A few weeks ago, I started researching female boxers. I’d been a fan of the sport since I was a kid, thanks to my dad, but I didn’t know anything about the female athletes. Were there such a thing? What were their stories? Why did they decide to fight? I had this unexplained urge to know more.
I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but I wanted to fight. It’d been a few years coming–this idea that I could get in the ring, even just for fun–but I dismissed it as instantly as it came up. I didn’t want anyone to know the real reason I wanted to be able to take someone down or the reasons I felt unsafe. Some things are better left unsaid, even for the exhibitionist writer that I am. Feeling as paranoid and anxious as I felt, I wasn’t able to talk about it. I felt like people wouldn’t take me seriously or they would dismiss it. Then there was the shame that went along with the amount of fear I felt, compounding things even further.
But beyond that, people who fight are angry, right? So what if I was angry. I’d been angry for years and accomplished a lot of badass fucking shit. I joked a lot about needing a punching bag. Fuck anyone who thought anger wasn’t the impetus for changing the world, because I’ve changed my world as a result from getting angry at the cult I was in. Even my therapist said I should get angry more often. I had a tendency to internalize my anger and wound up crying instead of speaking my mind and I was creeping back into that quickly. When people attacked me online and offline, I shrunk back into my turtle shell and hid.
And let’s not forget the fact that my depression and anxiety had gotten so bad I had isolated myself completely from friends and family. I was filled with fear when I so much as walked outside. I trusted nobody. I was paranoid. And you know the saying, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you”? It fit. There were documented situations where people were after me–and kept coming after me. Over the course of the few years I was struggling with this even more, I’d gained so much weight (more than I wanted to admit) and for a period of time I let that stop my social life entirely.
The fear that ruled my life prevented me from even imagining myself attending a boxing class, let alone actually hitting someone in a competition. There was no way I would be able to actually compete, with the way I felt, and I didn’t even think I would be brave enough to take a class.
And maybe I never will compete, but I started with a single class. I found a local MMA/kickboxing class and signed up. It wasn’t strictly boxing like I imagined when I started dreaming this up, but MMA fighters learn and use a mixture of techniques from boxing, kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (which is a martial art and combat sport focused on grappling (a term for fighting on the ground)). The sport is far more complex than I ever thought and it promotes the idea that a smaller, weaker person can actually defend herself against a bigger, stronger assailant with the right techniques. It actually fit my needs perfectly. I wanted to be able to defend myself if anyone bigger or stronger came after me.
My instructor had the look of a UFC fighter. He had tattoos, a shaved head, and the body of someone who trains for a living. I knew his class was going to be a good fit for me. It was his class or the class on the good side of town whose website’s video showed preppy cheerleader types kickboxing so they could look good in a two-piece this summer. Fuck that. To be a fighter, I had to train with a fighter.
After my first class, I couldn’t walk for two days. My lower back had me couch-ridden so badly that I was rotating ice and heat every twenty minutes and still couldn’t walk. I didn’t feel defeated, though. The endorphin high I had from my ability to push through a single class kept me happy for a few days. When I could finally get out of bed, I stretched for twenty minute intervals and went walking just enough to loosen up my muscles.
I was determined to go back for another ass kicking.
Since posting on Facebook about my MMA classes, a lot of people have become interested in the sport and want to know if it’s something they could do. My hope is you’ll try it. It’s a lot of fun. There are a variety of martial arts classes available in almost every city. The closest you will get to what I’m currently doing is mixed martial arts (MMA), kickboxing, or Brazilian jiu-jitsu. You could also check out judo or wrestling. If you try it out, let me know by using the hashtags #GetMMAStrong and #FightYourFear.