I slept the night with my left hand cupped around my eye socket, keeping my eyebrow and cheek from touching the pillow so that the cut on my orbital bone wouldn’t open up again. After the fights last night I drove over to the apartment of one of my seconds, Wendy Lau, who cleaned me up and applied some Dermabond to the cut, closing the sides so that it can heal. (Who’s lucky enough to have a doctor as one of their corners?)
I’m less sore after this fight than the last. A little stiffness in the neck and a wicked black eye and cut, but other than that I don’t even feel like I was in a fight. Which, maybe I shouldn’t because honestly, even though it was 5 rounds and all that, I wasn’t able to solve the length issue (again) and thus didn’t get in to inflict or take on much damage. Everything I have on me is a result of having played Peelo’s game, staying on the outside and letting her reach dictate the fight. It’s frustrating, because it’s precisely what I knew I could not allow to happen and, for whatever reason, I failed to both bring the training I’ve done to the ring, as well as solve the problem right in front of me regardless of training.
I feel pretty awful. I feel like I let everyone down. But I also feel that I’m caught in a dilemma – either I do only the game plan and keep attempting to make it work (because I know it will, if I just do it) and basically waste the fight trying to get in from the outside, or I abandon the plan and basically brawl because I know I can do damage that way, taking a lot of damage in the process, and then feel like an ass afterward because I didn’t use my training. It’s kind of a lose/lose situation. But that’s the process of fighting, in a way. You don’t do what looks good or what should work, you just do what works. Last night, nothing worked. The few times I made it in, I did so by rushing straight in, which was exactly what I didn’t want to do. It was somewhat effective, but it wasn’t enough.
The minutes, hours and days after a fight I only see the negatives. I didn’t watch the fight, so my experience of it is the way I can “see” my performance, which was not what I wanted it to be. The only place to go from here is back into training. I love training and I train hard, working techniques and power and speed – things that regardless of the opponent are necessary for carrying me through the fight. But what I can’t train is actually responding in the fight. You can respond in fight-like situations, with sparring and aggressive padwork, mental exercises and visualization. I don’t dismiss or minimize these things at all. They are much, much harder for me to train, however.
My self criticism and inability to forgive myself has been trained into me from a pretty young age. Fighting in and of itself is a step in correcting this, but a lot of what makes fighting difficult for me is exactly the same emotional and mental handicaps I’ve limped with since I was a pre-teen. Needing to please others, wanting to be totally and utterly accepted and yet wanting equally to be invisible. I’ve made some strange choices for someone who really hates being looked at: I’m a bartender, which is an incredibly sexualized work environment and, as such, one is expected to be and is rewarded for how she responds to being looked at as an attractive “performer” of pretty mundane tasks; I’ve developed a pretty large viewer base on my YouTube page, which is about as visible as one can get, given that there’s not a lot else the video medium offers; and fighting in the ring is essentially a stage where performance is judged and cheered. My invisibility cloak has enormous holes in it.
(I took a break after writing this first part of the post, as it got a little overwhelming. I continue below about 30 hours later.)
I went to work yesterday and found myself smiling a lot more than I normally would in order to off-set the black eye. Luckily, my boss is a fan of my fighting and wanted to hear all about it, rather than being pissed that my appearance behind the bar was compromised by a pretty inappropriately jarring black eye. I’m not even allowed to have my tattoos visible. A guy who works in the kitchen told me that I look “more beautiful” with the black eye, which felt good because, honestly, I think I feel more beautiful this way.
Tonight I spent about 20 minutes debating whether or not to go out to the Newburgh Boxing Club. I was excited to get back to training, but wasn’t sure if I was going to have to make it a low-key training session. I called Master K on the way there and had a discussion about why he’s so upset when I fight opponents who are not my size – I always listen to him and know that I have not been victorious against larger opponents, but there aren’t enough women my size that I can fight at my best weight exclusively, let alone often. His tone has changed a lot since I first started fighting though. At first he was simply against it all together; then he was embarrassed by my poor performance in my first fight; when I started winning my fights he got excited and when he saw how much I love fighting and that I meant to continue, he became enthusiastic in his support. He still feels pain in my inability to show my training and I know that our relationship causes him to worry for me in a way that he doesn’t for many of his other students – but for this same reason I want to do better, try harder, and make him proud… and I know he’ll support me, even if he wishes I’d make different choices.
