The Real First Rule of Fight Club

Four years ago, I learned how to box. Not kickboxing. I learned how to fight.

Four years ago, I watched all the self-confidence that I’d been building for 21 years shatter. It came crashing down boisterously like a gothic chandelier against a tile floor. It broke and splintered into a thousand little pieces that stabbed at me every day, reminding me how miserable I felt about everything that was going on. It was not where I expected to be at 21-years-old.

My best friends watched it happen and they were powerless to stop it. They’d run out of pep-talks. I didn’t want to hear them. They’d run out of hugs. Those didn’t make anything better. They’d run out of advice. I wouldn’t take any but my own, which was sorely skewed at the time. We all have peaks and valleys in our lives and I was definitely in a valley.

I went to the gym every morning for a couple hours before going off to spend the rest of the day training horses. I thought that would help. But it didn’t. My inner monologue was SO LOUD that I couldn’t tune myself out.

Then one day, our gym got a new personal trainer. Randy. I heard a rumor that Randy used to own a boxing school up in Maryland. I also heard a rumor that he was an ex-marine boxing champion. I believed it. The guy was huge and intimidating.

I waited and watched him with clients for about a week before I took my sister and my 5’2” self over to him and said, “Would you teach me how to box?”

“There’s a kickboxing aerobic class on Monday and Wednesday,” he replied.

“No,” I said. “I want to learn how to box-box. I want to learn how to fight.”

He looked me and my sister up and down, smiled a little and said, “You want to learn how to fight?”

“I want to know how to throw a punch.” When I make my mind up about something, it’s made up. I wanted to fight. I needed to.

“I don’t teach boxing anymore,” he replied.

“But you did, right?” He nodded. “Please, teach us,” I insisted with my sister at my side. “We’ll be the best students ever. I swear.”

“It’s hard work, boxing,” he said. “It’s no joke. You really think you want to do this?”

“I know I do. I can handle it. I want you to treat me like you treated your students in Maryland. I really want to learn. I won’t quit. I want to know how to defend myself.”

And he finally agreed. Who’s going to turn a girl down who wants to learn how to defend herself? He drew up a boxing program for my sister and me. We were his only students in the beginning at that gym. He had two rules:

1. We were never to take punches to the face (I was good with that. I’ve already had my four front teeth knocked out.)

2. We had to show up on time and work

After the first training session I had with him, I thought I was going to die. I was used to working with 1000lb horses. I got bucked off, stepped on, thrown over fences into the mud – but boxing conditioning was something else entirely. Every muscle hurt. My knuckles hurt. My ankles hurt. My calves burned so badly, I couldn’t flex my foot to drive my car. I went home, collapsed in the living room and thought I’d made a terrible mistake. I wasn’t tough enough for this, I thought. But I also promised Randy I wouldn’t quit. So I went back to the gym the next day, gloves in hand and put my fists back up.

I struggled to get my kicks where they needed to be. I boxed until my knuckles bled. I pulled muscles, nursed bruises, threw up during workouts and then went right back at it. Then something amazing happened. One day, Randy and I were sparring and I threw a right hook that hit his pad hard and it made the most magnificent popping noise. I’d heard this noise when Randy punched the heavy bag, but I’d never been able to replicate it, until right then. Randy stopped, dropped his hands and looked at me in amazement. “Caitlin, that punch you just threw would knock a grown man on his ass.” He put his sparring pads back up. “Do it again.”

And I did. I got better at it. My muscles got stronger. My body got stronger. My mind got stronger. My confidence came back. I transformed into this girl I never knew I could be. She was smart and quick and strong. You wanted to be on her team. She trusted herself. She trusted her instincts. She knew she could defended herself and those around her.

That summer was one of the best summer’s of my life. I learned how fight my way back from a personal rock bottom.

It’s been a couple years since I’ve really boxed. My muscles aren’t as in shape as they used to be, so if you threw me into a fight, I’d probably lose. That’s why I’m going back, but I’m going harder and learning Krav Maga – which is a term for a type of tactical defense system developed by Israel.

Here’s the point of all of this. I didn’t do this just to be a tough girl and get into trouble. I’ve never used what I’ve learned inside the gym out in the real world–I’ve luckily never had a reason to. I learned how to box because I needed it. People develop different ways of coping. For years, horses were the only thing that helped me and they still do. They calm me. I’m good at horseback riding. I’m confident in a saddle. But it doesn’t scare me and that’s the problem.

Boxing scares me a little because it’s challenging. It’s something that I knew I wouldn’t be any good at when I started. And it’s something that highlights all of my weaknesses in front of everyone when I’m in a class. It scares me and that’s why it saved me and pulled me out of that black hole I’d fallen into years ago. It scared me and I did it anyway. It scared me and I conquered it. I’m going to do it again. And I hope you do too. Do something good that scares you. It will empower you.

The real first rule of fight club is to be brave enough to show up and fight for yourself.

Originally posted on Caitlin’s Tumblr

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