I entered the stuffy room as two pairs of fighters, two women and two men, stepped on to the worn, red mats sprawled in the center of the room. A handful of people surrounded the mats, making a pseudo-ring out of their bodies as the fights begun.
Although a couple of the athletes seemed decent, the fights didn’t immediately draw my attention, leading me to survey the rest of the room in the meantime. The feeling of stuffiness I had felt when I had entered was caused in part due to the complete lack of ventilation in the small corner room, coupled by the primary light source being a couple of rectangular windows situated roughly eight feet high near the ceiling.
Small particulates could easily be spotted dancing in the beams of light, pushed around by the two box fans situated in opposite corners from one another. In the corner across from the door and next to the fans was a pile of untouched boxes and miscellaneous equipment, almost assuredly the source of the lingering dust.
Aside from the mats and a few other minor pieces of MMA equipment scattered along the floor, this room could easily be mistaken for a large closet. I leaned against the wall next to a box fan, the chipping paint on the cinderblock wall irritating my exposed hands, forcing me to slip my palms into my sleeves for protection.
Before I could observe anymore of the room in detail, the crowd began cheering wildly, drawing my attention back to the matches. It seemed the cause of the excitement was that one of the men had done a simple takedown and was now holding side control, causing the other fighter to awkwardly brace with his arms in an attempt to make space and escape.
Amateur… You have legs, use them!
I approached the mat once again, sliding in between a couple of people to get a better look at the matches. After all, I didn’t come here to inspect the room, I came for the martial arts. As I continued focusing on the match between the men, as it was the closest match to where I was standing, the crowd roared once again, this time in response to the women.
“Over there’s the vice-captain, Madison Locke.” A random guy who I assumed was in the MMA club spoke in an overly enthusiastic voice to no one in particular. “She’s second only to the captain and was a judo star in high school. She can turn your world upside down in an instant!”
He had been commentating over the matches since I arrived, but I was tuning him out for the most part. Unfortunately, since I was now on the sidelines, I was too close to not hear his hyperbolized nonsense.
I sighed to myself, redirecting my attention to the women fighting. Once again, it was nothing impressive. Although the two seemed fairly competent standing, as soon as the vice-captain landed the throw, her opponent seemed to have no idea what to do. Not only that but the vice-captain herself continually switched between lackluster submission attempts and reestablishment of the same flawed position.
Is this it?
At this point, I was upset. To be completely honest, I don’t fully know why the unfortunate display made me so angry all of a sudden, but I simply was. In that moment, without thinking, I turned towards the guy who was attempting to commentate the matches, directing some of my animosity towards him.
“Politely, what are you doing?” I asked point blank, my exhausted mind attributing a portion of my confused emotions to his exaggerations of the club members’ skills.
After a brief moment, he turned to look at me, as if to confirm that he was the one I was directing my question at.
“Sorry, was I bothering you?” He began, seeming genuinely apologetic at the thought that I took offense to his narration.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be a shout caster, that’s actually why I joined this club in the first place.” The larger guy rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, “I’ll stop if you want me to.”
At that moment, the realization of how stupid I was being suddenly washed over me. Of course his shout casting hobby wasn’t the issue, nor were the club members’ skill levels.
I was the problem.
I opened my mouth to respond, attempting to own up to my momentary lapse of judgement, but I was cut off suddenly.
“Thank you all for coming on such short notice and I hope you enjoyed our demonstration!” The captain shouted, “I would also like to thank my fellow martial artists and friends for joining me on the mats for these wonderful matches! Can we all give them a round of applause!”
After a small applause and some speeches by the other members of the club on some logistical and safety information, the vice-captain stood up to the center and began scanning the room.
“Now that that’s all out of the way, does anyone have any prior experience in martial arts?” The vice-captain probed the group, waiting expectantly for any response.
At this point I was unsure of what to do. On one hand, I had a lot of martial arts experience in the past and enjoyed it greatly, but on the other hand, I told myself I wouldn’t get involved again out of fear of worsening my injuries. I looked up at all the members of the club, lined up on the mat, making brief eye contact with the shout caster before looking back down at my feet in shame.
I guess I’ll just go home…
“It looks like we have one contender! Phew, I was worried there for a second. C’mon over here!” The vice-captain raised her voice excitedly.
I looked back up to the group to see everyone staring directly at me. I darted my eyes to my side to see my hand raised on its own, forcing me into this situation. Now past the point of no return, I attempted to regain my composure and walk calmly onto the mats.
As I slipped off my shoes and socks and stepped onto the Tatami grappling mats, I could feel the familiar grip under the pads of my feet; a wave of nostalgia and longing almost causing my knees to buckle. As I continued to approach, the captain and vice-captain ushered me towards the back of the room to talk as privately as possible.
“So, what martial arts have you done in the past?” The captain asked, midstride to the corner of the room.
“I’ve mostly done Brazilian Jiujitsu but I have experience in others like Judo and Muay Thai as well.” I answered, stopping to lean against the familiar peeling paint.
“Where did you train… oh and what’s your name, newbie?” the vice-captain laughed awkwardly as she realized they hadn’t done introductions.
“My name is Sam Keener by the way, I’m a nursing major before you inevitably ask” the captain chimed in, taking an elbow to the liver from the vice-captain.
“No one asked you, Mr. Beaner,” the vice-captain retorted, turning back to me, “Don’t ask.”
“Uhhhhh, okay? My name is Cole Miles and I trained back in California where I grew up… up until a couple years ago.” I trailed off, becoming lost in thought
“Any reason why you quit?” Sam asked, obviously ignoring the social queues I presented in order to not have to talk about it.
“Long story.” I replied tritely, pushing myself off the wall, ready to leave.
“Wait,” the vice-captain stopped me suddenly. “How would you like to have a demonstration match against our captain here?”
After pondering it for a moment, knowing logically it was probably not the best idea to start fighting again without any prior preparation, I felt there was only one answer I could give.
“Sure, why not,” I shrugged.
I’m already in this deep, how much worse can it get?