Kick Me Baby (February 21, 2012)

“Kickboxing. Sport of the future.”
– Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything (1989)

Lloyd Dobler, John Cusack’s iconic character from the classic film of the 1980s was the first good guy on whom I had a crush. Otherwise, it’s always been bad boys for me. It’s telling that one of the few times I became smitten with a sensitive, caring soul, he also happened to be a fictional character.

In any case, Lloyd’s passion for the sport of kickboxing was the beginning of my familiarity with the activity. Regular boxing always seemed challenging enough but this new incarnation involved a whole mess of kicks along with the requisite punches. As I spent all of my prime years (15-25) on the couch eating, gaining weight and losing muscle tone, I had the urge to do little more than bandage Lloyd after that mean Diane Court surprised him at the gym, resulting in a nice shot to the schnoz.

In my mid-20s, as I realized that I had trouble walking more than one flight of stairs and that my body bore a passing resemblance to the obese, chain smoking mother I abhorred, I finally got off my ass. Eight years and 60 pounds later, I have become more than one who patronizes the gym out of necessity. I found that I actually love to sweat, to challenge myself, to raise the adrenaline. I now get off on strength and agility, the ability to hang with the toughest, the way I once found solace in a Kit Kat binge.

One thing that has always made me uncomfortable however, is violence. Can’t stand to see it. Can bear even less to be the perpetrator of it. I am the woman who watches episodes of Grey’s Anatomy through her fingers. So though I always admired the badassery of a Laila Ali or a Cara Castronuova (a former trainer on The Biggest Loser), I never figured I’d have the stones to take up a sport that celebrates physical combat.

My usual Tuesday workout had long been a 20-mile round trip bike ride to downtown Chicago, bookending a Russian kettlebell session with my friend and trainer Rob. Well about six weeks ago, Rob had to cancel our usual meeting and I decided on a whim to take a shorter ride to the Lincoln Park gym I patronize. I was finally going to give kickboxing class a whirl. I asked around and learned it was all bag, no hand to hand engagement.

The meek, it turns out, shall inherit kickboxing. As long as I don’t have to spar with an actual human, I. Am. An. Animal. I have split boxing gloves in my enthusiasm for whaling on the bag. I have been interrupted by the instructor with inquiries into the condition of my wrists and knuckles. At first I was confused and assumed I was simply using the wrong form. But as it turns out, Reagan wanted to know if I was ok because I was “killing” the heavy black sack in front of me. I don’t need Dr. Freud to tell me I have a lot of aggression to release. But finally, at long last, I have a safe outlet. I don’t have to fear hitting as hard as I can.

I suppose in a way, much like Lloyd Dobler, the discovery of kickboxing has provided a sense of power and control in a world where I often feel weak and ineffectual. Lloyd was the product of a disordered upbringing, graduating high school while living with his single mother of a sister. As the movie opens, he is hopelessly in love with a girl who seems unaware of his existence, staring at the probability of a lackluster future. I am also the product of a disordered upbringing and like the character, demanding physical exercise, striking out at a nameless target seems a lot more spirited and hopeful than sitting around waiting for something to happen.

I never realized in my youth, as I sat watching Say Anything ad nauseam with my younger sister, trading memorable quotes at lightening speed, that kickboxing was the sport of my future.


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