Tuesday, 8:15 p.m.: Holy rust nails, Batman, that drop of sweat on the tile below me just rolled off the tip of my nose. I’m holding myself parallel to the ground in a push-up position while Anders is shouting “Don’t give up!” Frankly, I feel I’ve gotten all the workout I need just from the warm-up, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way out of this…
Standing below one of the imposing halls in Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Park, Anders split the group into beginners and non-beginners, sending Colin to the adjacent stairs to run stadiums and keeping me and the rest of the beginners to drill basic kickboxing moves.
After not too long, the groups switched and I was the unfortunate soul running and hopping up and down a flight of stairs. A strong breeze swept through the plaza, making the whole thing more bearable. A jog took us to another set of stairs, teeming with people just released from a show.
“OK, we’re going to run a relay. Run up these stairs—don’t hit anyone—and touch that Benz [a win-this-car Mercedes Benz on the top landing] up there. And… Valerie’s going to go first.”
Thinking this was a hazing and the car alarm would probably go off the minute I touched it, I took off up the stairs, dodging lingering groups of Taiwanese. So what? I’ll be the kid too crazy or stupid or brave to just pretend to touch it. I held my breath and lightly touched the front bumper—nothing. Then I turned back to see my group retreating to our meeting spot, sans one kind girl who had waited for me—“If it hadn’t been you, it would have been me, and I would have been pissed. Let’s run past them and flip them off!”
With the beginners and non-beginners reunited, the next exercise had five people holding body pads, five people round-house kicking these body pads back and forth across a twenty-yard area, and the rest of the group doing jumping jacks or push-ups or squats until a pad opened up. I was eager to try, but watched a few rounds go before I jumped up to kick with Ken (Ken, who had shamed me just before the workout by remembering my name while I forgot his. Ken, who is Taiwanese but was raised in Oklahoma. Ken.). How fun! And then—phew—how tiring. But I went for two rounds with some squats in between, and then finally Anders called a break. We finished with an abs work-out (from which, three days later, I am still sore), and then Anders and a few beginners went upstairs to where the non-beginners were sparring.
Colin was sparring the co-instructor, Will, who cackled to me that Colin was playing too nice. Colin was also playing with only his left eye, having had some contact issues in the other.
I watched as Anders sparred Najima, an English teacher from Arizona who had been a lounge singer in another life, who had only been to one class before. She could barely keep her guards up for all that she was giggling about, but Anders of course went easy. I figured I could probably do better, and after Colin took a round with Anders, I put on the putrid, bacteria-ridden, falling-apart gloves.
“Hit me, hit me, hit me! Guards up!” Anders coached as I flailed at him with all the aggression I had left after the two-hour workout. He hit back, but easy, and then landed one kick on my side between two ribs. It felt as though I’d been hit in the nose and had the wind knocked out of me at once—though it hadn’t been too hard of a kick. I gasped for air and my eyes involuntarily teared up.
“Alright, you OK? Let’s go twenty more seconds.”
Anders let me hit him for the rest of the round, then called it. “You’ve got a tough girlfriend,” he said to Colin, who was untying my gloves. He apologized a few times, and encouraged us to come back on Thursday. The handful remaining at the top of the steps said goodnight and dispersed, and Colin and I caught the MRT with Najima, who saved us from talking the whole ride home.