First, the exciting news: I am happy to announce a new Gym That Does Not Suck in Toronto! The Toronto Newsgirls, under the able direction of coach Savoy Howe, hope to go solo with an all-female boxing gym September 1! I hope to participate in directing a strength and conditioning component, so stay tuned for updates…
I’ve been training with the Toronto Newsgirls for a few months now. The boxing gym is straight out of central casting: gray cinder block walls, duct-taped heavy bags, rust-edged lockers, and the faint whiff of old sweat (or, if you put on their communal boxing gloves, the overpowering, skin-permeating whiff of old sweat). It’s over an auto body shop. It has industrial fans and a big warehouse window, but no A/C. And, although we all agree it could use a hazmat team to spruce it up before we take it over, and we’re afraid of what horrors await in the men’s bathroom, we love it nevertheless.
On June 24th, I marched along with the Newsgirls in Toronto’s Dyke March. The Dyke March, for those of you who don’t enjoy such things in your town, is a women-only march that’s part of Toronto’s Gay Pride celebrations. Pride began with a handful of gay activists in 1970, and has progressed from a few hours to a day to an entire week of flamboyant merriment (I figure in about a decade, people will just party for a month straight). It’s one of Toronto’s biggest parties, and over a million people show up to ogle the buff boys, wear feather boas, and hold hands with anyone they damn well please. What can I say? We’re hippies and we love a good semi-naked shindig.
Anyhoo, anticipating thousands of potential jockchicks gathered in one place, the Newsgirls threw together a float. Thanks to the creative genius of Tank, our mighty 165 lb bruiser, we assembled a mobile boxing ring, in which boxers sparred as we rolled down the parade route. We had a ref and a ring girl. One of the women brought her six-year-old daughter fully decked out in her own kid-sized boxing gear. We were a huge hit (hyuk).
As we set up and playfully sparred, curious women asked us questions. It became clear that the sport of boxing intrigued many people. Boxing has a semi-mythical reputation among the uninitiated. Boxing hints at the world of fat guys with cigars and porkpie hats; snot, spit and sweat flying off worn leather; smelly men pounding each other in the face – okay, well that’s all true. For peacenik types, boxing exemplifies the worst elements of human aggression and Cro-Magnon social skills. They can’t figure out why anyone would get into a ring ON PURPOSE and let another person chase them around with the express intention of punching them. To be fair, it is hard to understand.
Until you try it.
And then you realize: boxing is the crack of sports. One sniff of the sweaty glove, one honk of the grimy leather up the nose… well. Like Palmolive, nice girls suddenly find themselves soaking in it.
Coach Howe has two sneaky tricks she uses on first-timers. First, after Howe observes their style or reflects on their name, they get a boxing handle like Spitfire or Machine, and Howe will never again use their real name. Actually, I don’t even know half the real names of my compatriots. Makes things mildly weird at parties when the boxing people meet the non boxing people, but it does break the ice as polite Canadians try to figure out why all the women they’re meeting are named Rhino and Iceberg.
Second, after showing them a few basic punches, Howe immediately puts the beginner in the ring with a higher-level competitor. The competitor can’t hit the beginner. But the newbie can hit the competitor. It’s win-win: the competitor works on her defense, while the noob discovers the adrenaline thrill of chasing another foam-covered human around. When the first timer steps into the ring, she’s nervous. When she leaves two minutes later, she’s hooked.
At the parade, one woman approached me. “I’ve always wanted to try boxing,” she said shyly.
“Well then come join us!” I responded warmly.
And then it began: the process that seems to occur just about every time I talk to people about exercise. The buts.
“I’m afraid,” she said.
“You never have to hit a person, or have them hit you,” I said. “If you only ever want to hit an inanimate bag, that’s cool.”
“I’m not in good enough shape,” she said.
“Well, that’s how you get in shape!” I responded.
“I don’t know… all those pushups…”
And so it went. In two minutes flat she’d talked herself out of a kickass workout, physical and mental empowerment, meeting a welcoming community of cool chicks, and an opportunity to learn a new skill.
I’m often asked how it’s possible for me to have so many interests and hobbies: photography, gardening, weight training, cooking, martial arts… Here’s my secret.
Hold your breath.
I just do it.
The night before the Dyke March, I spun a DJ set of funky Latin house music at a party, matching beats with more enthusiasm than skill, but the gang of tipsy guests found it adequately entertaining (the secret to a good performance is plenty of booze for the crowd).
(For those of you under 25, there are these things called “records” that are flat and round and they play music. For those of you over 45, DJing does not mean just playing songs; the beats have to mix and it all kind of sounds like boom chakka boom chakka boom chakka boom. Hope this helps)
I’d learned to spin from my old man DJ Gamma Fodder only a week beforehand. It seemed fun, so I tried it. I just did it. Was I great? Nah. Did I have a great time doing it? Hell yeah.
I could have said, “I’m afraid.” I could have said, “What if everyone hates me?” I could have said, “What if I make a horrible embarrassing mistake?” or “What if my beats all mash together, everyone covers their ears, and throws beer bottles at me while screaming ‘Get off the stage!’?” I could have come up with three thousand reasons not to do something. But I didn’t. I just did it. It didn’t matter if I was the worst DJ in the world – my friends were there, the wine was flowing, and the tracks were groovy. And afterwards, people said, “Wow, you DJ now!” Yeah, I guess I do.
I’m not especially talented or special or even that hard a worker. I do, however, have one gift: a natural ability for saying “What the hell!”
OK, now think of something you’ve always wanted to do or try. Could be big, could be small. Why aren’t you trying it or doing it?*
Once you’ve said, “I want to, but…” then figure out how to take away the “but” and replace it with “and I will”.
*By the way, it’s probably okay to make an exception for self-mutilation, wrestling PMSing anacondas, or eating raw chicken.