Last Friday night, I paid men twice my size to punch me. Old and young, wily and aggressive, they landed kicks that doubled me over and knocked me on my butt. They slammed hammer fists on my head and used my belly for target practice.
What idiocy is this?
Just about every weekend starts with me standing in line with six to twelve other lunatics ready to attack and defend. Though I’ve been sparring in Tae Kwon Do for about two years, I still feel like a complete dope. Sure, I’ve improved . . . I get my punches in and have a wicked ridge-hand to the head and neck, but progress feels slow when a 6’2" man, who’s built like a Hummer, is pushing me into a corner.
(It feels like the first rotten review for a new book . . . )
Saturday mornings I look like an abused woman. Bruises line my shins, chest, stomach and shoulders. Four months ago, a punch to the nose caused bleeding and I had a showy cut across the ridge for weeks. Two months ago, a woman’s long thumbnail slashed my cornea; the pain worsened overnight and I had to go to the hospital the next morning.
Why would anyone subject herself to this week after week?
Well, I love it.
(Um, just like writing)
Up until I started TKD nearly three years ago, I’d never thought of myself as a physically strong person. I’d had an image of being petite and, basically, on the diminutive side. Though quick enough to anger, I’d never kicked someone and had only hit two people in my life.
Now I’ve lost count.
Nothing feels quite as good as landing a hard punch and knocking the wind out of an opponent. There’s a weird satisfaction in knowing I could break a nose or crack a jaw if I had to.
I could say that this is all research for my writing, but it’d be a lie — at least for now. None of my main characters knows how to fight. Hell, I don’t know that much yet either.
But I do know that sparring has given me a kind of confidence that serves me well in other parts of my life. Because I have more sense about how to throw and take a punch, I’m more likely to anticipate strikes that other people might not notice coming their way. Because I get hurt on occasion, I’m more apt to be aware of my surroundings and avoid getting into a fracas in the first place.
Sparring has made me tougher, too. It’s a good quality to cultivate when you’re a writer because as much pleasure as we get wielding our craft . . . we face attacks, too (from others or our own sorry egos).
So, next Friday night, you’ll find me with a padded red helmet on my head, mouth guard on my teeth, punching gloves and kicking boots. I’ll take too many blows, try to inflict as many on my partners, and love every minute of the whole experience.
(A word about the photos: they’re from an old testing. We don’t spar with padding during these events. The thing that amuses me is that every sparring picture I have shows me grinning.)