So damn scared in high school in Surrey, B.C. ? Heck, it had always been a tough time for an underweight teen, especially from grades nine to twelve. Age 15 to 18. 1973 to 1976. Despite practising karate (special thanks to Trevor Walden) and lifting weights, I was still a target for the growth-spurting jocks or their superior numbers. This meant a getting slammed into lockers, books being knocked out of my hands, punched, taunts and getting choked to the point of nearly blacking out. (Who ever heard of getting that kind of treatment in the workplace?)
I roll my eyes when people say that high school was their “best years.”
In 1976, I left high school at age 18, weighing in at 120 pounds (54 kg.) vowing never to be a target again. Over the next four years I packed on 35 pounds (15 kg.)of muscle, ran a full marathon and served with the Canadian Airborne Regiment. In 1980, at age 22, I was on the receiving end of a beating in a drunken brawl. This was my “branching” event, which I vowed never to repeat.
For eight months, I trained hard at kick-boxing. I even hired a hypnotherapist to help me overcome “punch shyness.” My health, relationships and school marks from the BCIT vocational school (electronics) all suffered. But, I did not care.
In June of 1981, at age 24, I got my break. As a last-minute replacement, I went to a match at the PNE gardens in front of over 600 people. Even my coach was shaking with anxiety, while he was taping my hands. Scared.
By the time that I climbed into the kick-boxing ring I was nervous enough as it was. Scared was an understatement. When, out of nowhere, I hear the shout of one the high school bullies (Ron Henneberry, you low-life creep). He screams, “Kill the skinny wimp. Kill the skinny wimp!”
It was not good enough to degrade me during my high school years. The bastard had to, no, needed to keep me down even now.
But, it is show time. The bell rings. Me and the other guy in the ring kind of shuffle forward to meet each other in the center. He nails me with a spinning back fist, which I do not register right away as he is left handed. Then, the game is on and he is on me, pummelling away and forcing me into the ropes.
The crowd is just screaming. Screaming for the excitement of a quick kill or maybe a couple of voices out there rooting for me. I don’t know. I roll with a lopping hook that slides off of my forehead and slam a right gloved fist into his ribs and catch him with a left hook to his head.
He steps back and there we are staring at each other again, panting like steam engines. Because he is standing right side towards me, his left side was wide open. Without a second thought, I unload a right roundhouse kick, that he must have seen coming a mile away. It was dumb move. I never, ever lead with that right roundhouse kick. But, it was all I had at the time.
And he is in too close for my padded foot to make contact with his stomach.Instead, my bony shin chops his ribs. And down he goes. Face forward into the canvas, like he is hugging the floor for safety.
I am so stunned at what just happened, that the referee has to guide me to one of the “neutral corners,” of the ring. As I stand there listening to the screams (and protests?) of the crowd, I am really hoping that he stays down and we can be done with this whole thing.
Nope. He stands up before the “eight count” is complete and I gestured back into the center of the ring.
When the bell rings, I go off, adrenaline fuelled and unload another roundhouse kick with everything behind it. No time to think about tactics or anything else. I cannot let him recover. I am scared that he will come back at me stronger and angrier.
But, like a replay, he folds over again. Kind of like lying on the mat is a safe place to be.
It seems like slow motion as he folds over and his knees start to bend, when swing my leg around and kick him again. This time to his head, which, even with the headgear, sends him spinning to the ground. This time, he stays down for the full 10 seconds.
I think it is a no-brainer for the judges as the referee raises my arm as the winner and the roar goes up from the crowd and for a few seconds, I literally feel d-r-u-n-k with the praise, victory, approval, extra adrenaline, I still don’t know. I just know that after that, it felt good to be a winner.
Over the next few years, I compete in kick-boxing around the country and Hong Kong and, being a young man in my twenties, I did occasionally deal with some unruly people. It was not about the trophies, reputation or what other people thought. But, internally, there was less the fear of getting hurt, or much worse, public embarrassment. That was the big scare: public put downs. This realisation served me well, when I had to make presentations, face down some very angry people (like Serbian villagers packing AK47 automatic rifles) and even asking for a date (which is scarier than looking down the wrong end of an automatic rifle) . The fear never leaves. But, I recognise and handle it best I can.
All due to that beating and a vow. It was that point where I made the commitment to do the work to win. Without that commitment, I might still wallow in scared self-doubt.
So, reader, what does it take to make your own commitment? At what point do you have to take a beating to face your own fear?
Coach Doug, author of Flat Gut After 50