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The Art of Fighting MAG
I don't know why fighting is frowned upon. It is a primal, visceral experience that releases a number of chemicals in your body that are designed to make you feel good. And yet, in modern society, we're supposed to shy away from fighting. We're supposed to suppress these urges that are as old as the human race itself. That's why I was shocked to find myself standing outside of a tattoo parlor one cold February day, a duffel bag in hand. I knew that in the basement was a dingy little gym containing roughly a dozen professional fighters. My plan that day was, in essence, to go down there and let them fight me.
I am a very self-confident person; I can't remember ever backing down from a challenge. I had just finished wrestling season, and I thought I was in great shape. So I threw the door open and stormed down to the gym.
Inside I found some of the most intense people I'd ever seen in my life. They were pounding on heavy bags, sparring, shadow-boxing, and wrestling. They barely noticed me, which was fine with me. I found the owner, Norm, in the corner, teaching Muay Thai (a combat sport from Thailand) to a group of men. It was an intense session, with all of the men sweating and grunting. The thunder clap when a man kicked the mitts was deafening.
After he finished, I introduced myself. Although Norm is not a large man, he has the ability to fill a room with his presence. Quiet determination radiated from his fierce eyes. His dark skin looked like beaten leather. I outweighed him by 30 pounds easily, but I still found myself slightly intimidated by this man who had dedicated his life to the art of fighting.
Locking me in his steely gaze, Norm asked if I had any experience in Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA. Unsure whether a wrestling background carried much weight in this room of professional tough guys, I played it down, simply telling him I had wrestled without any specifics. After asking about my height, weight, and body fat percentage, he looked me up and down. He then snapped his fingers and waved over two of the meanest-looking men I had ever seen.
They smirked as they swaggered over. They were utterly confident, and I could tell that they were thrilled to have some fresh meat to play with. I was instructed to box with the first man, Ed. With the second, who was called Bam, I was to do a form of grappling where the goal is to cause your opponent so much pain that you make him quit. This is called submission grappling.
I strapped on a pair of gloves and shoved in my mouthpiece, ready to show these guys exactly what I was made of. When the buzzer went off, I touched gloves with Ed, then immediately began firing off punches with murderous intent. I had been in my fair share of scrapes, but I knew nothing about the science behind throwing a punch, and Ed easily avoided my blows with a series of deft head movements.
He shot back with a single punch that went straight down the barrel. It connected flush with my nose, and I felt like I had been hit with a bat. I kept fighting, but less aggressively. The wild punches stopped, and I focused on keeping my face out of the way. My hands stayed up high, and my chin stayed tucked in close to my chest. I kept circling Ed, but knowing nothing about boxing, I was circling into his power hand. It didn't take Ed long to realize that I had no business being in the ring with him, and he toned it down a bit. He stopped trying to rearrange my face and focused instead on my footwork and stance, occasionally stopping to give me pointers.
Regardless of all my mistakes, and relying heavily on a strong chin and pure stubbornness, I survived the initial five minutes of boxing. However, I had forgotten all about Bam and the submission grappling. I was heading for my water bottle when I heard the buzzer. The next thing I remember was being slammed onto the mat. Bam was freakishly strong and threw me around like a rag doll. I put up as much of a fight as I could, but it was no use. This was not my world; it was Bam's. He twisted my body into a pretzel, locking me in what I later learned was called a triangle choke. I fought against the blackness for what felt like eternity.
It was closer to three minutes.
Finally I had to tap out. That was when Norm blew the whistle. It was time to begin warming up. Class hadn't even started yet, and I had already been given two of the most severe beatings of my life. It was time to make a choice: I could slink out to lick my wounds and pretend I'd never even been there, or I could stick it out for the practice.
It wasn't even a close; I chose to practice with them. Muscles tightening, head throbbing, and body aching, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, tire flips, and sprawls. We must have spent an hour on that alone. But I could see that Norm was impressed that I hadn't given up. I got a chance to talk to him briefly before the next set of drills, and found out that nine of every ten who come to the gym don't make it past the initial rounds of sparring. That gave me the extra boost I needed to finish the class.
I lay in a heap on the mat, sucking in gallon-sized gulps of air and chugging water, when Ed walked over. Thinking he wanted to spar again, I began to put on my gloves. Instead, he gave me tips on how to defend against certain punches and how to bob and weave my head. He said that he looked forward to seeing me tomorrow. I hadn't even thought about tomorrow.
When I woke up the next morning every inch of my body was sore. I had a black eye and was covered in bruises. I knew that the last thing I needed was to go back to the gym, but a few short hours later I found myself walking down those stairs toward what I was sure was going to be another beating. And I have to tell you, it's much harder to go back a second time, because you know what is waiting for you down there. The first time I could pretend I was going to be the toughest guy, when in reality I wasn't even close.
But for some reason, I went back, and I continued the day after that too, and the day after that, until eventually I began looking forward to those classes. I started noticing openings in other people's defense, and even started winning rounds. As crazy as it sounds, those men became like brothers to me, and all because I was willing to weather the initial beatings.
Not everybody I saw come down those stairs was as passionate as I was. I saw many arrive with my same cocky attitude, and watched Bam and Ed put them through the ringer too. I saw perhaps two of them return.
Then, after three months, my defining moment came. It was a typical Monday practice. Everybody was stretching and talking about the fights that happened over the weekend, when the door flew open and a new guy came strutting in. He was big – around six foot six and 260 pounds – but he had clearly gelled his hair before practice and his arm band tattoo screamed “poser.” He swaggered over to Norm and introduced himself as “The Wrecking Ball.”
Norm put on his most serious face and shook his hand. Everybody in the room had stopped their warm-ups because they knew what was coming: Norm was going to call over Bam and Ed.
Norm snapped his fingers to silence the room and yelled for Bam to submission grapple with the guy. But instead of Ed, Norm called my name. I jogged over, not completely sure what I was doing there. Norm said he wanted me to spar with the guy. I was a little nervous, but I nodded and jammed in my mouthpiece.
I touched gloves with Mr. Wrecking Ball, and he started throwing wild hay-makers at me. I used slight head movements and easily avoided them. Then I saw my opening – he dropped his right arm after throwing a punch – and I quickly threw a left hook with everything I had. It connected flush on his chin and he went down hard, out cold. The entire room erupted into cheers.
The Wrecking Ball didn't even make it to submission grappling. He came to a few minutes later and immediately scrambled out of the gym. He had obviously seen enough. From that point on, Norm used me to break in the new guys; I was a little bigger than Ed, but most guys thought they could take me simply because I was young. Only two got past my initiation, and they're some of the best guys we have now.
As for me, I'm currently waiting until the end of wrestling season before I go back. I've been talking to Norm, and he said that if my parents agree, he could get me my first pro fight as early as July. Then I'll have a whole new challenge ahead of me.