My body begins to vibrate as my muscles grip to my bones in desperation.
“Ninety seconds,” calls the coach.
I begin to analyse the feeling – and the instinct to avoid pain kicks in.
My thoughts begin to seek ways to rationalize giving up.
I think about how my bodies alignment could be incorrect and so I could be hurting myself – and the pain reassures me that it is alright to just give in.
I think about how I’ve already made it halfway through – and I tell myself that ninety seconds is a long time to hold a plank.
A shudder runs up through my core – and I gasp.
It would be easy to give in – and my mind begins to obsesses with easiness as the tension becomes stronger – It is the minds instinct to seek the path of least resistance.
My fingers go white as I squeeze them too hard – and my knees begin to bend towards the floor. The coach smiles at me with a glint of sadism in his eye and says: “Sixty seconds”.
I can no longer continue battling – and my posture caves to the floor. The coach glares at me and walks forward – anxiety rushes through my body as I feel he is going to shame me for submitting.
He stops at the bald guy in front of me who is is holding the plank with a zen-like expression and says to me: “Watch”.
The coach begins to kick the guy in the stomach repeatedly.
He doesn’t even flinch.
The only reaction I see is that he re-adjust’s his balance each time the kicking twists his hips out of alignment. My mind begins to imagine how painful that must be – but he makes it look easy.
This brutality continues for forty five more seconds until the buzzer sounds.
The whole floor rustles as those around me flop down in relief – but this guy who had just been getting kicked slowly pushes his weight to his knees and stands up. The coach shakes his hand while laughing at him in a good natured way – while calling him an animal.
This guy then turns in my direction and I see a big pink blotch on his stomach where the foot contacted the skin.
The coach calls me over.
“Ask him about how he does it,” says the coach walking away to have a word with some of his other fighters.
I look at this guy and judge that he is about my height and my age – Only he is bald and skinny. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wearing anything apart from his decorative Maui Thai shorts.
He reminds me of a religious devotee. I say: “How do you hold that plank so easily?”
“What do you find so difficult about it?” He replies.
My mind conjures up the feeling of stress and tension – it feels like flames on my body.
“I get overwhelmed,” I say, “and I can’t help but give in.”
“What are you giving in to?”
I think about how the tension makes my mind panic – I tell him: “I give in to the feeling – it is like hell – it makes my mind become louder – you know what I mean? It makes me just want it to end”.
The guy smiles warmly catching me out – I guess I expected something unhuman from him, but then again – my flaw may be in thinking that less than his level of toughness is what we should demand of humanity. He explains: “When the feeling comes – the tension – I have trained my mind to accept that there is no escape”.
“I don’t understand,” I say.
“I struggled with things like this when I started out as well brother – my excuse was that my muscles were not strong enough yet,” he says. “But when the pain came – I would always cave.”
He fidgets with his hand wrap – which had begun to unravel – while continuing: “It was only when I understood that my mind was what was failing – not my body – did it become easy.”
“I don’t know what you consider easy about getting kicked in the stomach,” I say trying to stoke a laugh.
He grins and but suddenly changes his expression into seriousness: “It’s about presence.”
“Yes,” he says. “When you are there – in the pain – in the moment – your mind begins to wander off and imagine comfort and relief – It is looking for a way to escape the feeling. I just tell my mind to be present with what is happening – to forget about a way out – that actually makes it easier.”
I get an eerie feeling that he truly is a religious devotee – a disciple to pain – who worships pure masochism. My curiosity gets the better of me and I ask: “Why do you put yourself through it?”
His face lights up with so much sincerity that I almost think I offended him. He riffs: “That is what it takes to become the best. When we begin we are a rough diamond – pain is the thing that shapes us – you grow when you overcome pain.”
He grips his fist with vigor while stating his conclusion: “It’s the weakness in you that wants to avoid pain – your greatness is the part of you that seeks it.”
A flame of inspiration burns in me – and I feel I could hold a plank for an hour straight.
The coach walks over towards us and slaps his hands on both our backs and says: “Well men, now that you’ve been acquainted – it’s time to move on with the training – we are going to do some sparring.”
He squeezes my shoulder: “We’ll start with you two.”
I glance at the other guy and notice that he’s grinning.
He tells me: “Time to put the theory into practice.”