I turn my car stereo off. The gangsta gumbo on
the tape I have specifically prepared for this ritual has conditioned
my state of mind for the next two hours ahead.
I looked down at my bandaged hands gripping the
steering wheel and sing in the style of a person with learning difficulties
suffering with constipation...
'bandages on my legs and my arms for you, bandages,
bandages banda ges is is.'
I laugh and my inner voice congratulates me on
the likeness to 'Hot Hot Heat' as quiet realisation creeps across
me that I am now adequately delirious to deal with what lies ahead.
I pull-up outside the old scout hut, Uncle Terry
is standing on the gravel (he isn't really my uncle). Uncle Terry's
eyes point in different directions. He has got metal plates in his
legs because he got run over. Uncle Terry is pushing sixty, but
he is the one of the most hardcore among us. He greets me in the
traditional style, placing his hands together and bowing, I return
the gesture. Terry checks fire extinguishers for a living and hates
his family. He looks like Jim Brannan from Eastenders.
I'm relieved when Troy turns up. Troy is the
tour manager of a band. I like him, he says 'hello stranger' and
gives me a hug. Troy is a punk; I've put the fashion anomaly down
to the fact he has probably travelled forward in time as a migrant
worker in search of a better future and to escape the unemployment
of the 1970's. There may be many of his kind... I wonder if someone
should tip-off Michael Howard so he can incorporate this into his
zero tolerance immigration manifesto?
A load of pubescent little shits generally turn
up each week but never come again, the regulars are there most weeks
and are all cool people.
Will (our trainer) unlocks the door and we go
in. The club smells of sweat and 'deep heat' and the association
of this with what is to come gets my adrenalin pumping.
The same Drum 'n Bass tape is put on. I take
this as my cue, open up my kit bag, pull out my mitts, my pads,
and my shin pads and find my skipping rope. I take off my trainers
and find a space.
Apart from helping me warm up, skipping is useful
for creating a literal invisible forcefield around myself as I whirl
the rope around, it's part of my strategy in avoiding talking to
Uncle Terry. My mind wanders and I'm only interrupted by the occasional
wince when the plastic rope hits my bare feet. After ten minutes
Will shouts, "pick it up!" We all double our speed and
lift our knees to our chests for what seems an eternity,- "easy..."
Will shouts 30 seconds later. I try to appreciate the breather before
this is repeated again. 10 minutes later, we hang up our ropes.
"Stretches- hurry up- get into position"
We go through the usual routine. From experience I try to stay at
the front of the class for this, because there is nothing worst
than looking up from your 'box splits' to see an array of bollocks
hanging out of your classmates shorts.
"Shadow Boxing- fists and elbows, come
on- keep it moving"
If you constantly train with a punch bag, your muscle movement becomes
restricted- the trick to getting the most out of this exercise is
to really lash out. I try to keep moving and imagine the range that
I'm working to, coming in close and ducking back. It helps to imagine
my ex-boyfriends face splattering sweat and blood in slow motion
at the end of each upper-cut.
"OK, I wanna see some mid-section, T's,
long knees and head kicks"
After a while I lose interest in 'shadow boxing' and start to listen
to the noises made by my class mates. There are two categories of
noise, 'sound effect', which myself and Troy fall into (my sound
it 'Tsh', Troy's sound is 'Bam') or 'grunt', which has an equally
vast audio array.
"grunt grunt" - shadowboxing is over...
"Get your mitts and get into pairs"
I don't want to be with one of the pubescent little shits so I look
to Simon. He's free.
Troy and Will demonstrate the combo which consists of a knee to
the inter-thigh, head and then a throw.
After 40 minutes or so of sparring - the worst
is yet to come. Sweat is dripping from the ceiling, my hair is a
mess, my feet are blistered, I crouch down as though I'm waiting
to find out what is next trying to hide how deeply I'm sucking in
the oxygen. I know what is next, but I'm pretending that I'm not
"Get a mat, between two- come on, the
sooner you start the soon it's over"
Simon and I shuffle along the queue who are pretending to be eager
to get their mat.
We drag it to a space and start to jog on the spot.
"Ten sit-ups - go!"
All thirty of us jump down to the floor and a manic frenzy of stomach
crunches begins. One by one we stand up, and look around to see
who we beat.
"Wide arm press-ups-go!"
OK- my press-ups aren't technically press-ups, I do five and then
rest my knees down for the remainder, that's good enough...
"Tuck jumps- knees to chest - go!"
This makes me want to wet myself- let's get it over with as quickly
"Narrow press-ups- 20 -go! Come on you
f*ckin' p*ssys, you think you’re thai boxers"
13, 14, 15... yeah that'll do...
"OK, on your backs, legs 6 inches above
As my class mates cry and moan, I'm not finding this one too bad,
at least you get to lie down. I try to focus on what is going on
around me rather than the pain...
"Alright mate, your girlfriend might tell you that’s
six inches but it's more like three... Sort it out"
The abuse and pain continues for at least another
20 minutes. Afterwards we all ease ourselves up from the mats like
old men. 30 or so wet body prints are shining on the mats as if
there has been a massacre and they are all murder victim silhouettes.
I do some half hearted bag work, stretch, thank Will, and wonder
back to my car in a daze.
The thud of the music is shut out as I close
my door. My lungs feel empty and new as though I've just unwrapped
them from cellophane. I drive off in a euphoric state- only two
more days until the next session.
Why waste your time down the gym running on a
treadmill like a hamster on a wheel when you could find a sport
you enjoy and learn something new?