There’s a saying that “it’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get back up,” or variations thereof. The funny thing about this life affirmation, to me anyway, is that in a literal sense it gets harder and harder to get back up the more times you fall.
This morning’s padwork with Nook turned into sparring after the 4th round. I’d started out slow, trying to keep my punches snappy and strong, but if you work on technique in your head with Nook he gets bored and the padwork gets slower. So at the third round I decided to turn it up, thinking to myself “scoring round” and started coming at him. He woke up immediately and started charging me back into the ropes and putting all his weight on me so I had to really work to turn out and get any knees in for the clinch.
After the fourth round the other ring was empty, no other padwork, so there was nobody calling time and Nook loves to just let that time go, so we worked continuously for the next 20 minutes or so in one solid round that just kept getting more intense. I’m not certain when it happened, but Nook baited my right cross with his pad and then left hooked me at the top of my head. I pounded him back into the ropes with my punches and when he tried a head kick I caught it underneath and pushed the leg up and over, causing him to almost topple out of the ring. His eyes were on fire and he made entertained noises before grabbing me and just throwing me to the ground.
This became the new game: he would charge me, take a few hits and press me into the ropes before grabbing me for the clinch and then turning me hard and fast so that I basically somersaulted into the canvas over and over again. I would right myself, get my feet under me and the second I had only two points on the ground he would charge me again and I’d be on the floor – again – in a matter of seconds. This went on for probably 15 minutes.
I refused to give up. Many times with my back on the mat and my lungs hiccuping air from the impact, the thought of getting up wasn’t appealing. But I knew that all it took was one time not getting up and that would be the end of it – that moment would be the record of events that day and I’d have to deal with that feeling as the choice I made in this situation. So I kept getting up, getting charged, getting a few hits in and then lying there on my ass deciding to get back up again.
It was incredibly frustrating, infuriating even. The more times I had to make that decision to get up, the more I felt my face burning and the distinct feeling of almost-crying taking over. In that verge-of-tears powerlessness I had one power and that was to refuse being the one to call it off. If this was ever going to end, it would be Nook who was quitting, not me. And eventually he did, giving me a huge smile and putting his arm around me while nodding approvingly to the group of Thai kids who had gathered around the edge of the ring to watch.
These victories don’t keep – I haven’t earned my place by refusing to back down in a triumphant display of character. Rather, I have defined my path and lengthened my stride in working toward consistently refining my place at the gym, in the relationships with my trainers and the gym. It’s not getting up once that makes you a fighter. It’s getting up until you wear down the will of your opponent to put you back down.