I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. Henry David Thoreau
Anyone who has spent a lot of time in fight gyms will recognize their familiar smell: of stale sweat, wet leather and something vaguely reminiscent of urine, (the imported leather, which finds its way into a lot of training gear, is treated with cow urine overseas.) Although it’s not a pleasant smell, it lends credibility. If a gym has been open for a while and doesn’t have the smell, it is hard to take it seriously. It is the smell of strain and physical effort.
I am reminded of it when I enter the 5,600 square foot gym of powerhouse fight team American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. The place looks well used, and the people inside are serious and hardworking. It is immediately obvious that place is hardcore. The gym is divided into four parts, with a boxing ring in front next to a space for cardio classes and punching bags and Jiu-Jitsu mats in back. Often, there are three classes going on at the same time at AKA. It can get crowded, so the gym closes to the public from one to four, so that the pros can work out privately.
When I arrive, I notice twenty or so professional fighters gathered in the back on the Jiu-Jitsu mats, underneath a giant American flag hanging on the wall. Head coach Javier Mendez has called a team meeting to discuss something very important. He is a little pissed off, and speaks in a stern and authoritative voice.
“If you don’t have concern for the other people in this room, there is no place for you on this team.” His eyes move around the space, making eye contact with each member of his American Kickboxing Academy. Many of the guys in the room are new to the game, struggling to make it, holding onto day jobs as well as training. Others are on their way to being millionaires from their involvement with MMA. He punches the next part to make sure he gets the point across “Whoever you are.” There is no favoritism in this room.
The meeting has been called because one of the newer guys was supposed to get checked out for staph, but didn’t show up for his doctor’s appointment even though Javier had offered to pay for it. This puts the whole team at risk. Many of them have big money fights coming up, so Mendez wants to get the message out loud and clear. He will not tolerate anyone endangering the wellbeing and livelihood of their teammates. A few of the stars are not present because they are between fights: John Fitch, Mike Swick, and Cain Velasquez. But other than that, the room is packed.
Phil Baroni stands up and announces brazenly, “If you’re not in the UFC or haven’t fought in PRIDE, I don’t want to hear from you.” He is promptly heckled and jeered by other members of the team, and sits down as anyone who wants to add his two cents does so for the next twenty minutes. There is a tough and unmistakable sense of fraternity at AKA.Continue reading “Dreams and the Proper Distance : First Published in FIGHT! Magazine 2008”