Gleason’s Gym has been a real lifeline for me of late.
The surety of going through my paces so to speak, the shadow boxing, pad work, heavy bag, double-ended bag, speed bag, abdominals, stretching and combinations thereof are a balm.
Even the early mornings offer solace. Up a 5:30 AM, off to the gym by 6:30 AM, in the ring by 7:00 AM out by 8:00 AM, showering and dressing, and off to the subway by 8:20 AM or so—two to three mornings a week. Then the long Saturday morning, where I can tarry and work extra rounds, and feel embraced by the easy camaraderie of people who push themselves to their physical limits.
What I also know is that I am a little sad and a little scared and a lot angered by a myriad of issues that are whirling around me. Unpacking them is complicated by a reticence to really face up to the deeper veins of truths that I would rather not face suffice to say they always come out anyway so sooner or later the reckoning will happen.
Gym life, and boxing gym life in particular, offers a microcosm of the range and power of emotion. Just the act of putting on a pair of gloves offers up so many different strands. For one, the gloves symbolize boxing itself. On an immediate basis one can think of such things as power, ability, courage, bravery, and skill. Gleason’s Gym itself calls out those concepts on the wall of the gym and on the back of every T-shirt:
“Now, whoever has courage, and a strong and collected spirit in his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.” Virgil, Book 5, Aeneid
And yet there are other emotions. With puff pillows for hands one cannot “do” for oneself in any meaningful way. Sure, one learns to hold on to a water bottle between two gloved hands, but one cannot drink from it unless someone has unscrewed the cap. One also finds oneself being ministered to in such intimate ways. A trainer will towel off the sweat from ones face, apply vaseline, adjust ones clothing, tie a boot, wipe one’s nose. There’s a real “giving over” to allow all of that—a trust that one puts on to others.
For me the act of putting on the gloves swirls in the duality of empowering myself and giving myself over. At once I seek a kind of perfection of movement and strength, while also allowing myself those helpless feelings: That sense that I cannot always take care of everything whether that means throwing a perfectly executed one-two combination or asking my trainer to dab the sweat out of my eyes.
It’s also how I know that I cannot magically and in any immediate way change the political nightmare I feel we are living through—except that I know that my voice can count among the many and on that basis push through, just as rising three mornings a week in the predawn light and heading to the gym is a sort of metaphor for becoming something better and stronger.
Yes. I’m in the midst of a stew—as many of us are on any given day in the cycle of life, but waking up and feeling the power of the leather hitting a heavy bag goes a long, long way towards making it all a who lot better.
At some point in my martial arts training, my dreams started to change. I used to have a lot of those chase dreams. You know, the ones where someone/thing is after you and you can’t run faster than your average garden slug, or you hit your attacker and it’s like your arms have no more power than a poorly aimed wad of Kleenex. But a few years of kickboxing and not only do I now catch my attacker and pound him into the dirt with precision, power, and not a little bit of grace, but I’m calm and fearless enough to show mercy to him. Every one of these dreams I stop after subduing him, and attempt to educate him on why he shouldn’t go around disrespecting women by chasing and attacking them. Which is both hilarious to me and kind of beautiful. My subconscious is a more optimistic being than the waking me, because I’m not sure the world’s antagonists are creatures we can reason with, let alone reeducate, even after a good right cross potentially knocks some sense into them.
Even so, my metaphor feels like reality.
That sense has taken me from three days a week to six, and the kind of fight training people half my age won’t do. I’m constantly bruised and in some kind of pain, my joints all ache and protest in very stern language, I’ve torn three tendons and jacked up I don’t know how many muscles. But it feels…good. I feel powerful. For me, a minority and a woman, that is a most important feeling to have right now.
Thank you so much for sharing that. For me it’s the circle of power. Inside that space is my domain of power and confidence. As to age–it is truly just a number!!!!
Feeling powerful is what matters–we may not be able to control it all, but inside our circle of power, we rule!
Hello, fellow “girl boxer”! I was searching for Gleason’s Gym and found you. I live in Texas but I love my visits to Gleason’s. Great post!
Hi Carolyn–thank you so much for you kind response to my blogpost! Do let me know next time you visit Gleason’s Gym. If you haven’t seen their new digs yet, they are a treat! Best!
It make me sad knowing Bruce and the gym had moved! In the past, I trained with big John, Devon, and Hector. So fun!