After taking a three-week hiatus from working out, I finally went through enough lamaze-like breathing exercises to pack my work out bag. I can’t remember how many excuses got me to the three-week break from breaking a sweat. I just knew between holiday cookies and booze; I was in for a rough go at it.
I don’t go to a regular gym. I think I’ve opened and closed two or three gym memberships since the kids were born. Watching Joe Jabroni lift the equivalent of a Ford Jetta, while his girlfriend takes snapshots for the Instagram, does things for my self-confidence I only thought getting laughed at in bed would do. I want to be in moderately good shape, but also wear a nice layer of dadbod for the cold winters. Instead of a regular gym, I do martial arts.
Okay, I am not the karate kid. I do Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. It’s nice because I get all the perks of working out. The sweating. The soreness. A false sense of bravado. I also get to choke, and punch and kick, things. I work in retail. 95% of my day is spent wanting to choke and punch things.
Last July, I helped put a fence up at G-ma and Abuelo’s house. The idea of having a fenced in area for the kids to spend their childhood making memories appealed to my fatherly sensitivities. Like most Americans, I had a complete lack of understanding as to what goes into actually building a fence. But, swelling with pride, or maybe ignorance, I set off to build a fence. Eight miserable hours later, my body screamed at me for years of negligence. The next few days were spent trying to walk using only skeletal structure without bending any joints or accidentally flexing sore muscles.
By some grace of Bruce Lee or God or whatever higher power you subscribe to, that weekend was kid, and work, free. The wife and I took full advantage of beautiful weather and set out to spend time together. At a local event, we ran into a representative of a local martial arts academy. It was a lot like the all the other vendors set up along Main Street that day. A booth filled with free trial stuff and things with the martial arts academy logo on it. I am the type of person to hit up every vendor to see how much of the stuff on their table they are willing to part with.
(Dramatic reenactment of me at every table we stopped at that day.)
“I like this rock here on the table is it free?”
“That’s to hold the papers so the wind doesn’t blow it away.”
“So can I have it?”
We grabbed our free things, stuffed them in our free bag, and promised to see the representative that Monday. We also had plans to see a gutter company, a consignment agency, and I think a local farm to milk cows on Monday. Whatever, just give me my free things.
The day wore on, I mostly forgot about all the promises I made. For some reason, the idea of roundhouse kicking my way through the grocery store excited me. Being sore from building the fence, poking my pudgy belly as it hung over my jeans, I decided to at least try out a class at the martial arts academy.
Can I just say, punching things is a really great stress reliever? Like, punch your problems away and, kick em’ in the face! Showing up for that Muay Thai class Monday turned into one of the best decisions of 2017. Aside from the enjoyment of extolling violence on a heavy bag, there were other benefits. It helped balance my moods out. Gave me energy. Helped my marriage. Having this thing my wife and I did together a few times a week really strengthened our bond as we looked like two hyper kids in the grocery store trying to kick the box of Lucky Charms off the third shelf. Shadow boxing our way past the two-ply toilet paper looking like the mentally deranged power couple goals of the year. A month into Muay Thai, I added Jiu Jitsu.
As I showed my wife how to put a triangle choke on a fifty pound bag of dog food, I realized with looking good, I began starting to feel good. Aside from randomly attacking inanimate objects, I started feeling like I was in a really secure place. My depression and anxiety felt under control. My wife and I were doing really well. My life felt a crane kick away from perfection.
Then, December hit. Holiday in retail hell. The long hours at work and little nagging injuries had me take off more practices than I would have liked. Next thing I knew, winter break came and went. I hadn’t worked out in three weeks and my moods were all over the place. The sadness seeped back in as I poked at my ever-expanding belly. In short; I began to self-loathe and it sucked.
After a three-week hiatus, I trudged into the martial arts academy. Sliding my shoes off, wrapping my Gi around my body and tying the belt, I placed my bare feet on the mat and instantly felt this sense of relief. As my partner and I worked through various chokes, the rust of nearly a month off melted away. Later, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, I hit and kicked the bag with the pent-up peaks and valleys of the past few weeks. My shins hurt as I cracked the bag with kicks. It felt amazing. As my wife and I traipsed through the grocery store fighting invisible ninjas in the bread aisle, I remembered why I kept going after that one Monday in July.
It wasn’t just an enjoyment of punching, kicking, and choking things. It’s because, as my feet touched the mat and I caught up with the people in my class, a sense of home washed over me. As I checked out my hot wife working over the heavy bag next to me, I remembered how important this time together was.
There’s a sense of welcoming in Gabriele’s Martial Arts Academy. It’s something you can’t get at a gym. When we joined in July, we didn’t join a fitness plan. There’s a family feel to the place. Over the months, getting to know the instructors has been just as amazing as the Muay Thai combos. It’s a Jabroni-free zone.
I can’t say enough good things about Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu, or the martial academy my wife and I go to after a chance encounter in July. Martial arts? More like marital arts, amirite? *Finger guns* It’s important to find things that make you feel good and are good for you. If you want to better yourself, you have to surround yourself with good people invested in being better themselves.
While I don’t think physical activity is necessarily a ‘cure’ for things such as depression and anxiety, I strongly believe in it’s ability to make them more bearable or manageable. There are many things you can do in an attempt to find balance within your mental health. For me, with martial arts, it goes beyond the physical activity. I need the sense of inclusion that comes from where I work out at. With my brain constantly telling me I don’t belong, I need the people who surround me and lift me up. The philosophy and mindset of a place like Gabriele’s. To simplify those types of things doesn’t do them justice nor would it help someone understand the scope of which is needed to be grasped. At the tip of the iceberg, it is all very simple. I go work out with a group of people. We push ourselves and one another through difficult physical moments. I take and apply that level of determination to other aspects of my life, making everything more manageable for me. I don’t think it is ever really about finding a cure when it comes to mental health. The peals and valleys will always be there. For me, it’s about being stuck in the valley and having the determination to continue climbing. Moving forward. I am thankful to have found something in martial arts and the academy I train at. I am working out and working on myself. Gaining the right coping skills necessary to live with my own anxiety and depression.