I’m not easily intimidated.
And even when I am, I do a good job of pretending I’m not. But yesterday I found myself in a situation that not only intimidated me, it broke me down inside so that the only thing holding me up was my fortiude that I was not going to let anyone think they had the kind of power over me.
I started a new boxing gym. I was listening to the radio out here one day and there was a commercial on. “Want to get in shape for the summer? Want to learn self-defense? Adult pricing includes all boxing, jiu jitsu, and MMA classes. Come by for a free week.”
It sounded like exactly what I wanted. So I went in and I signed up for a free week. I met with the co-owner, a portly man in his 60s who obviously didn’t partake in the sport. Maybe from injury or maybe he was just not interested, he was the backbone, the manager of money and people. He was a lovely man.
He assured me if I was training one-on-one back in Jersey that I would love this martial arts school. After all, they trained some of the major UFC fighters out there – he name dropped even people I had heard of. I left excited. I was going to be trained by the same people who had trained masters of their art.
I went to a sporting goods store and picked up new gloves and wraps, because he said I needed full bag gloves, not the grappling ones I had.
I got my stuff ready before the start of the 6 pm class and nervously drove myself there. Walking into any new situation alone is scary, I don’t care how much self-confidence you have. I walked into the school and I was the only female over 10. The only one.
Again, this normally doesn’t bother me so much because I can be friends with anyone, strike up a conversation with whoever is in earshot. But all of these guys were already sparring or stretching or putting on their gear. I didn’t even know who was in charge to tell them I was new. Eventually I found someone who looked like the Master. I told him I was new and he showed me and another young man over to the side to stretch while he split the class up.
The other new guy was 25, just out of college, ginormous (literally 6’4) and ripped. He was nice enough I guess but despite my polite introduction and palsied attemt at conversation, he never spoke to me.
After 10 minutes of stretching, the Master took New Guy and me upstairs while the rest of the class (all dudes, ranging in age from around 12-25) began work with another Master.
He began with a series of punches, ones I already knew. He complimented my form. I felt proud that I had retained some knowldge and form and didn’t come off like a total out-of-shape idiot.
I noticed he spent more time talking to New Guy. Where did he go to school? What sports did he play? Did he know his son?
Then as we moved into kicks, it became clear I had The World’s Shittiest Roundhouse Kick and New Guy was The Most Bestest All-Star Newbie Roundhouse Kicker In All The Midwest.
I became invisible.
“You had martial arts trianing before, son? That is some roundhouse! I can’t wait to get you trained and in the cage.”
He patted him on the back, encouraged him, took him slowly step-by-step. He’d occasionally walk over to me, offer a word or two of advice. How to place my leg, which no matter how hard I’d try could not get above waist level.
But it was clear I was porifery.
At first, I thought I was imagining it, my own insecurities taking over as a new person – the only woman in the building – and it was just in my head. But as the lesson went on, it was clear I was not. As we finished up, he spoke to New Guy. “You make sure you get back here on Wednesday for my beginner class again. I WILL have you fighting for me by the end of summer.”
To me, “Great work. Please come back and work hard and you’ll get it.”
I packed up my stuff, put on my shoes, bowed off the mat, and drove home, dejected. This man had just stripped away my love of a sport in an hour. I felt weak and out of place. I felt like I didn’t belong there, doing something I had loved the whole year prior.
He saw New Guy as someone he could mold, train, and turn into a great MMA fighter for the dojo. He saw potential. In me, he only saw what he thought was: an almost 30, mostly out-of-shape mother who came to lose weight. Not a fighter.
Which I GET. I know I’m not going to be the next UFC fighting champion. I don’t want to be. I have no interest in cage-fighting. I like boxing and kickboxing. I like the sport of it. I like how it feels to hit a heavy bag with gloves. I like learning self-defense, feeling strong and powerful.
What I don’t like is being made to feel inferior, like I wasn’t worth training because I was a 25-year old giant dude.
I’m not sure where to go from here. Clearly, I don’t want to train with this guy. But the owner, the man whose name stands on the dojo sign, teaches the morning kickboxing class. I met him before and liked him so maybe I’ll try the morning class on Wednesday while I still have the free week. Maybe he will change my mind.
I’m sad. I thought this was something I truly loved and I left there last night not loving anything about the experience. Maybe it was the one-on-one training with my fight trainer back in Jersey I loved so much and should look into hiring one of those. Maybe I should try a new dojo.
Maybe I should just buy a dummy and a heavy bag and do what I know myself.
I’m pissed. I’m pissed off at this guy who took away my self-confidence and love for a sport I thought I was getting good at. I’m pissed off at myself for giving him the power to do that.
And I really don’t know where to go from here. Do you?