Before Christmas, I had another fight, a draw. It strikes me that I’m not really building any suspense writing that, but sometimes you know the result beforehand and nevertheless you want to see how it’s done. I started training for this one straight after the other one, hoping that it would cure the feeling of emptiness I had. Perhaps it’s not surprising that it didn’t. It is hard to get enough of something that doesn’t work, as any alcoholic will tell you.
I had been in fight mode since I reported my ex to the authorities, back in Rio, in 2016. He turned up outside my house and waited there after the split. As he was a malignant narcissist and, perhaps more significantly, an armed cop, I was living in a lot of fear. My response to it was to tackle the fear, getting a restraining order and preparing to face him in court. That case never came as I left the country before the wheels of the justice system had got around to moving full circle. I remember the adrenaline that simultaneously kept me awake and left me exhausted. It was on my mind during the first fight, a symbolic victory which I had to have, to show the world who could win in a challenge between aggressors. “Your enemies are already dead,” a friend had said to me while I was in Rio, quoting an ancient text. I still had to murder every ghost, over and over again, until I was satisfied of that.
December 2018 and I was tired. Not just physically tired of training all the time, but tired in my soul. I don’t believe forgiveness is necessary in order to move on and I don’t forgive. I do however want to think about other things, and I have for some time. Humans are resilient and we want to build, to create, connect, and to live. Getting into the ring, I was overtaken by another impulse. Flight. I wanted it to be over so I could spend time in deep relaxation, the period of adrenaline consigned to the past.
Anger vs soothing
Weeks before, I had done a workshop at 12 Rounds Boxing called Punch It Out. Billed as a stress management workshop for women, it combined boxing with restorative yoga. We started upstairs in the light, airy space above the main gym there, warming up with some basic boxing techniques, then talking about stress and how it made us feel. During my tense times, I was ready to stay and defend myself, but I realised there were other things going on too. I couldn’t concentrate, I was always irritable, and I know when I’m stressed I tend to start arguments with people on public transport and stop replying to messages (arseholes that play videos with no headphones though! I am saving my most vicious upper cuts for you).
12 Rounds Boxing had already impressed me as a different kind of space. While briefing living in the area during my peripatetic existence since leaving Brazil, I had trained there. Along with the usual props, such as a ring, various instruments of torture like kettle bells and inspirational pictures of past boxing heroes, there were tampons in the ladies toilets. Owner Kat regularly holds workshops which connect boxing to general well-being. It was what I needed.
We discussed how our reptilian brains need to feel safe, while the mammal in us wants to connect with others. This conflict right here describes in a nutshell the last few years of my life. Boxing was used as a metaphor for handling stress, and how we can use our guard or defensive techniques to walk out of the punchline. Boxing as a metaphor can work for almost anything, which is why it has seeped into our language – being on the ropes, throwing the towel in, letting your guard down, etc, etc, etc. This did chime with my sense, as I continued to learn defensive techniques (and how they can set up counter punches), that it isn’t necessary to take every punch. I was realising this approach could save me energy and injury, as well as help me to gain points, and it was a strategy I could do with taking into life as well.
It was time to look at ways of reducing stress, rather than throwing myself into the line of fire time and time again. The workshop looked at strategies for addressing this, including mundane but helpful stuff such as switching off devices at night. I wondered if the experience I had in my fight meant that I had fallen out of love with boxing, but all it meant was that it was time to get some balance back. Kat also made the important point that when you are anxious, sitting still and quiet won’t help. You need to burn off that feeling. This is something I had learned from periodic insomnia, which worsened drastically after my return from Rio. People want to listen to plinky plonky whale sounds, but if I wasn’t feeling relaxed the best music I could hear was probably something like AC/DC, to burn off some of that tension. Boxing will continue to be essential for me, but now I do take time to relax too.
Coming back to balance, it seems to me that what boxing gives women is a bit of what we are lacking. Aggression, arrogance and anger are still discouraged in women, but as they are normal human impulses they stew inside us without an outlet. This workshop could only have been run for and by women, as I don’t see the same kind of reflections on being “good enough” coming from traditional boxing geezers. However, it is also traditional boxing geezers who bring so much to my life, giving me the things that are missing, like a focus on the external instead of the internal, and therefore providing some of that balance. It is not a zero sum game (unlike the fights themselves). I want it all.