… it is a bit past 6:30 in the morning and while most people touchdown to the last hours of sleep, we here are already awake, finishing our second round of tasks.
The world spins; the momentum cannot be imagined in timelessness. Every moment leads up to the next; every moment is anticipation of the next, waiting to plunge into the future.
No amount of training will prepare you, truly, for the sensation of getting kicked really hard in the solar plexus. I remember one such day, it was a tournament, I think it was back in 2004 perhaps. The exact year doesn’t remember really. During a round with one of my opponents, I had actually been knocked down several times. Lucky for me there was no TKO rule in effect.
The most painful moment of that day was when got punished for overextended for a cross– I was reaching, and he was leaning back– and I barely managed to stuff my glove in the eyeslat of his headgear. Why was he leaning back? Because he was winding up for a kick.
My opponent outweighed me by at least 40 pounds. I tookthe lower half of his shin between my solar plexus and my stomach, and at that very precise moment, as I tried to drag my guard back to me too late, I felt my gloves bounce touch eachother gently and my elbows drop to my hips. I felt a jab in my face for good measure, and my head snapped back painfully. A moment later, I was on my knees, my body suddenly shut down and curled up. I could see the shadow of the ref suddenly in front of me, blocking out the gym lights. I could feel my mat pressing against my forehead through the headgear, and the lunch jumping around my stomach.
There were other times that I had gotten into bad situations in tournaments. The worst one was at the first tournament I was in, that was perhaps back in 2001 or 2002. I was slugging it out hard, but I was taking damage, and I was taking a lot of it.
It’s all fine to say that you’ve got to persevere, that you’ve got to go those extra few seconds, and when you’re done that, do a few more, and a few more… but sometimes? Sometimes, the truth is, you don’t know why you’re doing it. Why are you putting in those seconds? Why are you going through all that pain?
During that first tournament, I felt outclassed, and small. I did lose that round. People tell me it was a good fight. I don’t remember it that way, I just remember it as if I was fighting for my life and not in a heroic last stand sort of way. It was reflex. Plain and simple. I was scared. I was a cornered animal who only had the sense that flight was impossible. I wasn’t chosing to fight– it wasn’t the lesser of two evils– it was fear that made me fight. I didn’t have a choice.
It’s funny how such memories come up at such odd times. I remember Carlo of all people asking me after the fight if I was all right. I was breathing heavy– really heavy. And it wasn’t even that I was short of breath, but… it’s as if sometimes, you’re so scared that you start breathing hard even if you don’t need it.
I remember going to the washroom, trying to wash blood off my face, looking at myself in the mirror. I was laughing and crying at once. It was not a sense of relief at it being all over. Neither did I really care that I had lost. But I had the sinking feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing there.
And you know, when you fight, when you fight as if it really mattered and then you realize you don’t know what that fight was for?
That’s not just an empty warrior’s spirit. That’s an existential crisis.
A bathroom, a headache, a nosebleed and a sweat covered body. That’s an existential crisis.
Flip back forward to 2004. I’m on my knees, my face is against the floor. It’s the fourth time I’ve gone down. No TKO rule, sure, but I’m down on points because of that. Regardless, there is a rule that says that if you go down and don’t get up, you lose regardless of the points.
This isn’t fight or flight. This is a conscious choice. I am not cornered. I am hurt, yes– but my mind not cornered. The rule of the game is when someone goes down, the other has to back off. That means yes, physically, I am cornered– there’s only two things that can happen. I can stay there, and I can just roll over and close my eyes. Or I can try and get up.
The thing about getting hit in the solar plexus is that the sensation is a lot like taking out all your organs and then throwing them at a wall, individually. Systematically. WIth prejudice. It hurts. You gag. Breathing is like trying to fill a soccer ball with nothing but a straw. Your abs clench up involuntarily, your arms and legs curl inwards. Your brain has it’s instincts wired in like that– it wants to protect your vitals and so you curl up, your turtle so that you wont take any more damage.
