“Since we’ve all gotten somewhat rusty over break, we’ll be going over the basics today!” Sam announced to the class as we grouped up.
Although he said it was due to rust, part of me wondered if he was starting from the basics to help accommodate my skill level but I stayed silent.
“We’ll start off with some basic punches, maybe throw in some crosses and blocks, and if we have time, a side kick or two.”
With the lesson plan sorted, everyone spread out and paired off together, grabbing gloves and pads to practice. I looked around nervously for a moment before the captain came up to me and offered to show me the ropes personally.
I gladly accepted and we began training. I grabbed a pair of gloves and pads from the pile of spares when the captain clicked his tongue at me.
“Not yet.” He said, shaking his head. “I need to make sure your form is correct before you start actually punching.”
As he said that, he tapped his open palm, holding it up to me.
“Gimme a good jab. I can handle it.”
I clenched my fist and attempted to punch through his hand, looking at him afterwards for expectantly.
“Well, your follow through was good at least.” He made a thinking motion before continuing.
“First off, keep your thumb outside your fist, unless you want to break it. Second, you want to turn your body into the punch as if your whole being is throwing the jab, not just your arm.”
As we worked, slowly but surely, I made progress, until eventually I was promoted to wearing gloves.
Training with pads was harder than I thought. Not only did I have to remember the forms of my punches, but I had to respond to Sam’s callouts and motions.
When he said “one” I threw a left jab, when he said “two” I threw a right jab. Eventually he was saying long strings of numbers that made my head spin but I somehow managed to survive.
Due to the combination of starting five minutes late and having fifteen minutes of warmups, class was already halfway over by the time I had gotten the basics of the first punching drill down.
We regrouped in the center of the mats, most of the pairs already descending into tomfoolery by that point, and decided to change partners for more experience.
My next partner was the club member I knew the least about: Alix. My knowledge of him as a person boiled down to the fact that he was short and he had a lot of muscle. That was about it.
“’Sup Kyle, how’d your training with the captain go?” Alix asked while separating from the group.
“I can wear gloves now so that’s a start!” I said, raising my gloves upwards into his field of vision.
“…Right? I guess it’s pretty hard putting them on at first, huh?” Alix responded confused.
“Never mind… So how do you wanna do this?’ I asked, trying to hide from my embarrassment.
“We could always spar.” A devious smile crept across Alix’s face as he spoke.
“No thanks, I’m good. I haven’t even learned how to block yet…”
“Oh well that’s easy!” The grin still planted on his face.
The next fifteen minutes of class were Hell on Earth. Alix proceeded to move my arms sporadically around my face before telling me to brace myself. After throwing a few basic punches as I desperately attempted to block them, he would adjust my arm positioning, sometimes to something completely different and repeat the process.
The worst of it was when he would have me do certain blocks before completely dominating me or having me hit myself in the face before telling me “That’s why you never hold your hands like that.”
Although I hated every second of it, in a weird way, it did help me learn how to block so I was thankful. I was definitely going to be sore and bruised tomorrow though.
At last, we regrouped again and traded partners for the third and final time which put me with Quinn, the second least experienced member of the club behind yours truly.
Once again there wasn’t much of a chance for small talk as I was working hard to keep up with the basics. Although we did have the one-hour taster session last week, it was much less structured, and I had barely remembered any of it.
Although Quinn was almost as inexperienced as me, she still was able to help me with what she knew, mainly footwork. By the end of our mini-sessions, I felt I had a firm grasp on a few of the basics of MMA and was feeling good.
“Alright, so who is ready to spar?!” The captain shouted expectantly once we had about fifteen minutes left of class.
Everyone excitedly replied aside from me. As well as I thought I was doing with the few basics we had just reviewed, there was no chance I could hold my own in a real fight against anyone in this room.
Quinn, seeing me visibly uncomfortable with the prospect of fighting, spoke up on my behalf.
“Hey Sam, I don’t think I should fight against Kyle over here.” Quinn began, giving me a ray of hope before shattering it. “I think you should go against him instead!”
She turned towards me with a smile, almost as if she didn’t know what she had done to me.
“Good idea!” Same responded from across the room, trading me out for Madison.
Despite the fact that Cole had beaten the captain during the demonstration, the fight I watched before gave me plenty on insight about Sam’s skill level. He could easily kick my ass.
I nervously adjusted my gloves and faced him; his frame felt as if it stretched all the way towards the ceiling of this cramped room. I felt a familiar lump growing in the center of my chest making it hard to breathe.
As soon as Sam started the timer and announced the round was to begin, he quietly whispered to me.
“Trust in what we’ve taught you thus far, you’ll be fine.”
With a small nod and a wink, we had begun. Afraid of being pummeled, I took threw the first punch, focusing on the form he had taught me. He blocked it in the same way I had learned, making eye contact with me.
I retracted my arm and tried to throw a right jab this time, only to have him nimbly dodge out of the way, leaving me exposed. In that moment, I saw him ready a punch to the side of my head, allowing me to narrowly manage to block it.
This time, he followed it up with a cross with his opposite arm but once again I was able to avoid being hit by implementing the basic footwork Quinn had shown me.
As the fight progressed, I continued to manage to get by. It was nothing fancy, but I was surviving. Before I knew it, the lump in my chest had completely melted away, leaving me light as a feather.
Dodging and weaving, punching and blocking. The entire room was a blur around us as I kept fighting. I could tell the captain was going easy on me to an extent, but nonetheless, it was still invigorating.
Beep Beep Beep.
The timer went off next to us, causing me to freeze in place momentarily. I could feel the sweat dripping down the side of my brow and the smile that had form on my face during the fight. Just as I was about to speak to the captain, the room filled with applause.
Apparently, immediately after our fight had begun, everyone else had stopped to watch out of curiosity. I was simply too focused on the fight to notice.
My face turned bright red, but my smile didn’t fade.
I was excited for my next fight.