I’m training a new fighter. A chick. Em. 22 years old. Natural jab. Pivots her hips into her hooks. Hits hard. Really hard. Not just hard for a chick hard. But hard hard. She also has Down Syndrome. Which makes seeing her tear up the bag even more delightful. Makes her one of the most wonderful women in the world to watch. And I’ve watched a few.
But this one really rocks my world.
I’m holding a 70 lbs. heavy bag, and she is literally rocking my world. When she lays one in, the bag swings me. I can’t believe what I’m experiencing here. Obviously her disability didn’t disable to her ability to kick some serious ass. I’m hanging on for life, partly because she’s clocking me through the bag, and partly because I’m laughing so hard.
Just busting up thinking about the what the idiot who bothered her enough to warrant a beating would be experiencing right then.
Stiff jab, two rights, then torquing in a left body hook…deep. Backing up and dropping to deliver the hammer groin strike I taught her. She whips it up to a backhand to the head. Then throws a knee back into the groin. I wince at the thought. She keeps beating them out. This. That. That, again but harder.
I’ve turned her into some kind of M.M.A. monster, a one-woman pain train. A raging bull.
How did I get so lucky?
I was working with her dad, her brother, and her cousin. Just putting them through a physical regime I concocted–something based on the p.t. program of Sparta. Hell, they’re all ex-drinkers. They know how to take a beating and keep their whimpering internal. Always a pleasure to train. Good lads, not afraid to vomit and push on.
We’d be working out at the park, and Em would come by while walking her dog. She’d stop and chat. I found her to be very charming and lovely. More importantly, our senses of humor clicked. We got each other. And when that happens you can relax. You’re family.
So I was psyched to hear that Em and her mom also wanted to train with me. They wanted to get their buff on and were ready to suffer. Excellent. More victims. This should be fun.
I had no idea just how much.
Right off the bat, Em explained to me that she had Down Syndrome, but that she was high-functioning. Okay. High-functioning anything is good. I wish I could be a high-functioning whatever model of disability I am. My problem is that there are so many of them, I can never choose which one I should master. Shit, I never even got to be a functional alcoholic. So yeah, life isn’t fair.
Well, it turns out she was being modest. Her personal achievements really turn the tables on who is actually “disabled.” Let’s see. She’s acted in films and on television. (She has a SAG card) And when she’s not acting, she writes stories and song lyrics. Sings. Dances. Enjoys cooking and art. Has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and film facts. Plays multiple sports. Lifts weights. Goes to college. Doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. Volunteers. Takes care of animals and helps other special needs kids. Oh, and has been invited to the White House, and asked to speak before Congress.
High-functioning, my ass.
That’s living better than most people I know.
Hey now. What’s the deal here? I mean, I think I could still take her in a fight. She’s giving up a lot to reach and weight advantage. (It’s my wonky left shoulder that might get me in trouble. I can’t jab for shit anymore) But other than that? There’s nothing. She’s better at everything else.
Doesn’t leave much to hang my hat on.
Yeah. High-functioning. Good for you. Now beat it, kid. You’re making me look bad.
Anyway, I started Em and her mom off with some basic stuff. Running with the medicine ball over their heads. Burpees with push-ups. Jump rope. Crunches. Dumb-bell shoulder presses off one leg, on a balance disk. Crawling under pretend Normandy barbed-wire. One-legged butt-blasters. (ladies love those) Planks off the balance ball. More running with the medicine ball over their heads. More almost throwing up.
But never giving up.
The women turned out to be as tough as their men folk, and they seemed to be having fun. I sure was. Em was always cracking me up with the gems that rolled out of her mouth.
She’s quite eloquent. Not just eloquent for a person with special needs, but eloquent eloquent. She certainly has a better vocabulary than any of the bimbos on Bravo.
“Come on, Em. Let’s do this. Don’t be stubborn.”
“I’m not stubborn. I’m obstinate. It’s because I’m a Taurus.”
Oh man. She just …kills me.
All the time.
