The first time I got punched in the face, I cried. Well, technically it was probably the fourteenth or so time I got punched in the face, but times one through fourteen all came in rapid succession. I had been studying kickboxing for half a year, and was just starting to feel like the roundhouse kicks and southpaw right jabs I was throwing at training pads weren’t completely ridiculous.
My friend from the class, June, asked me if I wanted to do an extra workout with her. She seemed awfully advanced to me at the time, although in retrospect I know that, in a sport that takes decades to master, her two years of training made her only a little less of a neophyte than I was. After we trained with pads for a bit, June dressed me up in some borrowed headgear and declared that we should do some sparring.
Fast forward three minutes and I am desperately trying to stop this embarrassing crying. I don’t feel upset or scared or in pain. It’s more like that involuntary reaction that you have when someone you don’t know very well dies, and suddenly you find yourself weeping and you’re not sure why exactly.
“It’s okay,” June said. “We all cry when we spar.” She looked around the empty gym where we were training, and then leaned in and whispered, “Just don’t ever let the boys see you.”
I am now fairly used to getting punched in the face, but still, on an off day, three or for strong blows to my head still provokes a strong emotional response. All the women who I’ve talked to about it freely admit that they have cried after stressful sparring sessions; I’ve often seen them crying in locker rooms, not sobbing outright, but choking back tears as they curse through their teeth, “Why does she always have to go so fucking hard?”
The common wisdom among martial artists is that women fight much more emotionally than men. “Those women are brutal,” the men will say. “They really get upset.”
I always wonder if women really do respond more to fighting with more emotion, or whether men have simply been conditioned not to express those feelings, even to themselves. I sometimes ask my male martial arts friends if they ever feel like crying, and they say that they don’t, though they report feeling angry, upset, or terrified at times. Not liking to get hit seems to be one of the major reasons that people I know, men and women, give up martial arts.
My friend Frank was talking about someone who quit our kickboxing class after participating in one informal competition.
“He decided wrestling was a better sport for him than kickboxing,” he said. “He doesn’t like getting punched in the face.”
“No one likes getting punched in the face,” I replied.
Frank smiled sheepishly. “I like it,” he said.
That’s how you need to feel about it, I suppose. Why would you do something year after year if you didn’t like it, we reason to ourselves as we ice our bruises. So we stay with our abuser, and learn to think of the abuse as a kind of love.