07 August, 2012

WHAT I LEARNED FROM MY FIRST TIME BARE-KNUCKLE BOXING

Half hour after the bout.
Four days after the bout.
For a Friday night, I imagine that I could’ve found any other activity. I was invited to a friend’s gallery showing. There was a band I like playing over at the Triple Rock. My regular girl insisted I call her up while I had a four day weekend and I had a new girl I was playing phone tag with but that game annoys me more than it intrigues me. So my options were open and I opted out of all of them: I wanted to start a fist-fight.
Not having been in an actual fist-fight in something like nineteen years, the idea struck me as nothing more than just something to do. I like Fight Club and Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can and watch them with some small amount of regularity. I had taken a few martial arts classes when I was about thirteen, maybe fourteen, at least when my family still lived in Toledo. I thought I was prepared.
I was also drunk. Five screwdrivers and a twelve pack of shite beer deep if I do my retroactive math right. I had not been so blitzed in maybe three years by that point, the last time involving a half a fifth of slum whiskey and a twelve pack of malt liquor. I had a four day weekend, don’t judge me.
Now, the point of the fight, if there was one, I can’t recall if there was, was just to have some fun. There was no malice involved. You can consider it sparring, I guess. So I chose my opponent: The new guy at work.
To keep things friendly and safe, I established the ground rules of the fight:
♥ Firstly: Punches only. No kicks, holds, throws, or head butts. No elbows, no knees, nothing but fists.
♦ Secondly: No punches above the collar or below the belt.
♣ Thirdly: Because it seems to me that dirt is softer than concrete, we kept things in the dirt. If one of us was forced out to the driveway, the bout was put on hold until everybody was back in the dirt.
♠ Fourthly: There was a safe word. “Off.” Somebody called “off” and the bout was put on hold until that person was ready to go again.
Seemed to me that these rules would be a good framework to proceed within. Nobody’s glasses would get broken and we could return to our desk jobs without big ugly glaring purple shiners under our eyes or crooked noses for which we’d have to seek medical attention.
I had a yellow stripe (not belt) in Tae Kwon Do. My opponent admitted he had “a little” jujitsu training from his two years spent teaching English as a second language in northern Japan. This did not negate the fact that neither one of us had ever had an opportunity to put these skills to any use since we attained them; my last fist fight was a year or two before I took those free classes at the Y with my mother.
Most of the details of the bout are lost to me. Again, I was lit like a Fourth of July exhibition. Add to that that it’s one thing to witness a fight, it’s another to engage in it. If you haven’t fought lately, in a capacity friendly or otherwise, then be aware that it’s a fast-paced event. Decisions are made milliseconds before they are carried out, often actions are taken without forethought. To a skilled and seasoned fighter, the process may be different, I wouldn’t know. There are sundry examples of trained and professional boxers relaying how things go into slow motion once the bell rings to start the match. However, when two nebbishes with questionable judgment get into it… Well, I can’t speak for my opponent but I’ll assume that the event went for him much like it did for me, judging by what I can remember from his moves: Fire, aim, ready.
The bout began with an almost cinematic quality. As we readied ourselves by discarding our shirts, phones, and cigarettes, it began to rain and rain heavily. Me? I said hell with it. My coworker said the same and we stepped out into the back lot and assumed our stances. His stance was more relaxed than mine, rocking back and forth on his front and rear positioned legs. Me? I opted to bounce up and down on the balls of my feet. I kept my left fist up in front of my face and my right fist cocked back, ready to strike where he opted for what I took to be the classic pugilist stance, showing the backs of his fists toward me, his opponent. I remember saying whenever you’re ready but I can’t remember who landed the first solid punch. I’ll give us this much: We at least knew how to block even if we were bad at it. But we were also bad at punching.
I was the first one to call off. I felt winded. I chalked it up to and still chalk it up to my pogoing maneuver. Looking back on it, I should’ve called that the bout; we were two sopping wet men two minutes into a fist fight we had no desire to take all the way to a knock out. Instead, I behaved like an idiot, hot-boxed a cigarette and drained the beer I had on the patio table and said I was ready to go again.