One afternoon, I mentioned I had some boxing gloves and punching mitts in the car. Em insisted I break them out. She gloved up and started smacking. A little awkwardly at first, but began landing a few with some zing. She knew when she connected well, and adjusted her technique to replicate the results. Well alright. I took notice. Do all people with Down’s punch this well?
After that, at the end of every p.t. session, she wanted to work on her hitting. Her mom was cool with it. Nothing wrong with a young lady knowing how to lay a smack-down if necessary. Make some predatory perv think about things…while handcuffed to his hospital bed.
For Christmas her dad got her a heavy bag and her own gloves. So we started beating on that. I taught her more stuff. With each lesson, she got better. And better. She knows how to take direction. I’ll suggest something and she does it, and then remembers to keep doing it.
I wonder what that would be like.
I only had to remind her to keep her gloves up a few times, early on. After that, they’ve stayed up. It’s crazy. I’m always having to harp on my clients, “Keep your hands up! Keep your hands up!” Not with Em. She keeps her hooks in close. Turns on the ball of her feet. Snaps her jabs out sharp, but doesn’t try to homer with them. Uses them to set up her next punch. Mixes up her head and body shots well.
Pretty soon, I felt like I was witnessing some kind of miracle thing. There was some natural ability we’ve tapped into here. She’s got some God-given talent to whup ass. And I have been sent to help deliver it. I must abide by my Creator’s wishes.
I’ll tell you right now, I’m not a boxing coach. I’m an ex-bouncer. That punchity punch-punch stuff is okay, but in the real world, brawling rarely comes down to dancing around a bar room floor while exchanging jabs. It’s a lot of kicking, clawing, and gouging. Stuff that really works.
I started teaching her how to scrap. How to use her elbows and knees. I even taught her The Ron Martinez Belly Bopper, a move I watched a fellow bouncer use with great success. It’s just a simple open hand thrust into the center of your opponent’s mass. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you do it quickly, and really rally some meat behind it, it’ll send dudes tumbling over several cocktail tables. It’s also a low-profile strike. Harder for witnesses to see than a Hollywood jaw shot.
“C’mon Em, become Ron Martinez. Really get your bull on.”
I’ll swing the bag and watch her time her thrust for maximum penetration.
I’m teaching this girl with Down Syndrome a move I learned from an crazed Vietnam war vet bouncer in Santa Fe, over twenty years ago. How awesome is life? She’s just got to remember to be sneaky about it. Ron never telegraphed the Belly Bopper. He also shot it out low so the crowd couldn’t see it. Once your mark goes down, grab a salt shaker off one of the tables and bring it down on his eye as he’s getting up. C’mon Kid. Practice. Practice. Practice.
She’s improving. And she keeps improving. Who knows where she’ll be a year from now?
We also work on breaking out of holds via groin strikes. A woman actually only has to think about throwing a groin strike and a male will instinctively start to cover up. It has something to do with our only reason for living. Regardless, she knows not to bet the bank on a ball-bonker, but to follow up with a foot stomp and throat shot. Oh, and that kicking somebody when they’re down depends on what they did, and if you can time it to the beat of whatever song is playing over the juke box. Keep it cinematic.
It’s not like I expect her to be able to walk into a country western joint and bitch-belt a shot glass into the teeth of some cowboy drinking at the bar. Just drop his bony ass. While the band plays Boot Scoot Boogie and security swarms.
Unless, that’s something she some day wants to do. Then I’ll support her dream. In the meantime, she’s getting some exercise, and a healthy place to take out any life frustrations. And learn some skills she’ll hopefully never have to use.
That’s it. That’s all I bring to the table. But what she shows me, teaches me, gives me, is much more profound. She has brought more joy and delight to this recovering alcoholic than he seemed worthy of. Spending time with her is the highlight of my week. I personally believe that angels will sometimes take human form. What I can’t believe is that I’ve gotten to teach one how to take out a knee.
It’s been very rewarding. I’ve gotten to actually see what makes a successful human. It starts from the love they emit outwards. That love is irresistibly returned by those around them, and that creates a force field that makes all those within it thrive.
Thank you, Em, for welcoming me into that force field, and helping me thrive. God knows, I can use the help.