INSIDE OUT: A Strange, New Place

By FLG

I arrived in Taiwan and was punched with the heat.

My relatives picked me up from the airport in Kaohsiung. They were very skeptical of me - they saw me as a failure and believed I was bringing them misfortune. They didn’t think I would last more than a few weeks in Taiwan. But, I really love proving people wrong. My relatives did help me find a job teaching English on the beach three hours away in a place called Henchun. They were happy to be rid of me, and I was happy to be on my own. It was a mutual parting.

I worked for a crazy lady named “Melody” who hired me because she was super pregnant and needed someone to teach English to elementary and high school kids. Melody was such an unusual character. She chose Melody as her English name because she liked to prance around singing and playing guitar. But, on my first day, she gave me a megaphone and two beating sticks with little hands on the ends. I was coming from a place where you would get fired or go to jail for smacking a kid. This was all a bit of a shock for me.

The beating stick.

The beating stick.

One day, when I was teaching, Melody noticed a little boy at the back not paying attention. Suddenly, she turned into an Olympic athlete; she hurdled over the desk and coordinated an amazing stick slap to the head of that little boy. I was shocked, amused, and also sad for the boy...but they were used to it. Maybe it was all these stick strikes that drew me to arnis.

When I would help prepare food for the children during my lunch break, Melody asked me not to use too much peanut butter because the children would get fat. I once watched as she called two little boys into her office and ordered them to hand over their little lunch bag treats. She then scarfed the treats down in front of them. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

Melody would guilt me into doing extra chores like cooking, cleaning, and handing out flyers because her feet hurt, her back hurt, her head hurt - there was always something. I soon found Melody’s presence suffocating - it felt like she wanted to keep me there forever. She would park her car outside of my apartment every night to see if I was home. She kept close relations with my relatives in Kaohsiung to assert her presence in my life - she wanted them to believe she was saving me, and that I should stay with her for a long time. This was a secluded area and finding another “foreigner” to do the jobs she needed would be very difficult. I felt trapped.

*

A view from FLG’s apartment in Henchun.

A view from FLG’s apartment in Henchun.

I had a lot of free time on my hands so I biked a lot, ran, hiked, and explored. I remember running up a hill once and running into a water buffalo. Sometimes rabid hungry stray dogs would bite at my heels. I’d run past fish farms, people frying fish, and people selling fish. Lots of fish. I enjoyed the beach at night because I was alone and I liked to swim. The Taiwanese believe that ghosts roam the beach at night. I would swim far into the ocean under the moon. One time I reached my arm back over my head and it felt like I had grabbed a skull. I did not go swimming at night after that.

Weighing fish at the fish market.

Weighing fish at the fish market.

At the beach.

At the beach.

I used Internet cafes to connect to the outside world. I discovered a gym in Kaohsiung called “The Forge.” It was a gutted apartment building with judo mats. It was there that I met my Muay Thai coach.

On the first day of training, people looked at me like I was crazy because of how intensely I would push myself. I had been taught to focus half of my workout on conditioning, but the people at this gym hardly did anything other than fighting drills. There was also a Filipino guy teaching stick fighting (arnis), which intrigued me. I was completely mesmerized by the movements. I could imagine myself decapitating my enemies with a sword.

After class was over, everyone sat around and conversed, which was not what I was used to. They were so curious about me. This community driven gym culture was totally new to me. In Canada, no one cared about you unless there was something in it for them - training is done, go home. In Taiwan, people brought you drinks, asked if you were happy, and always wanted to eat together afterwards.

Arnis seminar.

Arnis seminar.

Every weekend, I would bus 3.5 hours to my gym in Kaohsiung and 3.5 hours back because this was the kind of environment I wanted to be in. I really had nothing left to do in Henchun. I had completely rehabilitated myself and hadn’t touched any drugs. I still smoked like a chimney though. I decided it was time to move to Kaohsiung.

*

A few friends helped me find a two-storey apartment in a busy shopping district. One of my neighbours was a lady who paced up and down our walkway in the late morning moving no faster than a snail. Another neighbor had a tiny dog caged beside his outdoor toilet. I turned the first floor of my apartment into a school where two evenings a week, I would teach an adult English class. To supplement my income, I taught music while also teaching at elementary and cram schools during the day.

I was on the move all day and didn’t take my shoes off until midnight every night. I had to have my place fumigated twice because of cockroaches. I was sleeping inside of the gym in the winter time, freezing my butt off. At this point my Mandarin was strong enough so that when I visited my relatives I could understand what they were saying. I knew they were spewing insults about me and so, despite all the hardship, I knew I would rather suffer alone than stay with people who didn’t respect me. It gave me the motivation to keep going.

Training at The Forge.

Training at The Forge.

Around that time, my coach convinced me it was time to fight. He wanted to showcase Muay Thai in Taiwan because it was new and he was the only one teaching it. He decided to match me against the National Taiwanese Sanda Champion, Peyleen. I was excited; I wanted badly to fight and advance my skills.

In order to fight, I had to lose 15 pounds in a month to match her weight.

