Why Men Fight?
BOXING HAS TAMED MY DEMONS:
When I transitioned at 55, I entered a world I didn’t understand.
Men have to fight someone or something at some point, don’t they?
For my entire life, and certainly for the years since I have been pumping iron, I’ve been fighting, whether it’s myself, the world or my place in it. Masculinity and aggression seem so inextricably entwined.
Here I am, in the most extreme, darkest space I could think of to tangle with that question.
I worked for this body; I gave up so much to live within its muscular walls.
As I settle into this new life, of my 50’s I realize I need to understand the tie, whether biological or cultural or some potent brew of both, between violence and masculinity.
I want to know for sure that I can be a different kind of man, an intentional man, a man who can both understand the expectations of him and transcend them.
Eventually, boxing became a way to reclaim my relationship to violence. “The chaos is contained, and you’re forced to confront what is in front of you, because the ring is only so big,”. Unlike a fight in the street, boxing is about you, not the other guy. “You have the time to say, ‘Who am I?’”
“To say, ‘I see my adrenaline, and what is that a response to, and why is it responsive in this way?’
The thing about boxing, everyone says, is that you can’t hide who you are in the ring. But what they don’t tell you is that you also can’t hide how you feel.
It is impossible for me not to think of my mom, or how my grief also feels strangely enculturated: hurricanes of rage, interrupted with sudden, violent tears. I’ve lost my way and, if I am honest, I am here to grieve among men, to grieve as a man.
The quake, the shoulder-shaking sobs that overcome me as I walk the gym floor saying hallo to beautiful masculine sweaty bodies, I am always scared of people asking me how I am doing, because the truth is that they don’t really wanna know. They can’t handle the truth. Nobody wants the truth. I love truth with it’s sharp rugged edges and rawness.
It feels profound to admit that this is part of a larger wave of life events I can’t manage alone, to give myself over to the idea of something bigger than myself, a community, a teacher—to know that I am worth more than my worst day.
My mom always told me to “keep things in perspective.” But in some ways loss is scarier than death, and I’m not sure which changed me more, testosterone, or her terrible end. Both grief and manhood seem to have turned off and on parts of me without my consent.
It’s not exactly the promise of violence that draws us to aggressive sports like boxing, but for men, “It’s hard to separate competitiveness from aggressiveness”.
And the competitiveness doesn’t even have to be physical to be experienced viscerally. An interesting study was done in the Obama- McCain election, and it was proven that the men that voted for McCain had a huge drop in testosterone after he lost in the elections, something that women will never understand.
It is obvious that aggression, whether it’s in the office or in the ring, is a highly valued masculine trait.
When I’m not at DBF gym, I’m watching YouTube ballets of men hitting men: Muhammad Ali move his massive body with relentless grace; Manny Pacquiao’s speed, his good manners, his respect for the sport; Mike Tyson’s bravado, his madness, his insistence on himself. Each man has a flaw that he’s turned into a strength:
Ali’s inability to ever demonstrate the “right” form also means he reinvented the language; Pacquiao’s small size gives him speed, and makes him a heart-first fighter, and Tyson—well, the man said it best: “’I can’t be beaten unless I do it to myself.” His brutality could compensate for his short reach, but he was his own worst enemy and his biggest fan.
I’m uncommonly open. It’s easy to read the expression on my face.
But I’m also honest, with myself and my coach. We quickly learn to work together. I’m not freezing, because Eliezer (my son and my coach) taught me to see the strategy in an attack, to not take it so personally, to keep moving, right out from under the punches.
I am different. My wife says less volatile, and though I feel myself quieting, I also experience everything hardening: my muscle, my spirit, my confidence in my body and myself. I feel more rooted to the ground, contained, powerful, and less impulsive about making a show of it. I run five five-minute and see that I have underestimated myself. I am relentless on the speedbag, but also more forgiving of my failures.
I can see that each of my inhibitions can be surmounted, whether it’s lifting 10 more kilos of weight or spending two more hours on studying . I can see that I will never be a brawler, it’s just not my personality, but I can exchange roughly, if pressed, I can hit you so hard that your head snaps back, I can bloody your nose. I can and I will.
Boxing has a way of taming the beast in any man. It has tamed me.