Telomeres And Randy Couture

About six weeks ago, I watched an interview on Fighting Words featuring Randy Couture.

At about 3:20, he starts talking about being subjected to a scientific test, involving something called telomeres, which measured his age on a genetic level. According to him (and his doctor, presumably), the test revealed him to be about 32 years-old. Randy Couture was 46 or 47 years-old at the time of this interview and still, somehow, actively competitive in the heavyweight division of the UFC at its highest levels (or almost).

In the most fleeting and general sense, I had heard the word ‘telomere’ before and knew they were somehow related to aging.1 But what the hell was Couture talking about with this test??? I had to know!

To start from the beginning, and work our way forward from there, a gene is a unit of molecular heredity.2 In your genes is stored the information on how to both make and maintain the cells of which you are composed. Humans have approximately 20,000 genes, all arranged on 23 pairs of chromosomes. Each end of a chromosome is capped with a telomere.3 Why?

“During cell division, enzymes that duplicate DNA cannot continue their duplication all the way to the end of the chromosomes. If the cells divided without telomeres, they would lose the end of their chromosomes, and necessarily the information they contain. The telomeres are the disposable buffers blocking the ends of the chromosomes, [and] are consumed during cell division…”           – Wikipedia

Let me rephrase the fancy-pants talk. Because of the way chromosomes are copied, the end bits get cut off. But remember that chromosomes are groups of genes. The ends can not just be haphazardly hacked off, lest you lose some snippet of important genetic information. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your ‘Dancing Ability Gene’ reads “Patrick Swayze.”

After a cell division, without telomeres, the last name could get snipped and it could just read “Patrick.”

And while you probably already got the girl, Mr. Dirty Dancing, your children almost assuredly going to suffer from having the dancing ability of a pink, mentally-handicapped (?) starfish. Were this to happen, your lineage will end with your children – I promise you.

Alright, alright, it’s important to preserve genetic information, you get it; but what about Randy Couture?  Well, a telomere is going to become progressively shorter as we continue to age (as our cells continue to make copies of themselves, and snip away at the telomere in the process).

“While telomere shortening has been linked to the aging process, it is not yet known whether shorter telomeres are just a sign of aging – like gray hair – or actually contribute to aging.”  – Lee J. Seigel 4

If a few things were known on the outset of the measurement, finding out someone’s telomere length would give you an idea of how much aging they have done on a cellular level.5

What was the result of his length-measuring test? According to Couture, he, then, had the cellular age of someone approximately 32 years-old. It’s probably glazing over a few too many complications to say he was 32, but I was nevertheless staggered to hear the result. His ability to perform at nearly the highest levels in his middle forties is testament to some fundamental difference between him and everyone else still competing at that age, after all.

Anyway. I was fascinated by what he said (though he did not explain it quite right, if anybody caught that), and thought I’d share it with my audience. Thanks.


1. As I wrote this sentence, it suddenly occurred to me that I remembered where it was that I first heard the word. There’s a video on youtube with a yellow puppet who rants about stupid people/things on youtube. He was ranting about the loathsome Ben Stein, here. Actually, it was a rant about the inane Ray Comfort. But the rant was a little racier, so I leave it up to my audience to look it up.

2. Please forgive the nebulous-sounding definition. There are exceptions to almost everything in biology. Presumably, this is the best way to capture what it is that a gene does without getting caught up in the exceptions.

3. They are aptly named, as I found out. Telos, τέλοϛ, is from the Greek, meaning ‘end.’


5.  I’m speaking speculatively here. But my guess is it would be something like driving somewhere. If you knew ‘how fast you were going,’ ‘for how long you have been driving,’ and ‘the distance between the point of departure and the destination,’ then I could tell you where you were supposed to be at any given time.



Well Wishes

And only related to BJJ in a cursory way.

Four years ago or so, I met this strange fellow. He and I were both on the ethics debate team, were both philosophy majors in college, and shared the unfortunate experience of taking the same Metaphysics class. All these years later, I still remember listening to Dr. Gilson lecture about papers with ridiculous titles (“Primitive Thisness and Primitive Identity” or “Ontological Reduction and The World of Numbers” or “The Identity of Indiscernables,” in case my audience thinks I was being facetious), finding out that Heath Ledger had just died, and wishing the same fate upon myself to escape the suffering. Anyway. Oh, and by the way, my friend’s name is Gizmodius Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of The North, General of The Felix Legions.1

GDM and I ended up both farting around after graduation (surprise surprise, philosophy majors). After much ado and some strange but formative experiences, I crossed the Pacific (and stayed across for a while).2 GDM, on the other hand, enrolled in a Master’s Program. Now a year later, and having completed all his coursework but not his thesis about Punk and Post-Modernism, he sent word my way last week that he was driving to Brownsville to get a job on a shrimp boat.

Upon hearing this news I was surprised, tinged with equal parts confusion and jealousy. And actually what really happened was that I was reminded of this one time I was traveling back to Austin and had gotten a ride with a school teacher from Arizona.3 Coming from New Mexico, we picked up a nine-fingered hitchhiker, an older and smelly man, just outside of Fort Stockton. He said he was headed for the Louisiana coast to meet up with his uncle, who had a shrimping boat. There was work, if I wanted it. While I thought it prudent, ultimately, to not disembark-and-follow this sunburned, nine-fingered, chattering man in ratty, sweat-stained clothes on the mere promise of shrimping work in  Louisiana, I did briefly consider it. Seriously. I thought about it for a few minutes, before watching him turn into a speck in the sideview mirror and finally disappearing behind us as we zoomed Austin-bound out of Junction. That crazy man. What was him name?