I then had my first experience with a personal trainer. He told me to meet him first thing in the morning with two sets of clothes and an empty stomach. I was excited to train. He tortured me on the treadmill for a long time until I was completely drenched in sweat. Thank God for the extra clothes. After that, he destroyed my chest, shoulders, and abs in the weight room. Then, he told me I must train this way and only eat one sandwich a day to lose the weight rapidly. The thought of being “overweight” on fight day motivated me to do what he said and then some. I lost 13 pounds.

*

On the day of the fight, I was still a bit heavier than my opponent, but they let us fight anyways. My coach thought I would knock her out without preparing me at all! I had hardly even sparred anyone! All I had done was run and hit pads. In my mind, I thought anyone who I faced off with would end up in the hospital! HA! I learned quickly that this wasn’t the school yard or the street. This was a ring. This was a sport.

Low kick to Peyleen.

Low kick to Peyleen.

Although Peyleen was shorter and smaller than me, she was very experienced. She was smiling at me in her corner. I looked at her thinking, ‘awww, look how cute she is!’ When the bell rang Peyleen tried to take my head off. I had the reflexes to avoid her initial barrage of punches. I quickly realized that my boxing skills sucked, so I kept her away with a lot of low kicks to her thigh. When she got in range to throw punches, I grabbed the back of her head and threw a lot of knees which ultimately got me the win. This was physically the the most exhausting thing I had experienced in my life. The fatigue is some next level ship!

After that fight, I became all the more obsessed with training. I thought - this is something I can do that people will respect and value. I pushed my body to its limit every training session. I ran in the mornings until my legs were wobbly. I followed a strict diet. I weighed myself every morning. I tracked all my runs. I had no time to socialize; I only had time to train.

This is PART II of INSIDE OUT - a blog series about FLG’s fighting memories. Check out our Instagram and stay tuned for the next installment!

Don't treat me equally; treat me fairly.

By Coach EL

I was on my way to a downtown gym to attend a Level One boxing coach course with the National Canadian Coaches Program (NCCP) and I couldn’t help but wonder how I would be received in such an environment. I mean, let’s be real. It’s not very common to find a fully veiled Muslim woman in a co-ed boxing coach course.

I walked into the gym, and as expected, I got the odd stares and curious looks as if to say, “what’s she doing here?” It was almost amusing to see some of their facial expressions. We sat down, introduced ourselves, and the course began.

As the course proceeded, we were put into groups and each assigned a portion of the material from the course text to present; I was given the section on the code of ethics. I found it interesting and also quite ironic that the one to speak about ethics was the Muslim woman who looked different from everyone else. Stereotypically, I’m supposed to be the oppressed one, the one with the backward mentality dressing the way I do, covering from head to toe - including my face - and there I was, expected to present in front of a predominantly male audience about the sport code of ethics. When I looked at the pages and skimmed over the material, one of the points stood out to me. It read:

 

Respect - ensure that everyone is treated equally, regardless of athletic potential, race, sex, language, religion, or age.

 

I paused for a second. The use of the word ‘equally’ didn’t seem to sit well with me. It implied that people be treated the same, but is that what we really want? It is true that men and women are created equally in the eyes of Allah. Allah tells us:

«And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer - those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed» (Surah an-Nisa 4:124).

 

He also tells us:

Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so - for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. (Surah al-Ahzab 33:35)

 

We are equal in our pursuit of knowledge and education; in our servitude to Allah and our rights that we have over one another. My issue of contention, however, was with the physical aspect. We are equal in many things, but as far as physiology is concerned, we are not equal at all. Biologically, we each serve a purpose and we have different roles. We were created differently for a reason and to be treated the same would be an injustice.

We see the recognition of these differences in competitive sports where athletes are usually categorized by gender and weight. Very seldom will you find men and women competing against each other and this categorization happens for a reason. Generally, male skeletal structures are larger and thicker than that of a female. Research and scientific studies have shown that joints and bone density differ between the genders and this leads to differences in their mechanical functions. Similarly, muscle size and type will be apparent between the male and the female. A man’s wrist, for example, will be bigger and thicker. His punch will generally be stronger and will cause more impact. For this reason, we don’t see men and women compete against each other and if they were to do so, it would be dangerous and unjust.

Now, translate this into the world of boxing, a traditionally male dominated sport. It wasn’t until the 1990s where women really started coming to the forefront. Even then, women weren’t matched up against men. Boxing bouts are very gender specific and make careful considerations for a competitor’s weight, height and reach.

I don’t doubt that there are women out there who have the skill set to outdo a fellow male athlete. Sure, there are women that can beat men and vice versa. It’s not uncommon to see athletes use the opposite gender as training partners. However, no matter how much she can match up to a man, the fact remains that she is still a woman and she should be treated and respected as such. Her skills and abilities should be acknowledged but the differences in physiology should also be recognized. If a man and a woman were to start sparring with one another, his punches could potentially knock her out and cause a concussion. She needs to be given what she’s able to handle. And if anyone is ever in doubt, simply ask her. She would know better than anyone else how hard of a punch she’s able to handle.

