Having no prior knowledge (or interest) in the sport of boxing, I was generously enthusiastic when my friend suggested we go to a class together at the gym. He whipped out a few pairs of these ballooning shorts that can only be associated with shirtless, muscular guys dancing around a ring with big gloves on. He selected a yellow and red pair for me and I had fun ‘sparring’ at home, posing for snapchat, and pretending (of course) I was already a world champion.
We watched a few videos of New Zealander UFC legend Isreal Adesanya in the ring, and I prepared my legendary mindset. Then my friend said that this is hardcore, and we were just going to a regular boxing fitness class. We wouldn’t be doing half of this stuff. (Obviously).
When we arrived at the gym in our plain clothes, we split to the changing rooms and I slipped into my yellow hot air balloon pants. The other girls in there were very good-looking and no-one had these pants on. Maybe they weren’t going to the class.
I re-joined my friend outside along with a group waiting to go into the room – who were all wearing normal gym clothes. To my shock horror, my friend was also wearing normal gym shorts instead of his balloon pants. Desperately confused, I hissed at him, asking why was I the only one in this attire? I insisted that we either wear them together or not at all, so he said ‘fine’ and went to change... into a very subtle black pair that looked like normal gym shorts at a glance. I looked like a bright beach ball bobbing alone in the open sea. I shot daggers at him.
We entered the class and I said 'hi' to the instructor and assured him that I had never done this before. He looked slightly amused and said with a thick accent: ‘It’s ok, just have fun’. We started with a warm-up jog around the perimeter of the room despite it being 38 degrees already. The glances at my ‘outfit’ were hard to ignore. The instructor began the class in Czech language and I nodded along diligently whilst watching his actions. After a few minutes he directed at me ‘do you understand?’ in English and I wanted to sink into the floor as everyone turned to look at me. There was no hiding now. I had turned up to a basic FitBox class wearing shorts way above my skill level, with the thick words THAI BOXING stitched across my hips. It was quickly obvious I wasn’t from here and I didn't know what I was doing. I couldn't embarrass my country like this.
There was only one thing for it.
I’d have to pretend I was Australian.
We were to repeat alternating lunges and squats, before switching to a plank and then punching-jumps. The best part was, we were all lined up facing a mirror. I couldn’t escape my reflection. I had to watch myself concentrate on opposite-arm-opposite-leg moves, lose my rhythm and take up twice as much space as everyone else because I needed to fit my wide shorts in the line.
While we were doing the minute-long plank for the third time, the man beside me wavered a bit and dropped his hips. The instructor came right over and questioned him, presumably asking why they had dropped. I thought it was obvious why. We were all tomatoes in this ill-ventilated room. I struggled through the last 15 seconds with gritted teeth, willing not to be spotted. I glanced down between my legs and couldn’t see my toes for the giant parachute of cloth dragging on the floor. I grimaced and stood my ground with my shaky body. I did Australia proud.
Apparently, we were then allowed to guzzle back some water, but not for too long as the bellowing voice came back and I ran into the middle of the room soon followed by everyone else. The instructor said, ‘do you understand Czech?’, I shook my head. He laughed and said, ‘but you just sense that I’m angry…’. Yep. I picked up on that. They say that 90% of communication is in body language and there’s no better way to learn this than to get used to doing things in foreign countries.
Next was galloping towards the mirror and bouncing backwards whenever the instructor clapped his hands. This was way more frequent than necessary. The guy in front of me lagged a little and was soon asked ‘why aren’t you using your legs?’. I began to get good at the double claps; my mind was sharp. I was the quickest to change direction at each loud slap. The instructor noticed, smiled, and continued the double taps that were exhausting everyone else. Finally, I started to feel like I belonged in these Thai Boxing shorts and maybe I was just breaking into my new career as a professional. You never know what life throws at you these days. I saw myself in the ring.
After another lightning-fast water break, the instructor barked and my friend came to my side. I looked at him curiously and he quickly explained: ‘it’s time to partner up and spar’. I replied ‘ah’ and then thanked him quietly for picking me. I’d hate to be standing there by myself not even knowing I was last to be picked.
Despite it being my first time with the gloves on my friend didn’t go easy on me. The alarm bells should have been ringing when I picked two left hand gloves out the box and struggled to put them on my hands. By the time we were throwing punches at each other he was making good contact with my body and I was just focusing on repeating ‘left, right, left’ in my head. The instructor came over and gestured that I wasn’t beating my partner up hard enough and guided my hands into his face repeatedly. I didn’t tell him that I could barely lift my arms up to my head anymore.
When the hour was up, the class ended so abruptly that I actually thought ‘is that it?’ before the relief kicked in that we could leave now. As we filed through the door past the instructor back into the air-conditioned gym, I humbly thanked him and he said, ‘see you next week?’.
I told him I’d have to check my schedule because I had a few rounds with Israel coming up.
I asked my friend afterwards why he didn’t wear his pants to begin with. He looked mildly surprised and replied, ‘they are not really for boxing’.