Located in a somewhat seedy section of downtown Durham, the cinderblock structure that would soon be my home two hours out of every week looked a bit ominous. Razor wire intermingled with Christmas lights around what I assumed to be an old batting cage out front. I immediately felt tougher (and a little frightened) just pulling into the gravel parking lot.
Once inside, I was greeted by the sour aroma of stale sweat. I quickly learned that sweat--and not just my own--was my friend. By sharing both hand wraps and gloves, I would commune with my classmates in a regular sweat-swapping ritual. On that first day, I bravely took a pair of damp wraps from the wall and began to mummify my hands.
My main objective was to blend. When Tom, the tall, lean instructor called everyone to the mats for stretches, I followed. When he told everyone to put on gloves, I did. The bulbous attachments were still so damp from leftover sweat that they made my wraps feel dry as the Sahara by comparison. But for someone who had never before put on a pair of boxing gloves, the act was transforming. It was as if I had dipped my hands into a pool of pure testosterone. After a quick tutorial on the basics of kickboxing, I was ready to kick some ass.
Bob, an armless, rubber man-on-a-stick would be my sparring mate. Although eerily lifelike, Bob was NOT some poor amputee. He was "the enemy." And when the heavy-bass thudding of techno music filled the room, I was no longer a novice kickboxer--I was a character from The Matrix.
The next 45 minutes were grueling. Tom screamed out instructions for various punches and kicks as he strolled around the class. We were given 30 second breaks in between three minute sparring sessions--sessions that felt 10 times longer.
By the time class was over, I had contributed quite generously to the puddle within my gloves. My arms felt like lead, my shins were a lovely shade of pink, and Bob, well, he was unscathed.