Things We Didn't Realise We Had Missed Until We Got Them Back
It has been a month since Onyx reopened with the start of Phase 2. The gym looks same-same-but-different. The ring and bags are there, steady as ever, but we have spanking new Dollamur mats, there are safe distancing boxes marked out on the mats, bottles of blue sanitisers planted like Mario coins, and lots of emoting with the eyes because everyone is wearing a mask now.
Classes are same-same-but-different as well. The same trainers, now shouting at you behind a mask or face shield. There is a limit of 1 trainer to 5 members which means no hiding or slacking during classes now: your every move, or lack thereof, is visible! Classes are only an hour long, but you pant twice as hard during the jump knees, the bagwork. For BJJ classes, you still wheeze after the warmups and begin to form a love-hate relationship with kettlebells.
People look same-same-but-different too. Some of y’all have more defined cheekbones and sharper chins after working from home— either from sheer laziness to cook or better nutrition with home-cooking. Most of us working at Onyx have filled out horizontally, ready to convert the additional mass into muscles (or at least, that’s what we are telling ourselves). Others looked dazed on their first day back at the gym, as if they hadn’t had much human contact for the previous 2.5 months. Same for us: the overload of interaction and stimuli has been sudden and jarring. It felt surreal to be back at the gym after the past few months of restless anxiety, wondering when it would be until we could be back at work again.
After the past month of hectic reopening and making adjustments to fit a safe-distancing world, there is one thing that remained unaltered: the Onyx vibe. Through and through, it hasn’t changed, the good cheer and golden glow of everyone together, in between classes, during classes, permeating and glinting like glitter. For that, we are thankful. It is all in the little things that we didn’t realise we had missed until we got them back, like the click of the final, missing puzzle piece.
Iron Lab has moved outdoors now, which means plenty of tyre-ing action and worrying when Zim gets an evil grin on his face. The ramp of regret lives up to its name, forged by the collective groans of many. But the good thing about being outside is that there are many objects to stare at in abject despair: the powdery blue overhead, the trees with branches full of mangoes, the JTC clocktower (time. moves. too. slowly!), the swarthy clouds at sunset. And there are people to wave to! We get the family trio cycling by, breeze catching in their hair and a wide grin on their faces. Or a German engineer, speeding by with a red backpack. Or the ones coming for the next Iron Lab session, trotting along and craning their necks over the fence to get a preview of the torment awaiting them. Being outdoors under the wide bowl of sky, fire burning in the thighs, and fellow gym-mates mimicking a pom-pom routine and clapping and cheering upon the completion of a set— how impossible this is to be replicated elsewhere.
Muay Thai and boxing classes remain indoors, but have gone through a slight revamp.. Everything is compacted and somehow, more painful. The 50 kicks feel like 500. Arms refuse to hold themselves up to the face during bagwork. And how did we clear 3 rounds of padwork before?! But it is heartening to be back on the mats again, to hear the rhythmic thumping of skipping ropes, to see red-cheeked members zoning out at the bags, to feel the trainer pads slap through our open guards. It hurts so bad, but feels so good. There’s also the “ohoi”s and “ooee”s bouncing around the gym, fanciful patterns of jumping elbows and leaping knees, the shaking of heads when one is up next for padwork, being prodded or poked by trainers to hold the plank for a bit more or go for another sit-up. That’s how it was like, of being pushed by others with others around you. What a welcome change from the solitary runs during circuit breaker.
BJJ is the discipline with the biggest change, of course, as prolonged physical contact is still disallowed. But Aleks has come up with a killer kettlebell routine and other conditioning exercises that leave members aching everywhere. The warmups remain as tough as ever, arms waving like windmills as they run around the mats and a multitude of animal walks: bear crawls, lizard sprawls and gorilla walks. I see members sitting at the white mats, t-shirts soaked with perspiration after 15 minutes of class, reeling in disbelief as they rehydrate, before heading back to Alek’s gruff call. And they go back. Newcomers to BJJ try it out, and they go back too. Everyone groans about the Turkish get-ups, the goblet squats, the nonstop swings, but they keep going back with a twinkle in their eyes and competitive delight in their smiles. Maybe it is a bit perverse, but that’s Onyx members for you, always relishing in challenges with a pep in their step and real zeal.
And that is what we have missed the most: the positive vibes, the good spirits. In this era of fearing crowds, it is too easy to forget what other people bring to the table, what it is like to sit at the table and break bread together. Snippets of conversations between new friends: two similar-aged girls in ponytails, three college students who come for the 11am class, or four uncles in singlets who always hide behind the bags in between padwork. Unfolding hand-wraps and scooting outside quickly. Wild cackling of laughter at unofficial nicknames. The fuzzy warmth of remembering details and being remembered. Bringing home-made dumplings at 7am or birthday cakes at noon. Catching up with each other’s lives at the ring while lathering up in spicy Thai oil. Hurried nicotine breaks between classes. The pushy but very successful peddling of grass jelly drinks. The exchanges of goodbyes and “You booked for tomorrow? Me too! See you!” as members wear their shoes, about to leave but preparing to come back already. The ‘campfires’ under an inky swell, stars blooming the longer you linger on the sky, as conversations lull and crescendo and criss-cross from one another.
This, all of this, all of you, thank you for coming back. Thank you for rolling with the changes and being absolute rocks. We are happy to be here, honoured to have a place to belong to— Onyx.