Well, I would like to wish the best of luck to my friend, His Holiness GDM. I hope it works out for you – not just because I’m almost certainly going to go with you next time, if it does. May you catch your quota of shrimp quickly, safely, and may you not catch crabs.


1. The Gladiator quotation continues “…loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengance, in this life or the next.” Aaand then Joaquin Phoenix is like “wtf…”

2. To my friends abroad, I think about you all every day. Life takes you in too many directions at the same time. “I like too many things and get hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you.” That’s the only way I can explain it.

3. Stupidly long story.

It’s A Joke

The other day, I was making fun of someone on the mats. “We’re going to have to start putting a nipple on your drinks,” I said to the person who’s been having trouble lately keeping up with the heavier drinkers in the group. “As long as we put a nipple on your gi,” said the selfsame fellow who can decidedly beat me each and every time, from each and every conceivable position, arrangement, scramble, struggle, and fight.

Listening to me try to insult someone is like watching a grown man dunk on a Nerf basketball hoop.  Damn it.

Questions and Answers

Aside from receiving an actual letter, there are few things I enjoy more than reading a good email from someone.1 And, for a variety of reasons, there are a fair amount of people with whom I exchange emails. Today’s entry will be about a bjj-related email I received about two months ago, excerpted here:

“Now ask yourself what kind of Jiu-Jitsu you want to learn? How useful is the Jiu-Jitsu you do know? How much faith do you have in the most basic techniques – the ones that white belts should know?”

The questions stand tall on the page. They are the sort that beg for answers; and immediately after reading them, I knew they were going to keep me awake that night. As a thoughtful sort of fellow, these questions were going to bother me, poke me, prod me until I could come to some satisfactory conclusion – or until I could make some approximate headway toward solving the matter. In the interest of making the most amount of sense, I’m going to share my answers with you, my audience, out of order. I’ll start with the answers for which I have a high level of confidence, and move downward from there.

How much faith do I have in the most basic techniques?2

I completely believe in the most basic techniques; I know they work. They are simple, efficient, and apply in a variety of situations.3 In fact, the majority (all?) of my game is based on these techniques applied to a continuous cadence. Successfully incorporating them into my jiu-jitsu, by and large, means successful Jiu-Jitsu.

“What kind of Jiu-Jitsu do I want to learn?”

To continue an earlier point, I want to learn jiu-jitsu which is not unnecessarily complicated, or needlessly so. I want to learn jiu-jitsu that is efficient, where my returns are greatest for the amount invested. I want my opponent to expend twenty calories when I expend ten, or five, or one. While escaping from two different positions, side mount and mount for example, probably requires two separate moves, I want the principles which underlie/support/ground these movements to overlap.

“How useful is the Jiu-Jitsu I do know?”

I don’t know. Sometimes I think it’s useful. And other times, after a bad day on the mats, everything I should/would/could (in that order) purport to know comes under heavy scrutiny. As of late, the moments where nothing would have given me greater pleasure than watching my faded, stripeless, tattered blue belt go up in a salty red flame have been occurring with less frequency – a fact for which I must thank my instructor.

Mild case of pyromania aside, it is still not apparent to me what useful means in this context. A can-opener is useful. Is the jiu-jitsu I know supposed to be like a can-opener?

Alright, alright, I’m not trying to be a smart ass.

To acutely wrestle with the problem, does useful mean the practitioner is generally successful in tournaments? A lot of people – particularly those who are successful in tournaments – would say ‘yes.’ Does useful mean the practitioner is generally successful in self-defense situations? My guess is an equal amount of people would posit that usefulness boils down to considerations self-defense related. And what do we say of the smaller camps of people who would equate useful with the fitness benefits, or the possibly more nebulous mental benefits? I do not know.

Those questions did bother me for some time after that. Both for those questions and this entry, I’m not really sure I came to any satisfactory conclusion. But, to speak more broadly now, I’m learning to live without coming to an answer each and every time I have a question.  Please have a nice day and thanks for reading.


1. Write to me →

2. I don’t agree with the use of the term ‘faith’ in this context, as it seems to imply belief without supporting evidence. We know basic techniques work because we have a body of evidence proving they do. Admittedly, this line of argumentation can get complicated. But I’d be happy to go there with anyone willing to deny the claim “basic techniques work.”

3. I originally wrote the three principles as “simplicity, economy of motion, and sphere of applicability.” But I talk too much.

Cheeto Finger

My finger looks like a Cheeto. I can’t stop complaining about it, because I’m a crybaby.

I don’t have much to say about this past week – nothing particularly interesting happened, I mean to say. But I do promise to finish up and post one of the three or so half-finished blog entries. Until then my audience, here is a brief something worth reading.  One of my favorite author spoke briefly about his approach to living a good life, in the context of the fact that we are going to eventually die:

“It’s about realizing that you’re expelled from your mother’s uterus as if shot from a cannon towards a barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks.  It’s a matter of how you use up the intervening time in an intelligent and ironic way.  And try not to do anything nasty to your fellow creatures.” – CH

At least, I think that was the context.  He seems drunk in the YouTube clip.