FINDING MY NEW RITUAL by Donny Levit
The (not so) private adventures of a kickboxing klutz
I am throwing a combination of triple jabs, triple hooks, and a flurry of uppercuts on a punching bag that weighs about 135 pounds. I add some sidekicks in for good measure before I hit the floor and plow through a half-dozen burpees. With about ten seconds left in my attack round, I try to execute a series of flying sidekicks. I stumble, trip, and call myself a klutz as well as some unprintable terms under my breath.
The instructor then asks us to hold a plank position. “This is a chance for you to catch your breath,” we are told. I respectfully disagree – my arms are quivering – but secretly, I’m kind of liking it.
You see, I’m developing a hardcore kickboxing habit. This was not supposed to happen. After all, I don’t care for classes. And I am one of the most biomechanically-challenged folks walking the planet.
Let’s back up for a moment.
For decades, I had been a long-distance runner. The simplicity and rigor suited my mentality. I’m a city kid who treasures his privacy and anonymity. I knocked out a marathon, a slew of half-marathons, looped Central Park over a thousand times, and darted through the streets of Moscow, Buenos Aires, and Tokyo for some of the best runs of my life. Alone.
But putting two feet in front of each other for that amount of time has come at a price. My knees were becoming unhappy. And those of you who have tangoed with plantar fasciitis know how quickly it can sideline you. However, the exercise introvert in me stubbornly resisted the idea of a classroom workout. All those people!
One morning last summer, I sheepishly crept into CKO Kickboxing on Springfield Avenue for a free trial class. I’d never punched anything in my life. I assumed this would be a one-shot deal, because after all, I wasn’t going to jive with this whole class thing.
Tara Connell, the owner, gave me a short introduction. Sixty minutes later, I had successfully fudged my way through my first class. So now I had a problem. Tara was affable and encouraging. Her class playlist included the Ramones. The punching bags are lined up in such a way that even an exercise recluse like me could feel a sense of privacy. And that sound of making contact with a 135-pound bag was so gosh-darn satisfying. This place gave me no choice but to return.
“Did you kick some box?” That’s the text message my wife sends me most days to make sure I got to class. “Yes,” I text back. “I kicked box.”
Now because I’m a music junkie, I do occasionally get caught up in the class playlists. And sometimes, that’s to the detriment of my workout. One morning, Blondie’s “Rapture” started playing and I struggled to remember what album it’s on. Parallel Lines? Autoamerican? Then I really went down a rabbit hole. “I like Chris Stein’s liquid-arm guitar playing on this track, but Debbie Harry always seems so awkward with that rap thing she does,” I think to myself. “Hey, maybe Tara will let me guest DJ a class some time. Which Sonic Youth song could the class tolerate?”
Darn, I just stopped doing my crunches.
I like that my kids ask about my classes. My three-year-old daughter enjoys demonstrating her own kickboxing moves even if she looks like she’s choreographing a post-punk ballet. And I’ve noticed that I can chase them up the stairs and withstand their post-bath pile on and pummeling without being out of breath. As Tara once said, “This stretch is going to make tying your kids’ shoelaces a lot easier.” She’s right.
Over the last six months, I’ve become a consistent member of the kickboxing community. I can burn about 800-plus calories in a challenging one-hour class and have the strength to do it all over the next day. I’ve created a new ritual.
Although I put my blinders on for the actual workout, I can’t help but recognize the individuals who regularly come here. They’re gritty, diligent, and seemingly indefatigable. I think kickboxing gives them the tools to develop a quiet, graceful confidence. Heck, I’m looking like less of a klutz every day.
I hope to see some of you at the bag next to me. Now let’s kick some box, shall we?
Donny Levit is a journalist, writer, and Maplewood resident. He is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. You can hear him DJ his show “Under the Influence” on Bone Pool Radio at bonepoolradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @donnyreports and Instagram @undertheinfluenceradio.