boxing

5 years ago my life changed

Anniversaries. I’m not the best at taking the time to celebrate those people and moments that matter. I forget, caught up in the current of every day triviality.


May 2012: I blew out my knee in kickboxing. Diagnosis: crutches and cane for 3 months + 9-months of daily physio to recover, with the possibility I’d never kickbox again. My identity as a cripple: confirmed.

July 2012: my mother died in her sleep. The depression I’d been fighting off since summer 2011 exploded with full force. I was a broken person. Drifting from day to day in a fog of misery.

Fall 2012: Superwoman suggested that I join the boxing gym she’d just discovered. It would allow me to work on my boxing skills, avoid losing too much of my fitness, keep me distracted through the long months of physio and rehab. I agreed to show up for one class. Limping down the staircase, hearing the sounds of the ring bell, the thuds of the punching bags, and the coolest trap music I’d ever heard, I felt like I was coming home – odd, considering that this was an environment in which I, crippled vanilla AF nerdy accountant, did not belong.

For the first year or so, I trained with Coach’s younger brother Slick, a pro-boxer and a coach in his own right. Slick did not have the time to impart much boxing knowledge on me, because he spent all his time trying to get me to work on my mental and emotional state. We didn’t use the word “depression”, but he could see I was not well. He made me do pushups every time I said something negative or mean about myself, even if it was funny. He encouraged me to read James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh:

“Doubt and fear are the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step.”

“Men imagine that thought can be kept secret, but it cannot; it rapidly crystallizes into habit, and habit solidifies into circumstance.”

“As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts, can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking.”

Slick turned my whole worldview upside down. 2 years later, when I started therapy, I chose an expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: “guided by empirical research, CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation.”


By late 2013, I joined Coach’s team. In 2014, I fought my first fights.

What do you do after a day at a boxing tournament? Watch the pros! #bronzegloves #teamspirit #teamunderdog

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In August 2014, I slid into the most terrifying depressive episode I’ve ever experienced. Overnight, I transformed from a fighter into a fragile girl who would cry for 3-5 hours a day. Coach didn’t understand, but he could see. Scary Coach became Gentle Coach. The team accepted my quirks, and continued to cheer me on every time I stepped into the ring. They didn’t know the particulars of my struggle, but they could recognize someone fighting the good fight of life.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

#selfietime #selfie #selfienation #udfamily #underdognation #thisisreallyaselfie #jd40ko #boxingwayoflife

A post shared by June Svet (@vanilla_ratchet) on

By the end of 2015, I knew. These people were family.


2016. A transition year. I joined Coach’s new project, weight-lifting and conditioning designed for athletes, specifically boxers. The immediate benefits were weight-loss and a changed body shape. For the first time in my life, in my 30s, I wondered: maybe, sometimes, I might be beautiful, possibly sexy. For someone who struggled with eating disorders (binge-eating until I was nauseous and abusing laxatives) during my late teens and my twenties, the gradual silencing of the vicious body-shaming voices in my head was an unexpected liberation.

Even better? Thanks to Coach’s extensive knowledge, patience and careful coaching, I shed, permanently, the lifelong identity of a cripple, of inhabiting a body that betrays me. I am athletic. I used to be embarrassed to admit I boxed, as though somehow associating myself – me – with that sport was arrogant. Not anymore. I was a boxer.

I understood what life lessons this sport was teaching me. It taught me that I can take a hit and still keep moving forward. It taught me that I can fight back. It taught me to own all of who I am: sweet Vanilla and angry Vanilla. It taught me that who and what I am is worth fighting for. It taught me not to wait for any saviors: I alone dictate my destiny, through my actions.

I understood why I needed to move onto dancing. Saying goodbye to this sport was hard, but necessary.

I kept training with Coach (aka Dr. Booté). I kept partying with my boxing peeps, with hilarious results (please refer to exhibit A and exhibit B). The friendships are still strong.


2017. This year was hard. Life, my shadow, got in the way of my joy. I drifted from the gym. But when things got too confusing, too overwhelming, like a homing pigeon, I made my way back. Sure enough, Coach and my crew were waiting for me.


How do you celebrate a place that has shaped my very identity, freed me of decade-long insecurities, given me deep and constant friendships, keeps me sane, gives me the tools to face life as an adult?

How do you celebrate family?

#udnation

#udfamily

 

 

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That time I didn’t go to Italy

Teacher. I haven’t quite figured out how I feel about him: a mix of horrified fascination, admiration and friendship. He has the knack of inspiring loyalty amongst his students even as the ones that have known him for years confess to a frequent desire to punch him in the solar plexus. Seems about right.

