Friday, July 24, 2009

Slow Guidance

“GSP!!! GSP!!! GSP!!!!” Fans pumped on energy drinks and cheap liquor and watery beers and bright lights and the collective energy of thousands chanted in the sports arena. Guys in T-shirts gave the “rock-on!” sign with their hands and young painted women looked seductively into the passing video camera and I just had to wonder if they really enjoyed watching two men fight each other or if they came as the good-looking companion for their boyfriends and husbands and perhaps to make sure they didn’t get into too much trouble. The scene was drenched in the aroma of adrenaline and manly sweat and sweet intoxicated breath. It was loud and it had all the ingredients for smaller fights to occur in the stands and for sexual aggression against the outnumbered women. It could happen, if this were a country where people wandered over the edge and gave in to their most savage tendencies in a collective burst of action. But this was not that kind of place, not in the sanctioned sports center of Nevada. They would all end up watching the fight with enthusiasm and they would shout and chant and in the end, after it was all finalized by a couple of judges, they would drown the rest of their sparkling energy in another cold beer and maybe, if they had any left, they would spill it into the open legs of their woman if they happened to have one or maybe a prostitute if they didn’t.
“GSP!!! GSP!!! GSP!!!!” The octagonal stage was the center of a stadium-like space, it was the epicenter surrounded on all sides by black chain link fence that had a black mat-like padding at the very top edge. Two fighters paced around the ring, a referee ran back and forth, monitoring their punches and kicks, looking at their hands to see if they were grabbing the opponent’s shorts, or was it the fence? He ran around them, moving constantly in a tension between being close enough to see every detail of their engagement but light enough to get out of the way should they move positions and come tumbling towards him. Watching at home, it was easy to forget that there were many cameramen surrounding them as well, capturing it all, every twist and punch, close enough so it felt like we were there, just inches away from all the sweat and blood and taut skin that struggled to either make contact or avoid the blows.
A bell went off, indicating the end of round two. “The Pit Bull” was bloody; the area below his nose was covered in smears of red and one of his eyes was starting to swell. He went back to his corner and sat down on the small stool while one of his trainers propped his legs up and shook them slightly. His team was next to him, one of them was yelling loudly about what moves he needed to come out with in the next round. Matching the pitch of the cheering crowds, the trainer gave him advice, but the fighter stared straight ahead, looking into the distance, perhaps seeing a blur of lights and shapes that bent and twisted in the corners of his eyes. The fighter nodded, but could he hear the voices or were they like the buzzing of flies that he had somehow gotten used to?
On the other side of the octagon was GSP and his trainer. His trainer was kneeling almost in front of him but slightly towards the right. “Okay, breathe, breathe…are you with me? Come back to me. Do you hear me?” The fighter looked at him and nodded. “Okay, we need to calm your breathing, can you do that?” The fighter nodded. The trainer spoke to him with the voice one would use with a little child, a child that had just made a pretty drawing, not the full grown muscular man that had just spent the last ten minutes punching and kicking and submitting an opponent that was 30 pounds heavier than him. “You did very good in that round, I’m so proud of you.” He said it like many parents have spoken to their children, he spoke slowly, deliberately, saying only what was completely necessary. There was a second trainer on the other side of GSP, this man had not said anything, but he kept his arm moving up and down vertically and very slowly, indicating with his slow hand the way GSP should calm and move his breath. In the excitement of cheering fans and multicolored spot lights darting across the audience and the noise of thousands of people talking excitedly, among this noise and energy, the trainer was able to cut straight through the static and chaos and reach into the heightened state of GSP to communicate with him directly. He used tone, gesture and careful words to communicate what he needed. With this gentle touch, the trainer was able to calm his fighter down, to bring him back to a space where words made sense and directions could be understood.
On the other side of the ring, another tired and heightened fighter sat, many words were shouted in his direction, words that contained instructions and advice, but could he hear it through all the noise and energy that was going through him like electrical sparks? Did they make sure he heard them or did they just keep sending out words to mix with the countless other shadows in the stadium?
When travelling through a tunnel of lights and sounds and sparks, it is slowness that will guide us in the right direction. It is slowness that we can hear, slowness that can be perceived as different among the shooting stars and bolts of static. Slowness is necessary. Giving directions is good, but to complete the circle, for the advice to be effective and useful, the directions must be understood and followed through. In the basic raw state of the animal, it is slowness that we can understand. It is tone. It is clarity.
The round was about to begin, “Okay, when you get out there, I want you to jab and move… what are you going to do?” “Jab and move,” replied GSP, looking directly into his trainer’s eyes.

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