As I tried my utmost to disregard the nagging, nervous sensation that had begun crawling along the back alleys of my conscience at around sunrise, I hurriedly crammed a disorganized pile into the backseat of my robust, ancient Toyota Corolla. A fairly weathered, hand-me-down pair of white, twelve ounce Everlast boxing gloves, mangled hand wraps, and a water bottle. Easing into the front seat, my attempt at relaxing thoughts stubbornly contradicted the churning feeling positioned in my gut, as a conscious desire for bravery argued with my subconscious fear of injury, and furthermore, embarrassment.My first kickboxing class was set to commence in half an hour, and while I wasn't scared shit-less, I was certainly weighing pro's and con's. As I drove I gathered positivity- I am athletic, considerably tough, and after all, it was my first class. They wouldn't beat mercilessly on a helpless beginner, a-la Rick Story, would they? I shuddered at the mere thought. Once again though I focused all of my energy into a confident, positive sphere.
I arrived timidly, nervous at making a first impression. The man at the front desk, very humble and becoming, greeted me enthusiastically and offered a free first session. I thanked him gratefully, then proceeded to stroll across the red "no shoes past this point" line, shoes and feet intact. As he ushered me back to correct my mistake, I was convinced I had done it- someone watching this costly error was surely going to brutalize me in sparring. Instead the man, Mike Jorgensen, smiled and showed me where to stretch and put on my wraps. Placing myself on a stretching mat surrounded by a small group of other students, I carefully planned on not looking completely clueless applying my hand wraps. Unfortunately I made a disaster of the long bandages, and the completed hand protection looked possibly impeding to my wrists safety rather than helpful. Alas, gear difficulties could not dissuade this budding warrior. As coach Keri Scarr, a former Canadian Woman's Kickboxing Champion, announced with her respect-commanding voice that training was about to begin, we all scuttled down to the mats and began jogging, slowly circling the mats.
After about fifteen minutes of warming up physically- myself mentally as well- which included skipping, functional body exercises, stretches, and shadowboxing, we worked on technique for awhile. One major stepping stone for me was carrying both feet forward while throwing a jab, rather than simply pawing my lead foot outwards towards an opponent. Planting on kicks was definitely a nightmare first class, and is something I still haven't nearly attained perfection at today. Keri and Mike helpfully pointed out the multitude of things I was doing wrong, and I gained confidence in eventual progression through these skillful tutors rather than getting frustrated at mistakes. All is fun and joy, though, until sparring. The dreaded moment I had anxiously anticipated since sunrise, and perhaps even birth, had finally arrived.
"Time to spar! Gloves, kickers, and mouth guards on guys!" Keri ordered. Most of the students seemed very nonchalant and relaxed still, so I tried to maintain composure. I may be tougher than I think, or more foolish, because I successfully disregarded buying a mouth guard before class- though I probably wouldn't have known what to do with it. This didn't worry me slightly, as I figure twenty four teeth is more than enough anyways.
As I stepped out nervously, I immediately paired up with one of the fighters in class.
"Fucking great." I thought.
Although Keri repeated to go easy on beginners, which I'm sure he actually did, the guy doubtlessly demonstrated my inexperience, landing at least five half-strength body kicks, and a combo here and there. He was positively critical though, informing me to relax and stop circling madly, as it will just cause tiredness. I thanked him after our three minute session, and actually finished the sparring session with him again. The next fellow I practiced with was another regular, with an effective front kick. He taught me to use it like a jab, or distance keeper, but I still couldn't manage but get caught by it a few more times. Then I made my defining, major mistake of class. As I threw a kick at his jutted out leg, I felt the impact of my shin strike around his knee, and he swore in pain, and furthermore probably anger. I hadn't remembered to put on leg pads, which cushion the effect of kicks in practice. Obviously, bare shin on knee is not a pleasant feeling, and I felt pretty awful and a fraction embarrassed, apologizing profusely. Eventually I was forgiven.
As class progressed my fatigue followed. This was one of the hardest work outs I had ever experienced, and although I didn't puke that day, I would in the future. Lumbering forward, throwing loose jabs, then pausing to pant momentarily, my coaches and a few sparring partners laughed. It gets better, they all asserted. By the time class finished I was a zombie.
Driving home, I felt a great sense of pride, achievement, but also deep reverence to those who fight professionally to make a living. The sheer, disciplined determination to ascend in such a brutal, physically demanding sport is simply amazing, and a testament to the wonders of the human spirit. At the root of all journeys is conquering a fear, and at the root of all fears ultimately lies death. Professional fighters embark on one of the most frightening journeys that exists, struggling through toil, pain and the detrimental, lingering knowledge of the consequences of failure. I personally learned to appreciate this profoundly, after my first kickboxing class.