Not exactly how I spend my evenings....but close.
I’m cinched tightly between the thighs of a man named James, in an embrace that might seem tender if I wasn’t trying to, “pass his guard” by getting over his legs. James is trying to prevent that by squirming away. Occasionally, James will initiate a throw where he tries to put me over his shoulder and take top position, but he doesn’t always get it right, and ends up inadvertently dropping his testicles on the top of my head (thankfully, they’re covered). I’ve taken exactly eight hours of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so far, and much of the training has been like this….two men, on the floor, seemingly groping each other like horny teenagers. This is phase one of PROJECT: IRON FIST, and as I burrow my head into James’ chest to avoid another tea-bagging, I consider the Larry-David-like-life-choice that got me here.
For the past several years now, I’ve been practicing something called Bikram yoga, or “hot” yoga. It’s done in a room heated such that some people have
you see this all the time.
been known to pass out, or vomit. I started Bikram’s Yoga for two reasons; 1) I believe running is only for people in danger, and 2) a beautiful woman I wanted to sleep with took it. Sadly, I slept with that woman just once, but the thought that other beautiful women taking Bikram yoga may be similarly inclined has kept me returning. It is reinforced by the fact that Bikram classes are littered with healthy, gorgeous women – in fact, one of them teaches my class.
This teacher looks like Megan Fox with a gap tooth, although unlike the famous Ms. Fox, this doppleganger is rather pleasant. Given her fondness for scandalous yoga costumes and demonstrating postures in a manner that makes most of the men in class light-headed, I believe she’s acutely aware of the impact of her beauty on others.
Bikram’s classes are strict on talking – only the instructor is permitted to speak. What you’re left with is a room of people grunting and groaning as they contort themselves into vaguely suggestive postures. It’s in the midst of this that one day Ms. Fox saunters over to me and pauses. She regards me with a quizzical look, then asks quite loudly, “Are you an ultimate fighter?”
ME: Excuse me?
FOX: An ultimate fighter? One of those martial arts guys.
ME: Uh…why do you ask?
FOX: Well, you’re big and muscular (YES! SHE NOTICED!!) , but you’ve got a great practice. Most guys I know like that are into martial arts. Are you?
Now, I’ve watched mixed martial arts. I’ve even produced a mixed martial arts TV show. But I have never, EVER, tried it before. I’ve never so much as lifted my hand in anger to anyone, with the exception of my little brother, which is an older sibling’s birthright and responsibility. After a while, even that got tiresome. I’m quite sure I could be mugged and pistol-whipped by a ten-year old girl.
But here I am, in a deathly quiet room with forty sweaty people and one impossibly beautiful instructor, all of them are waiting for an answer. I suppose I could have said no, but at this point hope is trumping common sense, seducing me into thinking ”she could be flirting”. Answering no could squelch whatever chance I may have to see the tiny remainder of Ms. Fox still covered by her skimpy yoga outfit.
thanks to bikram, one day I will literally have my head up my ass.
So I improvise, and squeak out, “Jiu-Jitsu”. It actually comes out more like a question (“jiu-jitsu????”), as if to see whether or not she finds it believable. She starts nodding her head. “I knew it!” she exclaims, proud of her misguided powers of deduction. I’ve just fathered a daft notion of one day seeing Ms. Fox naked, one that Ms. Fox will no doubt murder in its crib when she finds out I’ve told her a very public lie. A better man would not do this. It leads me to only one conclusion: I must put the truth to my lie.
That’s why I now find myself pulling James to the mat, struggling to avoid having to once again wear his balls for a hat. He’s about 5’6″, slight, in his early 30s, with a hairline that’s slowly retreating to a far shore at the back of his head. James has been taking classes longer than I have, and there’s a single-mindedness in the way he trains. He’s not a generous training partner – he’s seems unconcerned about giving me a chance to practice some of the moves. Instead, I play the foil as he perfects his own technique. When James does lets me try, he interupts often and explains what I did wrong with the barely subdued impatience of a child who knows he can do better.