With science aside and from a very personal perspective, I don’t expect to be treated equally, but rather I expect to be treated fairly. This implies that I am treated according to my individual needs and circumstances. I am Muslim and since my conversion to Islam, I started wearing hijaab and  stopped shaking hands with non mahram men. This is just the way I’ve chosen to practice my Islam. I don’t usually train with my hijaab on and when I do take it off, I make sure I’m in an all female environment.  It can’t be assumed that I’ll be shaking hands with men and hugging everyone after a great workout session. That’s just not me. So, in an environment like this NCCP course where everyone else was not Muslim, I wanted them to understand that while I understood the intent behind this ethics code of equal treatment, I had a different perspective and I wanted to shed light on this. I’m 4’9” and I don’t want to walk into a sparring session and go up against someone twice my size. Add to that, I definitely don’t want to be going up against a guy, oh my!

I shared my sentiments with the other coaches taking the course. It seemed to have resonated with many of them and as I concluded, I watched a few of them nodding their heads in agreement. I also appreciate that the facilitator found my point intriguing and thought-provoking enough to want to speak about it in future courses.  So, don’t treat me equally; treat me fairly - like the lady I am.

Get Ready to Sweat! How to Prepare for your Sister Fit Class

By Coach FLG

Welcome to the Sister Fit Blog! You can expect to learn more about Sister Fit coaches, our awesome students, tips on nutrition, delicious recipes, opinions about everything health and fitness, and of course...rants!

Speaking of rants, please allow me to break the ice with the first rant of the season.

As Head Coach of Sister Fit, I spend a large portion of my time “in the trenches” getting to know our students while I manage and teach several classes. I’ve learned a lot through teaching and while I’ve experienced the joys of working with my students, I’ve also experienced the challenge of informing habits of self respect and responsibility.

Photo by  Thao Le Hoang  on  Unsplash

I remember going to martial arts classes at a very young age. I was enrolled in traditional martial arts from the age of five until I was twelve. My memories of these classes are punctuated with the strictest rules of discipline. If I didn’t arrive to class in my uniform, or was inappropriately dressed, I was unable to participate. Our school went through a phase where if another student was late, we had to run up and down the staircase until they arrived. Sometimes the “late” student never showed up, so we ran the stairs the whole time. Not to worry, it was only a three hour class!

I have tons of tales to tell from those days, but I chose to ditch this old-school mentality of discipline and shame. Though it did yield results, there was a heavy personal price to pay (more stories for another time) and I knew that when I started Sister Fit, I wanted the experience to be one of positivity as well as self respect, discipline, and an adherence to high standards.  

At Sister Fit, we are flexible and compassionate, but we have high standards and expectations for our students. We believe in the value of our programs but they can’t be rendered to their full potential if only one side of the burner is on. One easy way to get into the correct mindset is to look the part. Looking the part is playing the part. The way you present yourself in class will influence your personal motivation and ours too.

Success doesn’t begin once you step into class; it begins the night before with the preparation you take to mentally and physically prepare for class. So with that in mind, here are a few rant-infused rules for proper preparation for a successful class experience:

Wear gym clothes and pack an extra set of clothes to change into after class.

If you’re a parent, consider what your kids are wearing and how it will impact their learning and performance. Are they wearing their favourite jeans? A nice dress with lovely shoes because they have to see grandma right after class? You’d be surprised how many times this has happened. It’s also a common habit among teens! To put it simply, jeans, everyday clothing, or formal clothing are not appropriate choices for a fitness and martial arts class.

What to wear: your Sister Fit uniform, sweat pants, or yoga pants, and running shoes.

Value the time you’ve allotted for yourself or your child to engage fully in physical activity. Leave that sparkly, sequined shirt and new jeans for another occasion!  

Arrive to class in freshly laundered gym clothes.

When we only have class once or twice a week, I expect my students to have their uniforms washed and ready to be worn in class. It never feels great to put on gym clothes that have been balled up in a gym bag just stewing in sweat and darkness for a week! Don’t put yourself and your classmates through the displeasure of stinky gym clothes. Respect yourself and your classmates and show up smelling fresh!

Pay attention to personal hygiene

It’s natural to sweat up a storm when you’re working hard in class. Prevent unpleasant odours from becoming overpowering. Consider what 20 or more bodies of high-energy, dripping sweat can smell like - it’s quite the experience! For your own sake, and to prevent your classmates from fainting from the strength of your aroma, apply deodorant or antiperspirant before arriving to class. Pack a small towel so you can wipe down during breaks and after class. Taking care of your hygiene is a respect you owe to your body and to those around you. Take pride in yourself!

Photo by  Icons8 team  on  Unsplash

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

Hydrate during breaks

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

This one is fairly simple. Come prepared with a filled water bottle to hydrate yourself during breaks. Take advantage of short breaks by giving your body what it needs - take a few sips of water, and get yourself mentally ready for the next round of activity. It might be tempting to catch up with a friend during your break, but save the really long, captivating chat sessions for after class!

So ladies, come dressed appropriately, bring water, wear deodorant, ask questions, and want more.

See you in class!