In what I guess you could call the second round (out of four, hell, maybe five), I already felt my right wrist jamming up but kept going, now improving my performance by incorporating left jabs. It was in this round that I was forced out onto the concrete. I stepped back into the dirt, now mud, and began throwing another flurry of punches and catching just as many in return.
I can’t remember who called off the second time. Might have been me, might have been him, but I welcomed the break.
This began round three. I caught two blows in the neck - an accident - and called off.
In round four, I lost my cool from having caught two neck punches and began assailing my coworker with a rapid succession of left and right jabs, eventually turning to overhand hammering on his back that sent him out to the concrete. I think he might have called off. He told me that I split his lip at any rate. We lasted a few more minutes in the rain and the mud, me now without my glasses and he without his flip-flops before we finally called an end to it and retired under the awning. I found a few scratches to my left flank and accused him of scratching. But I let it go and passed him my flask of J&B scotch and gave him one of the few extra beers I had in the fridge.
He went home soon after that. I went home and watched an episode of some shitty sitcom I had taken for charming in its own way, had another beer and a few more cigarettes and went to sleep, laying on my back as it was the only comfortable position to lay in.
When I woke the next morning, I found that my left flank had blossomed some lovely red and purple polka dots. My coworker’s biceps were so darkened from bruising that one of his tattoos was nearly undetectable.
My assistant manager looked at me and shook her head as I walked into the office to check on things (even on my day off, yes) and that was when I learned why Brad Pitt told Fight Club members twice not to talk about Fight Club: Nobody understands it. As I told others about my experience, nobody understood it except for one of the waitresses I talked to on Sunday morning who said that my bare-knuckle boxing was awesome. She then explained that it was because she equated it to that she had just bought a pair of roller-skates. I didn’t see the connection but I was glad that I met somebody who didn’t immediately asked me why I would do such a thing.
People don’t get it, not even if you tell them that you had rules that you felt would negate serious injury, not even if you tell them that Hemingway boxed or something like that. Apparently, boxing is OK to watch, OK to read about, but not to do. It’s perfectly socially acceptable as a sport so long as you don’t engage in it.
I also came away with an understanding about injury. I sit here typing this out three days after the fact and I’m still in pain. I could’ve gone to an art show, a rock show, or gotten laid that night but I didn’t and now I sit here with a pair of cracked ribs. I cracked my ribs ten years ago and I know that I’m in for a week or two of not being able to cough, laugh, take a deep breath, or bend over to tie my shoe or wipe my ass without a significant amount of pain. I know that riding a bike, one of my favorite past times, is out until my ribs heal. I know, because I tried riding my bike to the farmer’s market about two and a half miles away the morning after the bout. Fucking is right out the window, too.
I understand now why professional boxers get in the ring only once or twice per year. My injuries and my coworker’s injuries are the result of a thirty one year old (myself) and a thirty year old (him), both out of shape, skinny but with little paunchy guts (I know mine is from the beer, I don’t know where his is from), trading punches with each other. Take two twenty somethings in the peaks of their physical condition and professionally trained and allow them to batter each other about the face, resulting in nose, eye, mouth, neck, and brain injuries. There’s a reason they make as much money as they do: Once or twice a year, they have to put a price on their next six-month recovery period where they are out of work, practically convalescent. Me? I’ll be recovered after two weeks and that’s just because I cracked two ribs. The pros, they break theirs. They puncture lungs. Not to mention the noses that have to be reset and the new teeth they have to have installed in their mouths.
Am I going to box again anytime soon? I thought about doing it next week. I thought about it while I lay on my couch and dicked off on the internet for the day after the bout. And I thought about it yesterday. Today, though, while back on the clock and hearing from my new guy that he’s pretty sure that his ribs are cracked, too (“Give it two weeks,” I said), and that we may have to reconsider this whole weekly fist fight nonsense as two out of shape early thirty somethings, I thought, yeah, maybe not.
Even if I owe him another split lip for that second neck-shot.

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