Much can be forgiven in a man that has all of the moves, and dances for dancing’s sake. Where Teacher goes, people follow, because he is sure to spread laughter and the contagious joy of dancing.

He makes me shake my head in amazement, often.

Exhibit A: an international wake-up call

I got an unexpected call from Teacher this morning. He is at some dance festival in Italy, with his dance partner and one of his best friends (a brilliant dancer and DJ). Teacher had been looking forward to this festival. So why on earth was he calling me at 7am on a Saturday? Groggily, I picked up.

Vanilla, these niggas tried to start a fight with me. Yo man, I’m so pissed right now. That’s not nice, what they did. That’s not nice. Why?! I dunno, they tried to fuck with the wrong nigga, thinking I’m all soft. Who? These niggas, I told you. No no, I’m ok, I’m fine, you don’t have to get on a plane and come here and box the shit out of them.

Oh I don’t?! Good he mentioned that just in time, of course I was half way out the door, toothbrush and passport in hand. Vanilla the boxing bodyguard, that’s me.

He hung up shortly after that, without telling me who or why. I haven’t heard from him since. In normal circumstances, with normal people, I would be wretched with worry. With Teacher, I am resigned to the fact that there is a 25% chance he will end up in an Italian jail, a 25% chance “those niggas” will end up in an Italian jail while Teacher is praised in all the newspapers as a local hero, and a 50% chance that in 3 weeks time I will stumble on some pic on Facebook of Teacher hugging and laughing with those dudes with not a care in the world, because they are actually cool people and “it was just a misunderstanding”.


I shared this story with Coach, who loves a good laugh. Specifically the part where I’ve now learned that the appropriate reaction to being woken up at 7am bc my friend got into an almost-fight overseas is to say “Stay put, imma be right over in about 9-12 hours and then I will fuck shit up.”

Coach shook his head, and then commented innocently, “Yes, Teacher is a rather passionate guy.” Ya think?! But then again… That time I got mugged, Coach promised to hunt the guys down and give them a “talking-to”. I am wondering if this is a bit of a cultural thing; demonstrating honor and loyalty to one’s friends in hyperbolic phrasing of grand gestures that don’t necessarily need to materialize.

You don’t have to get on a plane and come here and box the shit out of them.

P.S. I did say that Coach knows all the black people in Montreal, yeah? Further evidence. Of course, Coach knows Teacher. I should have known.

 

Life coping techniques: boxing to dancing

I was going to write about my friend who was religiously profiled in downtown Montreal on Friday (Roman Catholic French Canadian-American profiled as a Muslim and threatened to be thrown out of a cancer fundraising event for a venerable Mtl health institution, the Jewish General Hospital). It’s a shocking story. But I can’t. Instead, I need to celebrate moments of happiness and silliness, to counter the asphyxiating despair that grows stronger with every day since Nov 8, 2016; the despair is spilling over into the Great North – no wall, real or mythical, can keep it out.


Superwoman had a boxing fight at an elite boxing tournament this past weekend. It was the first time since my last fight that I attended a boxing event. Yes, I still see my crew (my darlings!) at the gym, but I’ve missed the broader community. It made me nostalgic to see all these boxers whose amateur careers I follow on Facebook. There is a fraternity amongst boxers, a shared understanding between fighters that is difficult to verbalize: it transcends nationality, age, class, education.

Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.

Once upon a time, I too shared this need to box. But something changed this summer, which is why I quit boxing:

It is that constant assault that has ruined boxing for me. Every time I’ve stepped into the gym, I feel dread at having to steel myself enough to throw a punch, or take one. I don’t have anything left for this optional battle. What I want is the absence of punches, either metaphorical or physical. I need a break, a wee vacation. Life, and my brain, are throwing plenty my way, and I am fighting back as hard as I can. I don’t want to fight additional fights, that could be avoided by my simple decision to pursue other activities.

This weekend confirmed it. Watching my friends and former teammates step into the ring, I felt no envy. I don’t want to fight. Life is coming together, and I am taking on the world at work. My battles are strategic: owning my newfound assertiveness, growing into this new identity of a career woman that can affect change from sheer intelligence, force of personality and interpersonal relationships. While this all is thrilling, beyond my wildest dreams, it is exhausting. In my downtime, I want to stop thinking, to simply feel. Hence my choice to dedicate many hours a week to dance: ballet, kuduro, kizomba and salsa. Through dance, I’m exploring a different form of non-verbal communication than boxing: boxing is about pushing back – hit, don’t get hit. In dancing, it is about being comfortable occupying a space while being fully seen. It requires existing in a state of vulnerability. In those moments, using my body to communicate, it creates a space of truth.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. – Martha Graham

In this time of #AlternativeFacts and #FauxNews and real news that is so awful, the impulse to express my unique self feels like an obligation. An obligation to be true. It is a small, almost irrelevant rebellion against the lies and hate that surround us.


