You just know when there is an Onyx event coming up. There is a buzz in the air, almost electric, the prickling of tension that hovers over the gym. It starts with Pi Keng going around the classes, brandishing a clipboard at members, cajoling them to put their names down. “What, me!? No, no, no!” as they turn their shoulders and try to wriggle away. But the seed is planted: what if it were me and why not? The next couple of weeks will be a tango, between the trainers casting an eager eye around, and the members, shying away and seeking camouflage. Some members do end up writing down their names, either by their own volition or with Pi Keng standing next to them and breathing down their necks. Either way, it is a thrill watching the list being filled up. The possibilities! The match-ups! The barbeque!!
Over the next few weeks, the list gets whittled down, as people pull out due to unexpected commitments (Red Hot Chili Peppers is a legitimate reason, not gonna lie) or re-evaluate their own stamina/capabilities. There will be whispers and pointing going on at the gym, both hidden and blatant, “there, that’s the one who put their name down!”. The newer members would look at the participants in slight awe: those are the brave warriors who had volunteered their names, despite the onerous demands of full-time work/school. The participants would swivel their gaze around the gym, like a radar, trying to pinpoint other people around the same weight as they are, trying to figure out their prospective opponent. Meanwhile, the trainers have more people to whack gleefully, to push to their limits with 50 kicks and body shots during padwork, for their own good of course.
The sparring times during classes also tend to be edged with a bit more adrenaline, an electrical charge from the anticipation, that there’s something at stake. Just before class is about to end, during cooldowns, trainers would tell members to clinch if they wanted to. Usually, members will look away, or chortle in disbelief, or shake their heads in anguished exhaustion. But when Fight Night is nigh, there will be several of them rising from the ground, stumbling and in half-regret, but rising nonetheless, to grind it out for another 15, 20 minutes. Staying on after classes to put in the work and effort has a different vibe. Sometimes, because there are quite some other people in classes, it is easy to coast by and slack off without any repercussions. But when you choose to pick yourself up after a full training session and keep going, it becomes mindful and purposeful learning (albeit really tiring, and you ask yourself every 3 minutes if you can stop now).
The good thing about all this extra effort is the experience of putting in all the extra effort. The participants get to find out how it works: the process of preparing for a fight, without as much risk or as high stakes. And getting more attention and focused advice from trainers, the fight team, and other members. Classes are limited to 90 minutes and that is not enough to drill the techniques, to train the reflexes, to imbue a steady temperament. Clinching is a whole world by itself, one that is difficult to travel to by oneself.
We have had several editions of Fight Night events before, for Muay Thai, boxing, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, the upcoming event on 21 September 2019 promises to be a souped-up extravaganza. You might have seen the two team leads, Wee Lee and Nabeel, cracking jokes while lounging on the benches around the gym. I have heard their “Ted Talks” (that’s what they call 30-minute discussions about what they had for lunch...) on runs and can certify that they are absolute jesters. But for the upcoming event, there has been a hard, serious glint in their eyes. The participants are split into teams and Wee Lee and Nabeel have been taking them aside, giving them everything from pointers and pep talks. Every night, I see them seated in the ring or on the mats with their participants, passion flaming in their unblinking eyes, as they give their team members tips and advice. Some of the participants have started tagging along with the fight team for evening runs. Last Friday, Wee Lee and Nabeel brought some cones and their troops to the Park Connector Network to do sprints. It was a rousing sight! The two funny guys put on their strict faces and commandeered a tiring session, which went on like clockwork. But they were also empathetic to the participants’ abilities, taking the time to run with them and cheer them on and refusing to let any of them give up.
The cauldron is boiling and has been given a good stir. All this should amount to a thrilling show on 21 September 2019, Saturday. It will be the inaugural Onyx Ascension event! The bouts will begin at 6pm, and the barbeque from 8pm onwards. For the first time ever, there will be a 4-man tournament among the bouts! That will be tons of fun to watch (but maybe less fun to endure for the four guys: Ryan, Adrain, Zhi Yao, and Jerome)! Make some time to see the participants battle it out. They have been and are working hard to better themselves. Grab some beer for yourself and give them some appreciation and cheers! This upcoming night is going to be exciting and exuberant. Bring your friends, bring some honey lemon to soothe your throat, and let’s hang out altogether at the gym. See you! And the next time, maybe you’ll be the one in the ring?