I was a chubby kid with a smart mouth and poor social skills, so it will come as no surprise that I got my ass kicked a fair amount when I was young.  In my teens my folks kindly paid for me to start going to martial arts classes, and for almost ten years I worked out in a bunch of different fighting styles.  I was never a badass, but it was a lot more fun than jogging or lifting weights or whatever other exercises are done by normal people who don’t enjoy getting kicked in the face.

After I graduated from USC I went to live with my cousin Jim in Pomona, and was a student at a Kung Fu San Soo school there.  The sifu was a fun guy, also a black belt in judo. We were all interested in the then-fledgling world of Mixed Martial Arts, so we used to have no-holds-barred fights with minimal padding.

One day I was on the receiving end of a perfect tomonage that drove me into the ground and popped the three ligaments that hold my left collar bone into my shoulder. That was the last time I went to fight class.

That was 16 years ago.

16 years of sitting on my ass in front of a computer for 70 hours a week. Every year I would think about getting back into it, and every year there was some valid reason not to. I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have the time; I couldn’t find a class that was for real fighters but wasn’t full of douchebags with testosterone poisoning.

I still don’t have the money or the time, but in the last couple of weeks I decided that if I don’t start again I never will. So I went to The Fight Shop here in Palmerston North, which looked like the kind of place I would enjoy.  They train a lot of different styles (Thai boxing, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Karate, Greco-Roman & freestyle wrestling, and MMA), which means they see the value of adopting techniques from wherever you find them, rather than the schools that only teach one style and often have a purist’s attitude about protecting the form from outside influences.

I was nervous about going back because of the high probably of douchebaggery. Lots of dudes get into fighting because they want to be alpha-dog badasses, and it’s natural to have a certain level of macho posturing in any group of guys who are doing guy stuff. But to me that chest-puffing is kinda dull – I used to go to fight class because I enjoyed it and I liked hanging out and telling jokes with the guys, not because I wanted to prove that my dick is bigger than theirs*. So I was hoping that the class wouldn’t be full of meatheads in Ed Hardy shirts.

So it was with hope and fear that I walked in for my first workout in a decade and a half.

I lasted 38 minutes – THIRTY EIGHT MINUTES – before I had to run outside and vomit in the bushes. I then collapsed on the concrete path and tried my very best not to die. And that was just the warm up before the fighting started.

But here’s the thing – they were cool about it. No one laughed and pointed. I got some ribbing, which is expected among dudes, but I also got honest concern about my well-being and an open welcome to come back and try again. No douchebaggery, no posturing, just good humor and encouragement.

So I went back, and lasted an hour. And almost didn’t pass out that time.

And I went back again, and while I was a wreck by the end I was starting to remember why I liked punching and kicking stuff.

So now I think I have a hobby again. And I’m starting to carry the black-and-blue badges of someone who kicks people in the face for fun.

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* Which it is.

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