How did I deal with the upsetting story of my friend’s religious profiling? I took a dancing class with Teacher:

 

Teacher’s website: https://www.drkizomba.com/ 

Teacher’s dance school on Fbk: Kizomba Canada

Popularity contests are still a thing

Fellow blogger Peckalapooza over at the confusingmiddle.com published a recap of his top 10 2016 posts. It was a neat way to highlight his 2nd year of blogging success. So neat, that I am stealing the idea. 

Ladies and gents, I give you my top 10 most popular posts from 2016. They make sense: a lot of self-discovery, my struggles with insecurities, vulnerability and mental health, the beginning and the end of Beaut, some current events, a bit of my travels, the transition from boxing to dancing. A fair reflection of what my 2016 was all about. 

10. A form of freedom

A breakthrough in accepting myself as I am; even more importantly, being proud and kind to myself as I am. Like every woman on the planet, I struggle with liking my body. Since publishing this article, I’ve gone from total pride in my appearance to disgust and shame, and everything in between. On average, I hover around the mood and attitudes described in this post, and that is worth celebrating.

9. I’m going on a peniscation 

The end of Beaut. Nothing more to say, really. It sucked, it hurt, I learned a lot. I’m more cynical now, and less naive. Silver lining: I’m ok. I always was ok, surrounded by the love of my friends and family. Depression: 0, Vanilla: 1.

8. First red flag

A fun holiday anecdote from early-Beaut times. 

7. Saying goodbye to boxing

Where I transition from boxing to dancing. Do I miss boxing? Yes, every damn day. But I am convinced that the next stage of my self-discovery and growth lies outside my comfort zone… and that is what dancing is to me: uncomfortable joy.

6. Aiming for happiness

A watershed moment, the turning point for 2016: the realization that I am entitled to find my happiness, that I’m responsible for finding my happiness, and my action plan for being happy and building my life worth living. While the specifics have slightly changed, in 4 short months I’ve succeeded and I think my heart will burst with joyfulness. Key follow up posts, written at the end of 2016:

5. The Dynamo trip: white girls are slutty, obvi

I spent 10 days in Lebanon, for my best friend’s wedding. I experienced a wee #funnynotfunny culture shock.

4. That time Vanilla tried to be sexy

Key word: tried. This remains one of my favourite posts ever. So funny. So me. #vanilla

3. Guilty until proven innocent: Jian Ghomeshi

My rather irrelevant take on this Canadian scandal/trial. Because #womensrightsyo #exceptinnocenttillprovenguiltyiskey

2. The Dynamo trip: bow ties and feelings

My insecurities and mental health issues threatened to wreak havoc during my trip to Lebanon, for Dynamo’s wedding. But they didn’t – my heart forced my brain to shut up, and accept the love that surrounded me. When I ended my therapy, 2 months later, my therapist pointed to this specific trip, and my successful management of my paranoid brain, as the moment he knew I was well on my way to being very ok.

1. 2nd red flag: that time I went insane

I’ve no idea why this post was so popular: it generated 3x as many views as the runner-up. Still, I enjoyed it. And FYI, I pulled out all my winter running gear when I got home from the holidays, and I am looking forward to taking it up again – Tuesday, to be exact! 

I can’t wait to do this same exercise on January 1, 2018. May 2017 be a blog-worthy adventure!

The art of photobombing

Exhibit A

This pic was taken a month ago. That would be me and Nene, at the bar, trying to take a pic celebrating our graceful handling of the hilarious 5 types of cereal moment, earlier that evening. Photobombed by alleged Chair Thrower dude. #brilliant

Exhibit B

This pic was taken last night. That would be me and Nene and KizBoxer, trying to take a pic to show off our sexy swagalicious good looks. Oh and hey! Chair Thrower photobombing like a pro.

Chair Thrower had forewarned me that he’d wear a black shirt for the sole purpose of improving his odds of photobombing me.

