Every so often I have a dream in which I’m fighting someone – maybe to stop them from doing something bad or because they did something I didn’t like… you know, dream stuff. Without fail, every time I fight in a dream I am completely ineffective. I hit the other person over and over and over again, but my punches don’t make any impact. They just stand there and laugh at me – it’s very disconcerting.
In real life, however, I was recently invited to join the fight team at the gym I train at. It’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds – they just practice together at a higher level than in the normal classes and have a special emphasis on fight training. If they think you’re tough enough, experienced enough, and/or skilled enough, they ask you to join. The coach who invited me, Brylan, seems to have taken a special interest in making sure I am up to the increased intensity of sparring. His after-class habit lately has been to call me over, tell me to put my gloves on, and set the clock for five minutes. He doesn’t really ask “Hey Zach, would you like to get beat up by a professional MMA fighter for a bit?” He just starts the clock.
Sparring with Brylan is probably one of the hardest and most exhilarating things I have ever done. Just to be clear, he is nowhere near fighting his hardest against me (for an example of what that would in fact look like, go here and start at 1:30). But he also isn’t anywhere near going easy on me. He hits hard and fast, he doesn’t let up when I’m getting tired, and he doesn’t even stop if I am bleeding profusely from the face. (It was once suggested to him that maybe he should. His response was: “Zach always gets a bloody nose. He’s fine.”)
And he’s right.
What I am so deeply grateful for in Brylan is that he sees in me the potential and the desire to be a better fighter. Not only that, but he honors what he sees in me by beating me up on a semi-regular basis. If, when we sparred, he just kicked my ass and hurt me, it would be demoralizing and discouraging. If he took it easy on me, it would be demeaning and disrespectful. Instead, Brylan pushes me right up to and then a little bit past my limits. Every time I spar with him I come away a better fighter. Smarter, faster, tougher, grittier, and more unafraid. After facing him in the ring, most other people don’t intimidate me that much.
The first time I ever sparred with Brylan – which was long before I joined the fight team – his feedback for me after thrashing me around for a while was “Well you didn’t pussy out and run away the whole time like some people do.” Despite the fact that I was hurting all over and bleeding from my nose, this made me feel ludicrously proud.
Yesterday after fighting Brylan for a grueling five minutes with the whole gym watching, I was beaten up probably a little more than the first time. (My defense is way better than a few months ago, but that just means he hits harder and faster.) But this time he didn’t have to scrape so close to the bottom of the barrel for positive feedback. He just grinned and said “nice work.” I knew I’d landed a few good hits of my own.
I feel a little rough today – congested in the head (I presume from getting punched in the face so much?) and sore all over with a tender jawline and a fat lip. But I had a dream last night in which I beat up two high schoolers at a concert. So I’m calling it a win.