Coming into a gym is rough, especially for a brand new person. Gym culture is such a departure for people outside it. There aren’t any good analogs, aside from a high school locker room, and even that is a stretch. There are seemingly impenetrable relationships and obtuse inside jokes that are the apparent height of hilarity. It’s hard to know where to start to crack that particular nut. It’s hard to catch a breath physically and mentally. How does a real life combat gym operate? It’s not normal anywhere else, but what’s normal here? Let me help at least give you a toe hold. Here are some realities:
1) Criticism is constant, and blunt
I’ve heard one fighter tell another, point blank, ‘Jesus, you look like shit today’. It was not a euphemism, not a metaphor, it was not followed by a caveat. No, she meant it. She meant her teammate looked like shit. She meant he looked bad physically, and that he performed poorly. No quarter, no preamble just, you suck today. That’s the deal. In an arena where the smallest weakness has dire consequences, there simply isn’t room for niceties. If people care about you, you won’t be coddled. At all. There isn’t an HR, there is no one to complain to, if you’re doing something dumb or you’re not doing well, you’ll be told. It’s not malicious, it’s the game. Take it personally, it’s how you get better.
2) No one will care about you, for a while
In an era where everyone has worth, everyone is valued, and unicorns abound, they don’t in the gym. There are a constant churn of people who self-select out of combat sports. People who don’t renew after their Groupon runs out or their class ends. It’s exhausting for the people putting in the hours. You have to prove that you’re there to get better, you’re there to learn, and you’re there to backup your teammates. It’s one of the last areas in this modern world where actions speak and words don’t matter. Buckle up and understand that almost no one outside of the gym owner will care if you show up until you actually show up, and for a long time. It’s not a mean thing, it’s not malicious. It’s quite the opposite. People who make a hobby out of practicing physical harm need to know that you’re committed to showing up and learning how to be a good training partner before they invest of themselves. It’s not a warm fuzzy but it’s the truth.
3) If you stick with it, it’s worth it in ways you cannot imagine
A fight gym is an entity unlike any other. It’s an interpersonal ecosystem based on extreme physical exertion. It’s one of the only places in the world where you will actually be physically picked up off the floor by a stranger, and given a compliment that means something Right. Now. It’s four walls encompassing an environment of immediate feedback and, most of the time, positive reinforcement. It’s hard to explain how fast you can make friends with someone you quite literally trust with your life. Placing your health and well being in the hands of someone else and dancing so close to the edge of real physical harm will form real bonds. These are relationships free of politics or booze or proximity. The people around you have all agreed to the regime, they’ve all agreed to the schedule, they’ve all chosen to be like you. There is no other environment like it.
A fight gym isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most. If, however, it is for you, understand you’ll be intimidated, understand it won’t be easy at first. But it’s worth it