#geniustakesallforms #soulofanartist #dammit #ilaughedandsworeoutloudalot


5 types of cereal

I love my boxing crew. And yes, they are still my crew even if I no longer box; I do the weightlifting and conditioning class 2x a week with Coach (re: Dr. Booté and Dr. Booté strikes again) and realistically, it is only a matter of time until I put the gloves back on. My home away from home. My happy place.  Anyhow, my boxing crew likes alcohol. And to party. And to be loud. And to occasionally throw chairs and start fights with scary bikers (I can’t elaborate, I wasn’t there. It remains something of a myth at the gym). Basically, I’ve never been to a party with my boxing peeps that didn’t involve piss-in-your-pants laughter and good times. Last Saturday was one such party.

At the party was a former boxer, who I will call Cereal due to his habit that night of walking up to people and randomly asking them to name 5 types of cereal in 10 seconds – go! (Surprisingly entertaining, as far as gambits go.) Cereal is as Québecois as they come. Think a rougher version of Patrick Huard, from my favorite movie, Bon Cop Bad Cop:

Cereal and I have bumped into each other at the gym for close to 5 years, he even acted as my coach in my corner for one fight, but this was the first time we actually partied together. Cereal is renown for becoming slightly colorful when he drinks, making him a perfect fit with my crew because #chairthrowing y’all. I was prepared to be entertained.

It was after midnight, when well-“hydrated” Cereal explained to the room at large (in loud, beautifully vulgar and vivid Québecois that I will never be able to adequately replicate),

For the longest time, I really didn’t like eating pussy. Wait, no, that’s not true. I was young, tsé, and I thought sex was just about cumming, I didn’t particularly care about the girl, but then I got wiser, and I learned that girls LIKE having their pussy eaten! Yeah, they really like that shit! No, its true! So, I started training for it. No, really. I trained for it. I’m ok with being honest, I’ve got nothing to hide: I wasn’t very good at it. I had to practice and practice. Like boxing! Repetition makes perfect. And I practiced a lot! I’m fucking good at eating pussy, like you wouldn’t believe. And now I tell all the young guys at the gym: eat pussy.

Cereal decided it was only right that he show one of the younger guys in the room some of his tongue techniques, despite Young Dude protesting that really, no, he was quite good with his own skill set. Cereal would not be deterred from his altruistic purpose. He approached Young Dude with intent, and right as he was about to brandish his tongue in Young Dude’s face with impressive bravado, Young Dude yelled at him, “5 types of cereal – go!” Cereal started naming all the cereals he could think of. Young Dude’s face of relief, tho. LOL.

[Now we get to the part of the story that I am less comfortable with my father reading. Hi Pa! Stop reading! Aunts and Uncles, y’all can stop too!]

Cereal approached me, as I was talking to Nene. Man on the prowl. “Vanilla, can I ask you a question?” Of course. “It’s a bit of a confidential question.” That’s cool. Me and Nene, we tight. Anything you want to say to me, you can say in front of Nene. “Yeah, that’s true. Nene is a gentleman, esti! Ok, so here goes. Vanilla, do you like getting your ass eaten? Yeah? You do? On a scale of 1 to 10, Vanilla, how much do you like it? 7.5?! Wow, you like it a LOT.” Nene’s face of comical dismay, as he turned to stare at me, his impression of Vanilla completely shattered, is LOL#2 of the party. [Disclaimer: I did say this part shouldn’t be read by my father. Ok. So Pa, if you are feeling nauseous right now reading this, it’s NOT MY FAULT.]

And now for the coup-de-grâce. “Ok, Vanilla. Here’s my offer. Any time you feel like it, between now and the end of the night, you just ask me, and I will eat your ass so good, you won’t just like it 7.5, no. You’ll like it at least 8. Maybe even 8.5. Oh yeah! You’ll like it THAT much. 8.5! That’s a pretty good number. So any time you like, just let me know. That’s what I am prepared to do for you. And you don’t need to worry, I’ve been single for 3 years, and I’ve been tested for all the STDs, I’m squeaky clean, calisse. So yeah. Let me know if you want me to eat your ass. Offer expires at the end of the night. (sotto voice:) Actually, it expires in 2-3 months, because I am generous like that. Yeah. That will be our little secret. (normal voice:) So, you just think on that, Vanilla.  It’s not every day you get that kind of offer. Think on that real good. I don’t want you making any snap decisions.” Turning to Nene, who listened to this entire exchange with a look of rapt incomprehension, Cereal fist-pumped him, “So tell me, Nene, have you ever heard an approach so sincere, so honest, and so nasty?” Cue LOL #3. Cereal stayed true to his word, and gave me time to think about it. He walked tipsily away, leaving me and Nene in helpless giggles.

