It was Cap‘s surprise birthday party last week. The young spring chicken turned 40. It was a great party, mixing in equal parts his boxing life with his non-boxing life. Cap walked around, mildly under the influence; he hugged each person, looked deep into their eyes, and told them, “I’m so happy you are part of my family.” Sometimes he’d even tell them twice!
As 2015 wraps up, what better way to close out the year than by giving thanks for this gym that has given me so much happiness, sexy summer legs, and yes, an extended family.
Beginners with no athletic background, Olympic hopefuls and pro-boxers train at my gym. The first time I prepared for a sparring session years ago, one of the pro-boxers walked up to me, and pointed to the helmet I was holding, “First time sparring? Nervous? Yeah, it’d be a pity if you broke your nose.” Nonplussed, I suggested he was not being helpful. He apologized, and continued innocently, “Does it make you nervous knowing that all the people in the gym will be looking at you, when you do your first sparring?” I stamped my foot at him. He laughed, tied my gloves for me, and then watched my pathetic attempts at sparring. I was mortified: here was a pro-boxer – a contender for a title belt – watching me swat my opponent like a kitten pawing a spool of wool. Yet he watched, and shouted tips from the sidelines. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve seen the pros and elite amateur boxers watch, encourage and guide boxers with less experience than them. After winning my first fight at a gala at the gym, the 2-time women’s world champion congratulated me and enveloped me in a big hug. It is always the pros/elite fighters who cheer the loudest at my gym’s amateur boxing galas.
During this year’s Christmas holidays, there was open training at the gym – no classes, anyone could drop in, and work the bag by themselves. Both times I went, there were a dozen or so boxers, ranging from newcomers with gloves that still had the new-leather smell, to a few elite ones. The sound system was acting capricious so we worked in silence, to the sound of the bell, the gloves hitting the bags, the heavy breathing… and the head coach singing the same snippets of White Christmas, over and over again, in his French Canadian-Italian off-key tenor voice.
I consider all of my teammates to be friends, some of them close ones. Yes, I train 6-10 hours a week with them. But that doesn’t explain the statistical anomaly of me liking 100% of my teammates. I work 8-12 hours a day with my co-workers, and while I might like (most of) them, few ever reach the status of friends – people I’d confide in, and see socially outside of work. So why the immediate connection to my teammates?
Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.
Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that my gym is full of good dancers who are witty, funny, party-animals. Eye-candy is NEVER a bad thing when chosing one’s friends. #priorities
Every possible nationality and demographic is present at my gym. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation immigrants of every background train here. Atheists will swap tips with practicing Muslims trying to survive Ramadan while training. Liberal arts students discuss career possibilities with a PhD in neuroscience or an engineering fellow. Lawyers talk to handymen and graphic designers. The political spectrum is just as diversified, as are the income brackets: the necessarily-frugal to the big-spending jet-setters. It is more likely than not that someone will have a musical accent. The amount of Franglais conversations is endless: one person speaking all in Québecois, the other responding all in English, and a Frenchie from France sprouting expressions no one has heard of before, du coup!
In a world climate that loves to label everyone and promote segregation, differences and hatred, I hold my gym to be a role model for what multiculturalism, integration and tolerance looks like in practice. On days when our planet is going to shit, when Paris gets bombed, Trump poisons peoples minds, and it is so easy to despair, I step into my gym and feel peace. I look around, and I feel hope.
Not bad for a gym that focuses on a combat sport, yeah?
I love my gym, and my people. My family. My New Year’s wish to all my readers is that you may find a similar safe haven in 2016 that brings you the same joy that my gangsta gym brings me.
Here are all the other posts that involve the gym, or its central characters:
- Tyga vs Tigger
- That time I had a real boxing fight
- A time for updates
- Regular night at the gym: the clap, a meat grinder and trash-talking
- I doubt Cinderella was a good boxer
- Mr. T has nothing on this guy
- Smoking and sales taxes
- How to charm me in a few short sentences – boxing style
- Bob Dylan will psych you out
- How to lose all credibility at a boxing gym
What an eye-opening post. Heart-warming, very, and I’m so glad for you to have a home like that! But the eye-opening–mind-opening–part of the post was your paragraph “Boxing is an unforgiving sport.” Everything you say within makes so much sense. I can finally see, for the first time, some appeal in participating in boxing.
Happy New Year!