Friday, May 10, 2013

From T-Kicks to Kempo Kickboxing

It's May! I'm finally done with school, and I will be graduating next week! With my newly abundant free time, I'm excited to train for Blood, Sweat and Cheers and push myself farther than before. Today, I tried a new kind of work out to help me build strength and endurance for the show: Kempo Kickboxing.

I bought the set of ten classes on a whim from Groupon about a month ago, while trapped in my sedentary student lifestyle of paper-writing and shuttling my ass from school desk to school desk. I romanticized the idea of working up a sweat in a martial arts gym, heart pumping and music blaring. However, when the day of my first kickboxing class arrived, I felt completely intimidated. Everyone who entered the building was clothed in black muscle tees endowed with the gym's paradoxical logo -- an impressively muscular skeleton dude. Their rippling muscles canvassed with tattoos, this crowd looked like a motorcycle gang of Greek gods. I looked like I was dressed for a powderpuff football game or a Zumba class. I  sported a sea foam green t-shirt with a sweetly saccharine logo of an ice cream store on the front and the neckline cut to make a more flattering shape. I thought about turning around and going home, stopping at the thrift store on my way home to go dress shopping. 

Instead, I marched my heart-patterned socks and puffy white cheer shoes to the front door of the gym. Ralph at the desk was incredibly tall. And muscular. And handsome. He looked like Clark Kent with a CBGB makeover, his massive body coupled with a square jawline, a trim boyish haircut and dark, thick-rimmed glasses. He informed me that I might want to take it slow or follow the class at my own pace. Gauntlet thrown, Superman. 

I took off my shoes and joined the group, jogging in circles around the mat. The instructor called out different kinds of jogging, skipping, and shuffling. It reminded me of my old tennis drills. As we stretched, I felt proud of the flexibility I'd gained from the cheer workouts. But when we began learning the kempo punching techniques, I realized just how out of my element I really was. It's generous to say that I "wasn't very good". In fact, I was spectacularly horrible. I feebly jabbed and flopped my limbs around with the efficacy of wire hangers in a sword fight. The technique of kickboxing, routinized sequences of punches and kicks, felt like a dance that I had never even seen performed, much less tried to replicate in my bedroom while listening to the soundtrack from Girls.

You, too, can become a scientific anomaly. 

One of my favorite moments of the class occurred when the instructor gave me general tips about keeping your head up and retaining your fighting stance at all times while "on the mat". It was an instant mental callback to the same colloquial cheer-ism. It seems no matter what your athletic (or artistic or professional) discipline is, when you're "on the mat" you better take your dedication, focus and intensity to 11.

As the class progressed, I started to get a better feel for the kickboxing technique. Like choreography, I began to kinetically understand what my body was supposed to do. Even if I couldn't execute the punches and kicks powerfully or consistently, I started to commit the technique to muscle memory. The session ended with more cardio: an eternity of jump roping. A playful childhood activity corrupted and repurposed into single servings of self-imposed torture. But I was determined to keep participating until my instructor gave me permission to give myself permission to stop. 

By the end of the session, I was dripping in sweat. I was tired, and I worried that I'd embarrassed myself by being such a clumsy novice. But I also felt fierce and brave and powerful. I kept up with the group the whole time. I never stopped or slowed down. I didn't slink away during the water break and head home. The novelty of a new challenge was stimulating both physically, emotionally and intellectually. Kempo kickboxing was worth getting out of my car and following the fear. And although I'm probably not going to commit to training for a UFC championship any time soon, I'll definitely finish out the last 9 classes of my Groupon. 

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