Beyond the somewhat glamourous front at the Nutriman Finals last month, I think it is fair to say that everyone has a story. Before you click away and say that it's going to be one of those "how I lost 30 lbs and became awesome" story, it's not. I want to tell my story, on how I got beaten up and got taught a lesson during boxing.
My pose at Nutriman Finals 2015, photo courtesy of Zan & 6Productions
I didn't become lean after I did boxing at Onyx. I was already lean, but I became leaner. But way before that, I was a fat and clumsy kid and I was always bullied by my schoolmates in primary school. It drove me crazy, and I kept thinking that they were bullying me because I was fat.
I was a fat kid back then.
I began to toy with the idea that, if I slimmed down, will my school mates stop bullying me? Even further, I fantasised with the idea that if I became slim, I could be one of the popular and famous kids at school! I constantly dreamt of all these possibilities, and it drove me to want to be thin. I tried joining the Judo team as a CCA, but was rejected by the coach for being too fat.
"Why don't you join other CCAs? I'm afraid you can't keep up with the training."
That was the shit that was told to me back then, and I continued to be fat through primary school, and eventually to secondary school. The bullying continued too. Worse, the rejection list from the various CCAs were piling up.
My fate took a turn for the better when I was finally accepted into the basketball team. I worked hard, and I slimmed down, and when I realised that I was slim, I thought, "I'VE MADE IT."
But the bullying continued.
Being in Kepong, KL, the local gangsters are notorious. I was consistently getting bullied by the local hooligans, and beaten up. Over time, we build resilence and tried fighting back. I eventually learnt how to "brawl" on the streets of Kepong, but I'm no street fighter, I was scared every single time.
Streets of Kepong, in KL, Malaysia
I emerged out of all these, and landed myself a place in a Singapore university. Coincidentally, I took part in Nutriman, and when I found out I could properly learn boxing at Onyx, I was estatic!
"I can finally learn to fight properly!"
I was psyched and excited to learn to fight, it felt like I could validate my brawling skills and refine it further. There is a deep honesty in me that wanted to learn these skills of the book, so perhaps, there is a room for vengence. I definitely wanted to learn boxing to get back at those who beaten me up, who bullied me, and who saw me down.
In the beginning, it was all good. I learned intently, and I was keen to polish up on my punching poweress. I came for classes regularly, mostly without my other Nutriman compantriots. I went for my runs, and I did my S&Cs. I wanted to put in my all, to learn to box, to be better, all for revenge. The vengence drove me harder.
When I was first presented with the opportunity to spar, I took it up readily. While I was not too confident, I took it with stride, and I was matched with a fellow Nutriman contestant. Shortly after we touched gloves, I started to feel more confident, and had a deep realisation that I can actually box. I managed sparring with my fellow Nutriman well, because I had invested alot more time in boxing than them. I took it further, and started sparring with the boxing class regulars.
Being physically fit, I could manage the usual sparring sessions well, and I was doing rather well even with the senior boxers. It gave me a good sensation that I can fight, and I am now a different Ken. I thought then, that I was the new Ken with a new found polished weapon.
Remember that I mentioned something about being taught a lesson at Onyx earlier in this post? We're getting there. For those who're still reading and knows Onyx well, probably already know that such mentality (as above) usually don't last very long in Onyx before one is given an awakening; not always a rude one, but a deep one.
I was handed my lesson fairly quickly. It was perhaps 2 months into boxing, and I was getting really consistent with my boxing training. I made sure to mix it up with a good amount of sparring every week, and I was getting quick at my feet to avoid getting hit whilst hitting others. I was confident, I knew my fists were my new found weapons, and I let it get to my head. While I'm sure I didn't become cocky or anything like that, I was definitely getting more and more confident and sparred harder and harder.
One night, at my usual Friday night boxing, I met an unusual face, and I was paired to spar. From Round 1, I could tell that he was good, but it was manageable. But Round 2, I was hit square in the face, not in a full force, but I was hit squarely.
I went nuts. I thought I was back in Kepong. I did not retain my composure, and I started brawling my opponent. In Onyx, normally, if one loses their cool, and starts brawling, he/she would be taken out of the class fairly quickly. The trainers are pretty quick on doing their bouncer duties. Strangely, I was allowed to continue brawling.
In the midst of the brawling madness, I was quite sure my opponent turned and looked at the trainers and they somehow nodded to each other. What followed next, was a barrage of hits all over me. What frustrated me even more was that those hits were not hard, but they came at a pace and rhythm that suffocated me. I got owned, badly. My sparring opponent, was actually a fighter.
I broke down, with emotions, inconfidence and everything negative flowing. I took some time away, and I sat by myself. Trying to sense make all of these. When the adrenaline died off, I felt ashamed of myself. I lost it, and I went back to my brawling roots. More importantly, I realised that I've learnt boxing for all the wrong reasons.
I walked slowly back to the gym, a little bit worried to face my trainers. Boxing, or martial arts in general, as explained by them, should never be something to learn to get even with others. It is always about the finesse, the tactical and technicalities. It is also about self-mastery. Iskandar likes to put it across in simple words:
I learnt a lesson. The lesson was profound. I don't think I can put it neatly into words, my english is not that strong. But I know that the lesson floats along the lines of humility, and moving forward. I realised that I've learnt boxing to want to go back to my past and deal with it, but I should instead use boxing to move forward, to not let these bad past experiences repeat itself. I know that learning boxing gave me a new lease of "life", and that I can face challenges in other aspects as I would during boxing. I've learnt that no matter how good you may be, there's always another mountain higher. I've also learnt that boxing, or martial arts gives one confidence, but that confidence is self-confidence, not confidence in inflicting damage to others. This confidence ensures that I don't drown when thrown in the sea, but it doesn't mean I turn into a predator.
Your reasons for doing boxing, or muay thai, or any martial arts might be personal, or experience driven. But I know mine was wrong.
I took a beating to realise it.
But I am grateful for that beating.