The several thousand years of genetic programming comes down to that– an innoportunate, involuntary fetal position.
Times like that you’re happy you wore a mouthguard and indeed, if you aren’t, you’ll probably chip your teeth just from biting down so hard.
The body shot hurts your legs. The more shots to the body you take, the weaker your legs get. Boxers don’t have to go down from the head shots– though it looks more dramatic, all you have to do is cut the legs, and the body will follow. The solar plexus is the shortcut. I try to get up with my legs, but they’re not waking up just yet. I need some momentum. I try to use my hands to push me off the floor, but they won’t uncurl from my stomach.
Yes, when you’re hurt, physically, mentally, there is always that easy way out. Just close your eyes. Let it wash over you.
Your brain, your body, your programmed instincts– they know everything about the shortcuts to self preservation of your engine, of your vehicle. If you listen to it, you will survive. You never have to go that extra mile.
But what about your spirit? To satisfy the spirit is very seldom to obey the demands for the body, of the brain.
The body says he can’t. The brain says stop. The spirit tells them to shut the fuck up.
I trick my body. I use my forehead to push off the ground.
For anyone who doesn’t know, and you can try this, it’s a simple experiement– most of us cannot support our weight with our faces. But if you train enough, if you get to know yourself, you’ll see: pain is the language of the body. It sees pain, it reacts. Right now, it’s thinking about my organs, and it’s afraid for all that, and I sympathize. But right now, we need to get up. As incentive, I’m leaning on my face. That pain starts to grow– my nose, barely cushioned by the headhear is still being squahsed to one side and it’s hard to breathe through the mouthguard like this, and my neck muscles, one of the few I still have command of, is straining under the orders of my spirit to arch my body.
The body reacts to this self-destruction and releases it’s hold on my arms.
I push up with my arms. My legs follow grudgingly. My mouthguard feels like nauseating entire pack of stale, bile soaked chewing gum. The thought of what happened in 2001 races through my head. This time is different. This time, I know why I’m here. Because this is… it. This is me. Not just this. All of this. This now, everything that lead up to this, and everything that will follow.
I get up, and I finish the last 30 seconds of the round, and I win by judges descision. Not that I care what the judges thought.
On a ‘bad day’ for me, it’s seldom that I can’t get anything done. I can go through all the motions of my passions. I can be writing, I can be playing, I can be working, I can be with friends or family. But my spirit won’t be in it.
ANd so my bad day isn’t defined by a lack of movement, a physical apathy. It’s defined by my inabaility to align with my spirit. It’s a day where I just do what I need to survive.
And I can see that at times, this would be so easy. It’s comfortable, after all.
But something in those days is missing– and this isn’t just drive, in the small sense of that word– it is life itself.
Human existence? Let me sum it up for you. Your biology is a ticking time bomb; a series of leases on unowned property. Your instinct is to die. Indeed, when a situation comes up, what goes through your head? There are a hundred ways to fight it– but that one common solution to the conflict is to just roll over and die. And indeed, that instinct will win over, when someday, you get so tired that you stop fighting entirely.
But until that day? Until that day, you must do things. You must fight your programming. You must be selfish with your passions. You must take the hard way. You must lie to yourself that you are not dying.
And when you beleive that, when you finally do truly beleive that you are not dying, then you are without a doubt alive. When you beleive that, then you have freed your soul, and you truly cannot die.
The most common thing I hear from people is “I envy you”. And I don’t mean this directed at me, per se. People always say that, to everyone. I’m so envious of this or that. As if, somehow, they don’t have it too. Where along the line did you decide that you couldn’t do it? Who told you this? Why do you beleive them? Why are you trying to impress? Do it for yourself. When you look at that mirror and feel empty– there is nothing there but space for you to create your own reasons for living.
… it’s 7:37 am, on New Year’s eve eve. It’s time for you to wake up.