Written by Tyler R. Martin
Combat: That Which Alleviates Difference
Do you know yourself as well as you can possibly know yourself? I ask. I’m sure we all ask ourselves this from time to time if we are to have even an ounce of self reflection. We ask ourselves, do we know our peers as well as we could? Or, how well do they know themselves? And do our peers struggle with the same manner of self reflection? How, collectively, or individually, can we grow to understand our own capabilities and limitations and, simultaneously, the capabilities and limitations of our peers? Will they accept you if you’re different? Better? Worse?–at whatever arbitrary task at which we all compete. Perhaps you’re a different color? Have a different upbringing? A different genetic heritage? In this essay I will explore my own journey through these questions. My own self reflection and competition, both collectively and individually, as a white teenager, competing in a majority non white sport.
Perhaps you’re young, immature, inexperienced. Perhaps you embody a false bravado due to a very natural insecurity. Despite the “self esteem” doctrine drilled incessantly into your head from childhood, you know, deep, deep down, that you’re 12 years old and haven’t experienced one iota of the real world. As a consequence of this lack of experience, you haven’t the faintest idea what your own capabilities are and cannot comprehend what you should feel “esteemed” about. Accomplishment is a long hard road made even longer by the anesthetic environment most white, middle class children find themselves raised in. There is a lot of knowledge in a bloody nose, a bruised knuckle, a snarl at an opponent in the ring of combat, that most teenagers in suburbia never have the privilege of experiencing. Boxing, the sport of controlled fury, coherent violence, not just against your opponent, but also against yourself, is where I honed my razor edge. I wasn’t liked. I wasn’t liked due to immutable traits, and therefore was not accepted. Numerous black and brown faces singled me out as the physical embodiment of “weak suburbia” as “a frail white boy” shielded from the inherent violence of existence. But I was there, bearing the slings and arrows of contempt, sharpening my tools in the ring of combat, the ring of fury. I sharpened my skills against those who had shown me disdain, pushed my own limits, as well as pushing theirs, in the inferno of breathless body shots and ear ringing blows to the head. We sharpened our skills as well as our perspectives. Our perspectives not only of our own capabilities, but also of each other. This, in the ring of combat, the ring of fury, did we see that it was the heart and muscle that mattered, only guts and the skill, the fury and the violence, the control and the dedication. Beyond this, we taught each other and ourselves, nothing else mattered.
To challenge yourself, physically, mentally, and thereby understand your own limitations, has the perverse effect of raising just as many self reflective existential questions as it provides the answers for. At a certain point it became glaringly clear that I wasn’t sure exactly who my most proximal peers where? Against whom do compare my abilities? Into which hierarchy do throw my preverbal hat? Was it in the academic sense? In my own public school, no degree of competition of physicality interested me. School sports seemed pompous in comparison to the raw primal grit of a boxing gym. There was, even in suburbia, a group of my schoolmates who wrestled with their own capabilities in a very nervous and clumsy way with the false bravado I spoke of earlier; they interested me not at all; they were ghosts, miles behind me in the grueling marathon of life. So, to compare myself to those more academically inclined seemed to be a suitable challenge. The boxing gym didn’t provide much in that regard, it was not an environment overly crowded with academics. Though, it’s interesting to note, that to say that a boxing gym is not an environment conducive to creating academics is not at all saying that a boxing gym is not an environment void of intellect or not conducive to attracting and promoting intellectualism. Those are grossly different things. Understanding the depth of Shakespeare, although beneficial, is not the same as understanding the depth of your own capabilities, nor is it the same as understanding the depth of life, which is often a complex, competitive and violent affair. I learned this as I progressed on these two different fronts; the academic and the physical. My peers in the former were academically inclined and often of substantial intellect, however, I noticed that they often suffered an inordinate amount of stress when exposed to any potential roadblock in their path. A difficult test approaching, the formulation of a college resume, a potential physical confrontation, an essay such as this, void of blatant factual knowledge, would send them spiraling. I could only imagine what six minutes in the ring of combat would do to their fragile psyche!
Yet, this is not the correct perspective, even then I was still ignorant to some degree, for now I realize that jest is pointless. The true hallmark of an actualized individual, something that cannot be gleaned in a classroom, would be to aid those who are interested in progressing down the path that has helped me immensely, and, in doing so, hope that they will benefit as I had. It’s not in a classroom that you are able to understand the depths of your own metal fortitude, or the limits of your physicality. It’s not in the classroom that you realize that it’s not the culture or the race or economic prosperity, the college you attended or the books you’ve read that’s sets apart men and women, it is, in fact, the level of self reflection and the knowledge you’ve gleaned through combat with existence.
Text © Tyler R. Martin
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