We are one the of the first few people to meet our members when they step into Onyx. Every evening, the members amble up the road with a smile, a nod, a nervous grin, or a exhausted shake of the head, greeting us and everyone else without fail. They reach the gym dressed in office clothes: pressed suits, A-line skirts, polished oxfords, high heels, before changing into the familiar uniform of loose t-shirts and shorts. For members living nearby, some of them arrive already perspiring from a jog or a cycle. It is whole array of people, from different places and locations, coming together at the same time for the same purpose. We sometimes look for the usual smile that you return to us, if not, we ponder on how your day has been.
Most of the members started at Onyx with no prior martial art background. They came to the gym one day on a whim / a personal challenge / a friend's jio-ing / a mission to lose weight, and tried a class, not expecting to last. Yet somehow or rather, despite struggling through the ninety (plus plus) minutes and feeling like giving up every second, they all do. We all do, somehow. Being at Onyx every day for months and years as a staff has a much simpler joy of watching our members progress and being there, for part of their fitness journey. Conversely, we feel the same hint of disappointment, sadness, and self-blame when we get to know that some members have given up, whether taken over by events, circumstances, or perhaps our lack of engagement.
We almost always recall most members' anxious glance at the start when we try to explain the class structure:
"we usually begin with skipping for warm-up"
They will say worriedly:
"huh, but I don't know how to skip"
We look at them now, weeks and months later, and wonder if they still remember their first day, when they took the skipping ropes off the hook with trepidation and stared down the timer in hopelessness. Now they skip like a pro, whizzing on the spot in a running step. That is just a small part of their whole Onyx journey.
Watching the members train every day, sharing our martial arts experience with them, or just chit chatting, it would seem like we are the teachers. But we've learnt so much more from you all, much more than you'd ever imagined.
Dedication and discipline.
There are several members whom we see training every single day. Whenever we come into work at 1pm, we'll see them finishing up the final ab exercises or still be sparring from the last morning class. They shower after the session and head back to work. On days when they cannot make it in the morning, they will turn up in the evening, or they will come in the afternoon, pick up the ropes and start warming up for some self training. Because they had missed their usual session, they will find time to make up for it, even if it's a a quick 45 minute work-out. They are okay, as long as they set some time aside for exercise.
When we were training like a regular member in the past, we definitely wasn't this dedicated, unless fight season was up. It was a struggle to balance work with social life and training. Whenever there was overtime at work, a small part of me was thrilled at being able to skip training for a night and perhaps meet up with some friends. Then the following day, I would look for signs to end work late, or find excuses to miss training again. However, the next time I went to Onyx, I was extra punctured, unable and unwilling to push myself, setting any progress back to zero.
Discipline is the difference between choosing between what we want now and what we want most. You've all taught us the value of delayed gratification and the patience behind making the small decisions which would pay off in the long run.
Finding joy in simple things.
Many people find joy in material things or spend time feasting and partying. When we get to speak to several members who train on a regular basis, they tell me that Onyx is their "happy place". A place where they can be themselves and not be judged. During training time, it is a full 90 minutes away from their computers and mobile phones, away from stress and hassles. In this 90 minutes, they only need to focus on themselves. It is a place to detox from the expectations of the world. Everything else fades away, exhaled with every pant and gasp. Even then, they will never feel alone because there are a lot of people who will "die" and "suffer" alongside.
The goal is also simple: land this punch, push that kick, stick the footwork. They clear their mind to concentrate on the basics, on things that they can control, and work towards a certain target. I see the focus shining through on their faces, as they grind out kick after kick. After that, the dreaded 300 knees, which they laugh at out of disbelief and resignation. They will shake their heads, walk around in circles, but still, they will head to the bags to eke out knee after knee. At the end of it all, a half-grin on their lips, simple and pure delight at getting through yet another good and productive sweaty session. Whatever happened in office earlier that day doesn't matter anymore. What matters is how they ended their day.
Age is just a number.
We have a special group of members who are aged 45 and above. Before they change into workout gear, they look like any other middle-aged auntie or uncle you see on the streets. But be careful, these aunties and uncles are different: they are trained. Whenever we see them smashing the pads, cutting the bags with laser-like roundhouses, and acing those strength and conditioning sets, it makes us wonder if we will be as sporty as them in the future, when we are all 50 years old.
What's more, this group of veterans don't receive any special treatment; there is no need to. They go through the same training as the other members who are maybe half their age or less and they don't stop halfway, killing each diamond push-up or "ranger hop" with ferocity. These members may be older, but age has not slowed down their determination to stay fit and active. Remember the nasty 50 speed kick set? It was the same for them as well.
Leaving your ego at the door.
Our classes are made up of students, engineers, doctors, admin officers, SAF regulars, entrepreneurs, delivery drivers, housewives, designers, and the list goes on and on. The thing is, the moment they step into Onyx, whatever position or job title they had been holding onto earlier does not matter any more. Our members come in at different times after work. After changing out of their office attire, they are all members of Onyx and they are here, ready for a good work-out. There is no ego or fuss made about whether they are sparring with a PhD holder or a business owner etc. They are all equal and ready to receive instructions from the trainers. There is no need for any VIP treatment or special attention because it's not our style to segregate the members. We are a family, and we welcome people from all walks of life to join us and learn together.
The learning never stops.
Lastly and most importantly, the members have taught us that the learning never stops. Whether they have been training for a week, a month, or a year, the members remain eager to learn. Some of them will stay back after class to kick the bags, just to check if their foot is placed in the right position, if they are turning their hips to the other side, if they are pivoting enough. When there are technique sessions, the members will circle around to find the best view and listen intently. After that, they break off into pairs and try out the techniques. They listen to feedback from one another, ask the trainers questions about the finest details, and think of ways to work the techniques into their repertoire. During sparring, I would also often find pairs trading blows before stopping to offer advice to each other about different combinations and reminders to keep the guard tight.
The members have taught us that the pursuit of martial arts, whether Muay Thai, Boxing, Brazilian Jujitsu, or Judo, is motivated by something simple and intrinsic: a spark of interest, a glint of fire. It is something that is nurtured by one's perspiration, time, and effort. Through the classes at Onyx and with one's daily and dogged determination, skills and techniques will slowly mature, as the body grows stronger and fitter. And we see it on the members who come to the gym every time with a smile, blooming with the pride of growing and having grown on their own.
For us both, to be able to witness your journey, your growth (or fat loss), is a tremendous and extremely satisfying feeling that is difficult to navigate with words alone. The warmth, and joy that we get from knowing that you might've a bad day, and we've somehow managed to make it a little better, is a precious drug that we depend on daily. Much more than what we've taught you, you all have taught us more things than we'll ever realise.
For that, to you all, thank you.