Attending my first MMA class was something that I had visualized for some time. What would it feel like to train and prepare like the fighters who I covered professionally? Would any of my watching of professional fights carry over? How bad is my ass going to get kicked.
During a day off from class, I ventured down to Central PA MMA on South Atherton in downtown State College, PA. It was cold out and the gym’s environment seemed like a great place to not only seek shelter but also to be encompassed by a sport that I am passionate about.
Upon entering I realized that whatever the name of the class was, it wasn’t for me. I forgot to check the schedule
The participants in the gym were not a day over 5-years-old. The theme of their class was gratitude.
When the class was over and the instructors were available to talk, I signed up and weighed out the options that I had to sign up for to give myself the most complete training regimen possible.
I ended up getting a special deal and had a muay thai class later that night along with submission wrestling on alternating days. The first class wasn’t until later that night.
When the time came, I walked out to my car and took the brief drive over to the gym. The red mats were covering the floor throughout the facility. They were blocked off by a sprawling black cage that left just enough room for members to walk around before they got to work.
I was immediately segregated off to the side with Jim, another first time perhaps just over double my age.
We started with a jab. “Do I bring my hand all the way back,” Jim says with a nervous tone in his voice. He has trained tae kwon do in the past but the upright posture and low hand placement didn’t transition to muay thai where defense is just as effective when it comes to winning these fast paced bouts with just three minutes per round. Our trainer, Kru Matt helped us get our technique up to snub for first timers. He would punch me lightly across the face as I hit pads. My hands were low and he showed me how easy it would be to counter, something I grew not to enjoy as my fighting record in my head was occupied by ‘losses’ with each landed counter.
Integrating kicks in to our very basic jab combinations wasn’t easy. We had to throw a mock kick at our partner, they would catch, ten not let it go until our form was just right halfway through the kick.
We then drilled on striking pads for three rounds in a row each. I would jab and cross as my partner, Jim, wasn’t quite sure which combinations to yell out. I ended up throwing too much power in to my punches and besides being disciplined for not bringing my hands back, I was punished when it was my turn to hold the approximately 10 pound thai pads. My arms were on fire and my shoulders (perhaps in my favor) had gone numb.
As I took my baby steps in the gym, I had a hard time not being distracted by the fighters who level of technique made mine appear as though I was training with a blindfold. One fighter in particular had no trainer. He would walk to the rubber torso held on a thick black plastic stand.
“Pfft, pfft,” Dan grunted as he put combinations to purpose and battered the dummy who represented the gym with a Central PA MMA t-shirt. That sound was air escaping his pursed lips as he threw punches. This allowed his body to release a little extra inertia behind his strikes.
He would return to the mat with the class to partake in some standard drills then head back to pummel the dummy once more. His blond hair was now a shade or two darker as sweat dripped out of each jumbled strands of hair. “Pfft, Pfft, HAH!” he continued to pound the dummy’s face.
I feel as though you can hit him with a hammer or set off a controlled demolition on the facility in which he currently trained and his awareness and concentration wouldn’t waiver. He was in a different place now.
His fight was in two weeks and losing wasn’t an option. An amateur by rank, still, he was fighting for experience, not legacy. He needed these wins and he was determined to get them.
After an intense hour session, the mats were soaked in sweat. No sparring tonight so they were fortunately blood free. We made a circle as a team, perhaps 6 inches apart from the closest member.
First, myself and Jim were put in the spotlight, congratulating us for completing our first class. I wasn’t sure what to do. I looked down and mouthed “thank you” repeatedly to show my modest gratitude.
Then it was Dan’s turn. His fight was set for February 8th in Reading, PA. He placed his palms together and bowed to his team as they clapped and gave vocal approval for the way he has been looking in the gym. An hour of violence had turned in to admiration, respect and honor as one of our own was in the final stages of preparation and ready to peak just before his time would come to go to war with a stranger.
This was just the beginning, I would turn clumsy ambition in to technique and purpose in a matter of months, this was just week 1.
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