The Unbearable Lightness of Being in the Fight

*This is an excerpt/work in progress for a short essay that I’m working on as a part of a writer’s group anthology (more on this in another post) to be released later this year, with themes of both “fitting in” and “standing out”.

After returning from a self-imposed exile abroad, one of the biggest things for me personally, was maintaining my training and renewed passion for the martial arts, which had fallen off somewhere during my time in University, between 2007 and 2012. For the most part, my exercise had consisted of a lot of long-distance running (7 to 10 km, five times a week) and half-arsed weights (“pre-social shredding”). When I moved to London, I had this stereotype in mind of a grimy, underground boxing gym where only hard-nosed, no-nonsense people trained, and with the freedom of unlimited spare time on hands, went looking for such a place, to live out a minor dream of becoming a young Mickey O’Neil.

Through a combination of circumstantial fortune and desperation via being flat broke, my life of activeness in London ended up being broken up into two different paths and disciplines: I took up boxing and kickboxing at my work gym after hours, with an amateur boxing coach running shop out of there twice a week, a great convenience. On the far side of the train tracks I took up freestyle and submission based wrestling, running out of South Croydon Sports Club in the south-west of Greater London (see LAW and Redbridge Judo Club). Training in both, as well as raising my general fitness through the work gym, for just under two years – as well as learning what it was like to really take a hit – I discovered a sense of self-satisfaction that had been missing in the days of my 12-plus hour grinds from Monday to Friday back in Sydney.

Fast forward to July 2015, my VISA had expired in early June and I was back on Australian shores, sporting an earnest grin and a few permanent bumps over my brow, yet feeling recharged and reinvigorated. However I was missing a gym. Bigger than that, I was missing the camaraderie which came with training with others  for a singular focused goal: to get better and to WIN. Yes, winning is the ugly thought that often collides with the idea of “doing your best”, but, in a sense, isn’t the best one can do is win? In my experience, no one who’s taken this type of sport seriously has ever wanted anything less of themselves.

So what started as one – me in my garage throwing jabs at a brick wall and performing shoot drills on a loose heavy bag – became two, then quickly three after, at which time I made a slightly more serious investment in inventory: gloves, focus pads, target pads, kettle bells; you-name-it.

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In April of 2017, what it has become is a mutually motivated “expression of interest” – a space for those who wish to train without the pressures of a big gym and where I can hand off some of my personal experience of the basics of martial arts from over twelve years of climbing the proverbial mountain as a novice.

I dubbed this roughshod club “New Shén” [Boxing Club], Shén meaning “spirit” in Chinese, feeling that this was the most appropriate name to reflect my own journey through fighting as well as the attitude that one should have when taking it up. In the time since it’s inception, I’ve seen everyone who has come and trained give it their all. I’m particularly proud of my ex-housemate from London who has taken up a training camp as a part of a film project, to pursue her first fight, scheduled for late April, 2017. She has never been one to knuckle down at one thing, yet the transformation (I know, it’s very cliche, but it is what it is) I’ve seen in the past month and a half has made me believe in her shén (note: I’ve promised to shout her yum chá if she can, at very least, defend more than 50% of the opponents offence).

Some impressions of the training sessions:

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In late Spring 2016, two of the top gents who I’ve been training contested in an exhibition match for the coveted position of our inaugural club champion. Like most amateur fights, the focus was on scoring high through volume of attacks, tactical manoeuvring and sheer attrition. Two things I always say to the guys and gals: “Keep moving” and “Don’t forget to breathe!”

SUPREME SHÉN I – New Shén Boxing Club, Nov 7 2016 from Mike Yee on Vimeo.

**We currently train every Monday evening in Ryde, and I continue both my own boxing and wrestling training as a part of the University of Sydney Sports Teams. For New Shén inquiries, please see here.

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