of my interest in his memoir.