...I now find myself pulling James to the mat, struggling to avoid having to once again wear his balls for a hat.
I must admit my heart aches for James a little. There’s something wounded about him. He seems hobbled by shyness but forced to engage the world by virtue of having his ass handed to him by a bully or two. I suspect his path to this class has involved more formative indignities than most. Judging from his know-it-all manner, some of them were probably deserved.
The plodding methodical nature of the training (combined with James’ deficit of charity) makes me impatient. I’m unsure of what I’ve gained from class (other than friction burns on the top of my feet that look a little like AIDS lesions – the result of being dragged along the mat). I understand the need to get the basics right, but despite this part of me still wants to tumble a little bit just to see how the mechanics of jiu-jitsu work in a real combat. Then again, you’ve got to be careful what you wish for.
The Double Cross choke, or "Root Canal". trust me - it works.
We’re about to learn our first choke hold, a move that’s charmingly called the “root canal” . Essentially, it involves grabbing the collar of your opponent’s costume by crossing your arms and tightening your grip. This is guaranteed to make your opponent tap out (or give up), our instructor says.
In a rare magnanimous gesture, James invites me to try it first. I start on James but the generosity is short-lived. Once again I’m not doing it right…either my grip in his costume is too light, or I’m not getting my elbow high enough on his neck. We switch, which suits me fine – knowing what kind of effect I’m going for will help me perfect it, right?
James gets on the bottom. “Ready?” he asks. “Sure, go ahe…” I have no time to finish the sentence before James has pulled aside my costume with this left hand, shoved his right hand to the top of my collar, shrimped out to the right to get his left elbow against my neck, then pulled back in to tighten the choke. I can feel my face go red and my blood pressure skyrocket. My only effective means of communication is to tap against his arm, the equivalent of saying “uncle.” James does not comply. I tap again, this time harder. Blackness starts creeping downwards across my eyes like roller blinds. I can see just enough to know that James has a glassy, triumphant look in his eyes. He’s enjoying this.
I tap a third time and James releases. “Ooops! Sorry! But it’s just like that,” he says happily. “Now you try.”
Except I have no desire to try. I understood jiu-jitsu would necessarily involve someone trying to manipulate me into submission, but it never really occurred to me that I would be expected to do it back. James may have just tried to render me unconscious, but I’m strangely sanguine about it. I am, however, profoundly troubled by the idea of doing the same thing to him. I find the idea…shocking.
I realize James has taught me my first invaluable lessson from jiu-jitsu - I have no killer instinct. None.
And right then, I realize James has taught me my first invaluable lessson from jiu-jitsu – I have no killer instinct. None. With the exception of my little brother (and really, that’s a brotherly obligation), I’m put off by the idea of inflicting pain on another person.
I’ve already imagined why James is so in touch with his inner rage. The entire sum of his youthful angst is channeled into a highly effective root canal. This is sublimated revenge for every time someone tore his Fraggle Rock t-shirt, trashed his Ursula Le Guin books, stole his prized Dungeon and Dragons game set. There’s something primitive about his need.
I, on the other hand, have no weaponized self-esteem issues. Sure, there were the occasional insults, but nothing that escalated to bloodletting. I was simply too unremarkable to warrant the attention of the future violent offenders at my school. I wasn’t too fat or too thin, too small or too big – basically, I slipped under the radar in life. James – he wasn’t so stealthy.
I get on my back and try to execute the maneouvre with increasing dissatisfaction from James. Everything I do is either, “too high” or “too loose.” Now, “too indifferent” is a criticism that never occurs to him, although it’s probably the most true.
This only serves to prove that I’m a lover, not a fighter. I suspect, though, that Ms. Fox may love fighters (I believe all women do, whether they cop to it or not). If I’m to do well with jiu-jitsu, I’ll need to find my killer instinct, my “inner James” if you will. I plan to take an inventory of my past nemeses and project their cruelty onto whomever my opponent may be. It’s either that, or out myself as a blatant liar to Ms. Fox. Both options are unsavory. Nonetheless, the better man must win, even if it is against angry geeks…nothing personal, James.