I learned how to straight-punch in my kickboxing workout yesterday, striking out from my centerline. At first I was wussy about it, tapping half-heartedly at the bag; it was a bit early for aggression and I hadn’t had enough coffee. But then I started to warm up and bring some adrenaline into it. I channeled a memory of being attacked in Guinea eight years ago, when I was mugged on a dark street by a dark man that I didn’t see until he hit me in the gut. Suddenly I was working the bag like a tiger, driving it back with my fists and elbows, pausing for a wild laugh at how good it felt to beat the crap out of something. Today it looks like somebody took a cheese grater to my knuckles, and I whimper every time they touch something: boy am I ever a badass.

Fear does strange things to our psyches. It’s meant to do what it did to me in Guinea: galvanize our adrenaline, mobilize a fight-or-flight response and push the body into decisive action. But more often than not these days, it sends me into a spiral of passive denial, the only response considered proper in the bonds of the society I live in. I’ll admit it: I’m scared of everything. Scared of change, and of not changing; scared of being alone and of being with someone; scared of dying and scared of getting old. I’m scared of going back to school but I’m about to do it—if they’ll take me, and I’m scared they won’t. I’m even scared of staying here and doing exactly what I’m doing right now. That’s the scariest thing of all.

So, there’s my soft underbelly, exposed: I’m a coward. Just that and no more, a coward, not a brave bone in my body. I take kickboxing, not necessarily for self-defense, because if it came down to it I don’t know if I’d defend myself again if a guy attacked me in the middle of the night. I only did it all those years ago in Guinea because he took me by surprise, and I was pissed off. I take kickboxing because I like the way the adrenaline feels when it kicks in. It gives me a rare chance to think on my feet, to react instead of analyze and second-guess and scratch around in my head the way I usually do before making any kind of a decision. And maybe it’ll help me in an unexpected way: instead of letting fear ride me the way it wants to, I’m starting to find that more and more often it’s fear in the reins, not me. I’m the one doing the riding. Just today it started to rear its head and I smacked it down before it could even get going. Things are changing. And if I forget, all it takes is brushing my raw red knuckles against something to bring home the lesson.


  1. Craig L (Chief Crazy Leg)May 1, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    I don't picture you as fearful of much if anything. You pull it off well. I think we all have very similar fears but we don't give voice to them, nor do we show them outwardly. I fear failing my kids and not raising them to be strong, well mannered members of society. And by well mannered I don't mean boring. Just able to take them out in public for a meal without reminding people of a pig trough.

    1. Well said, Chief. ;) Courage isn't fearlessness, but how we deal with our fears. That's what makes us warriors. Oh and good job with the kids--I never noticed any pig troughs around your table.

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