I walked up the stairs to the boxing club and the sound of punches and the slap of jump-ropes grew louder. I stepped into the room, which was moderately populated with young men and boys; not a slow night, but certainly not busy. I signed in at the little desk by the door and heard Ray, the club owner, behind me asking how my fight went. He sounded excited, which was unusual. I turned and smiled, told him I’d lost on the decision (he exclaimed, “you lost?!”) and as I turned further he could see my left eye and his mouth dropped open. “You get stitches?” He asked, and I had to admit that it was glue, but performed by an ER doctor and certainly the best job I could have gotten. He was incredulous. He asked me lots of questions about the cut, wanted to know why the doctor didn’t stitch it (he wanted me to go to a hospital, so I’m assuming he doesn’t ever perform treatment on cuts) and told me it looked “open”, dragging me over to the mirror to show me why a stitch would have been superior to the glue. The pink is wider than it was when Wendy glued it, but scars always broaden as they heal and I’m just trying to avoid a keloid. It looked fine to me. Then Ray asked me why “they” didn’t stop the fight. I was speechless for a moment – who should stop it? Is it that in amateur boxing there’s required headgear, so any kind of bleeding stops a fight? Is it because I’m a girl? “Because I wanted to keep fighting,” I offered. Another coach at the gym, standing beside Ray asked me, “why didn’t you stop?” I laughed, out loud. “I don’t stop,” I said.
Ray looked at me for a while, a kind of respect and confusion in his gaze like he was looking at a strange animal that had wandered into his gym. He asked me why I was there and I informed him I was there to train. “Nothing hurts, no injuries. I don’t want to fight like that again, so I’ve gotta train.” He shook his head and smiled before letting me go put my stuff down.
The young guys in the gym periodically asked me about the bruise, the cut, the fight, all excitedly and with sincere interest. I put myself through my regular training routine with fewer rounds. I felt great: my hands were quick, my feet were light and my body twisted and delivered power with each punch. I wished I’d been able to do this in the fight and my legs wished I was practicing Muay Thai. After the heavy bag, double bag, shadow, footwork and speedbag I moved over to work on my conditioning. I was on the floor doing sit-ups when a kid came over and sat next to me, asking me what happened to my eye. I almost joked that one of the other kids had hit me because I’d said his mama doesn’t read good, but decided to give him the real story. He listened, nodded, asked questions and then moved on. I can’t explain how odd all this was, given how invisible I usually am at this gym. It’s like any other gym I’ve been to, where my gender and “intensity” (as it’s been called) somehow results in my being left totally alone. I ask for help, which is always given upon request but never without my asking. Occasionally I’ve had trainers tell me that they see me work hard or “admire my determination,” but this does not result in trainers taking me on as a student. It’s frustrating to watch others get training and tips without having to ask.
Last week one trainer there worked with me and took me in the ring for padwork. I love how he holds pads and learned so much from him in that short time. He must have seen something in me because he came back over to work me through some conditioning drills, which I was able to do and this impressed him and he told me he’d work with me again. He wasn’t there today, but another trainer came over and worked me through some conditioning drills, experiencing the same delight in my ability to perform the drills and continue on. I thanked him before leaving and he told me he’d work with me tomorrow.
I have to say that this is a wonderful and encouraging experience resulting from my fight. Nothing says “credibility” to a boxing club like a black eye. In this case, my gender worked for me: I’m certain that a woman coming back to train so quickly after a fight (which has been universally unexpected at the gyms I’ve attended), wearing a black eye with a grin like a badge of honor instead of hiding it has had immense effect on how I’m received. I went from trainers tripping over me because they didn’t hardly see me to a number of trainers wanting to train me because of what they see in me.