I did say piss-in-your-pants laughter, yeah?

P.S. No ass was eaten that night. [Ok Pa! You can start reading again! It’s safe now!]

P.P.S. I am not being a Mean Girl by writing this post. By Monday night, this story had spread all over the gym. I am not sure who got teased more, myself or Cereal. But the general consensus is that, no, no one has ever heard an “approche aussi sincère, honnête et cochonne.”

Dr. Booté strikes again

My dance school is conveniently located on the 2nd floor of the same building as my boxing gym. I sometimes stop by the gym on my way to/from dance to say hi to all my friends. Last night was such a time. I was almost 2 hours late for a social hosted by my school (thats code for a big salsa/kizomba/dancehall dance party that goes from 9pm-3am. It’s like dancing at a club except with none of the disadvantages: less crowded, better music, not a single underage, underdressed shrill teenage girl in sight, no lineups at the bar, the men actually know how to and want to dance, and aren’t there ogle the women). Despite it being close to 11pm, I figured my boxing crew would still be at the gym, as Friday evenings are when the competitive team spars, and then sits in the gym past closing time and drinks 1-3 bottles of vodka and rum. What? Hydration is an important part of any athlete’s regimen. Obvi.

As I walked down the stairway into the gym, I could hear the bursts of Coach and my former teammates laughter. I ran to them, excited, only to be met with a slightly awkard silence. “Oh hi Vanilla. Ummm, we were just talking about you. Well, we were talking about you and your shrinking ass.” Really, we are still stuck on this? “Of course we are still stuck on this. Vanilla, you had the nicest butt in the gym! Boxers would get distracted and forget to keep their guard up. It was perfection. Now… Now it’s nothing special. It’s meh. DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND HOW UPSETTING THIS IS TO ALL OF US GIRLS AND GUYS ALIKE?!!!!” My teammates were staring at me tipsily earnestly, willing me to understand the gravity of the situation. I glanced over at Coach, his eyes were twinkling not-tipsily at the absurdity of the situation.

Here I was, thinking that they’d all be happy to see me, and maybe compliment me on my weightloss & sexy outfit. Nope. Apparently not. What is a sexy outfit where there is lost ass?

In a mild huff, I left them to their booze and went upstairs to dance my ass-grief away. And dance I did, for although there were less men than women present, I was never at a loss for a partner. Hmph. Some men, apparently, either thought I was a phenomenal dancer (which I soon will be, at this rate #modest) or else they found me quite to their taste. Which makes sense since I looked fab. Did I mention #modest?

After an hour and a half of dancing, a dude approached me and started talking to me. I assumed he was trying to flirt, which was acceptable to me because he was taller than me, had good shoulders and a nice smile #standards.

Can I be totally honest with you? You are REALLY fine, like so fine, but you know what would just make you tops? If you had just a bit more ass. No, I’m serious, don’t take this the wrong way, because seriously you are beautiful, and I was watching you dance, you got the moves, but the only thing stopping you from being perfect is your ass. You need just a little bit more.

You know when you have too many thoughts in your head, that your body is incapable of any reaction? I was completely bemused at the statistical unlikelihood of me having the same conversation twice within 2 hours, once with a stranger. Also, I had an overwhelming urge to collapse into giggles which distracted me from my efforts to memorize Stranger’s exact words – it was hard to ignore the bright flashing “BLOG CONTENT THIS IS BLOG CONTENT” sign hanging over us. And throughout all this, I wondered if it was at all possible that he could know Coach; but then my politically correct brain pointed out that just because Stranger was black and Coach is black, that did not provide me with enough reason to assume they knew each other… racial profiling much? Coach does not know EVERY black person in Montreal. (My politically correct brain forgot about this incident, which supports the theory that Coach does in fact know every black person in Montreal.)

Stranger stopped talking, misinterpreting my slack features (caused by my short circuiting brain) as a sign that I was about to lose my shit. He hesitantly asked me, “Wait… you ARE the girl that knows Coach, right?! Oh God, please tell me you train with Coach.” Stranger’s panic mild worry might be my favorite moment in the whole prank. Because prank indeed it was. Coach knew Stranger was going to the same social as I, and convinced him to do this.

dr-boote-prank

And that is why I love Coach Dr. Booté. Only he can produce simultaneous feelings of rage and admiration for a prank well executed.

P.S. Once Stranger was reassured that I wouldn’t murder him, we danced for a couple of songs. Guy’s got the moves.