It has been what? 5 years? Since I stepped into Onyx MMA. I don’t remember much of the beginning, how the trainings went, what we had to do, which instructors took me for padwork. Time grinds details into a haze. I do recall going there alone and being struck by the airy nature of the gym. How open it seemed, being surrounded by lallang and fruit trees. The mats were red and the spotlights cast sharp shadows on the ground at night. At the time, I was excited because I hadn’t done Muay Thai in several months and had missed the exercise, the sweat and the grind. Finally, there was a gym near my place! But I was nervous too, because I didn’t know how Onyx would be like.
For the first few months, I did Muay Thai twice or thrice a week. I kept to myself most of the time and was thrilled just to be there, kicking the bags and enjoying the exertion. Having learnt Muay Thai from school, I wasn’t a complete newcomer to the sport so I could keep pace with most of the training. But I was still intimidated and imagined that the trainers would be assessing my skills (or lack thereof) or holding me as a benchmark of my previous learning. I had gone to several other gyms for trial classes or Groupon deals, but I always felt wary and self-conscious, slinking into the corner with my bags and making sure not to stand out, yet not to lag behind as well. So I did my best, quietly, happily, doing whatever that was on the menu, wringing our the calories in the tropical air. Onyx, at that point, was a place where I did Muay Thai classes. I carved time after work and on the weekends, making sure to hit my weekly quota of workouts, and got out. On weeks with more social engagements, I was a bit rueful, but didn’t bat an eyelid about staying away from the gym for a week or two.
Then, as the months went by, I slowly relaxed. I felt less ex-school-team and more like... just me, learning the techniques for my own knowledge, my own curiosity. Maybe it was how the class was ran. It didn’t matter if you had done Muay Thai for 3 months or 3 years; doing 500 jump knees was still going to make anyone wheeze. The trainers didn’t bother where we had come from— it was a dictatorship. If they said “hold the plank for 1 minute, the timer will be reset if anyone’s knees hit the ground”, you had best hang on for dear life and imagine the floor was lava, because they really mean it…
And the more important part: I started making friends. Usually, it starts off with smiling at the person doing the kicks with you, and high-fiving them after the set was done. Later in the class, during technique teaching, a hurried look-around for a familiar face and “eh, partner you?”. Then, catching their eye in between padwork rounds and feigning a faint, or agonised strangle, with a shake of the head. A shared grimace during conditioning, and finally, sprawling side by side during cool-down, like two starfishes relishing their time in the sun. Repeat once or twice over the week, and by the end of the month, you will know how many terrariums your new friend’s hated boss has (three) and how little of a break your new friend gets from said boss (none).
At this juncture, I can remember more specifics now, about my first friends at Onyx. There was one who had the same school shirt as I did, and often wore it to the same training as I did. We had the same hairstyle and similar heights, which led to the trainers calling us twins. She was chatty and hilarious, often recapping her week’s events with a sigh. We were in different years in school, but had a few mutual friends; we discovered while “sparring”, which alternated between intense exchanges under a trainer’s eye and synchronised charades otherwise. She also liked the same k-dramas, which led to random exclamations of Korean celebrities in between 10 push-ups.
Another friend, she had twinkly eyes and a wide beam. She came less often, and whenever she did so, it appeared she stumbled to Onyx in a sleepy daze. But her eyes would light up on the bags, firing up the kicks with intention to kill (perhaps another disliked supervisor). Her voice was gentle, with a laugh bubbling over most of the time. It was fun training together with her, because she had such a relaxed demeanour that any tensions regarding Muay Thai would dissipate immediately.
And another was an acquaintance who came to Onyx on my suggestion. He was trying to lose weight, but was also extremely lazy, so we had to prod each other to go for more trainings. “Paiseh, tonight CMI” would be followed by a reply of “ok, see you tomorrow at 3pm”, and we would drag ourselves to the gym in the sweltering afternoon heat, both groaning but ultimately, grinning when the 90th minute rolled around.
Having been at the gym for close to 5 years, I have seen friends and members come and go, and return and leave again. We are carried by the tide, and Onyx is a shore. Some of us remain, some of us go further out, some of us are catching waves. There was a member who was at Onyx for a year, moved to Dubai, came back to Onyx on his first day back in Singapore last year, and recently left again. My first friends at Onyx, I haven’t seen them for a while, maybe a few years even. It is a sad thing, a little bit, but it is inevitable. And we will always have the memories, so they say.
But I am thankful for the friends that I have made and people whom I have met so far. It is such an obvious thing: “make friends at a gym to make your time more enjoyable!”, but I only realised its truth after a few meek months in 2015. They really do make the classes, the trainings, the gym, the ambience so much brighter. Someone to recognise and point at, “still hungover from yesterday ah?”, a familiar face who’s seen your hair looking like a sweaty bird nest, someone to wait for after training ends, smoking bench buddies, skipping rope chope-rs, supper comrades, mookata pals. Someone who delights at your presence and registers your absence, it is as simple as that.
So instead of Onyx being just a place for my workouts, I found a place at Onyx. To my first friends at Onyx, I miss you, and those who have come after too. I hope you all are doing well. It has been ages since we have seen each other, but I still remember you in the blue shirt, you in the round glasses, you with the snazzy Vespa, laugh-crying at being commanded to do 50 kicks on the pads. And how the trainer whacked your abs with the pads and you ached for 3 days after. That was fun for me, but painful for you haha. And to my makan friends who I still see but have stopped Muay Thai, it is nice seeing you all outside, and quite interesting ah, to see everyone in formal work clothes, rather than exercise attire. But I do miss being altogether next to the bags and gasping during double kicks. That was painful for all of us…Do you miss it too? Maybe we can pick up where we left off, don’t say I bojio ah.