POSTCARD FROM A JAPANESE BOXING GYM
by Jason Emde
Joe joined my gym when he started third grade so I pick him up after work and we bike over to Gifu Yokozeki Boxing Gym, companionable, Joe chatterboxing the whole way and throughout each session, Dada, Dada, his lungs propelling his eight-year-old voice, small, high, curious, into the ambient soundscape that includes whirring jump rope thwacks, heavy bag thuds, the quick rattling smack of the speed bag, the start and stop of the three minute timer, general shufflings and cracks and grunts, somebody yelling with every punch, somebody’s ragged panting breathing, my own. And because Yokozeki-san puts it on when Joe and I arrive there’s also the Beatles radio channel: Getting Better, I’m So Tired, Joe singing along to Strawberry Fields Forever.
Usually: warm-up stretches, jump rope, shadow boxing, mitt practice with one of the trainers, heavy bag, weights, that roller wheel thingamabob, cool-down stretches. Sixty to ninety minutes.
Joe uses a stool so he can reach the speed bag. I can hear his faltering, patient practice over the sounds of Ruito and Nozomu whaling on each other in the ring.
When you’re finished with heavy bag work you mop up your sweat with one of the yellow mops provided for that purpose. It’s customary to mop up everybody’s sweat, whether they’re finished or not, when you mop up your own. Joe sometimes forgets this.
My mother had asthma, and recently I’ve felt a tightening in my chest. Try and remember to relax with the breath. Leave the breath alone.
The unlikeables I imagine while I belabor the heavy bag: the janitor at the school where I work and his incessant hissing, the teacher who grunts all day long, various enemies and rivals from my near and distant pasts. Joe has his enemies too: mockers on the dodgeball field, unkind classmates, the fifth grade kid who kicked him in the balls.
Jogging with my father, a long time ago. Legs and lungs working. Proud to keep up with him.
Boxing is getting back to your body, staying in the body. Boxing is getting lost in your body for three minutes at a time. Boxing is running your breath down your shoulder to your fist. I forget this sometimes.
The world is full of things that will hurt my son. Leave the things alone.
The ring floor is blue, the ring ropes red, white, and blue. The neutral corners feature a smiling cartoon tiger face with the words CHINA FOOD above and SAN COCK below. Joe and I drape our hand towels over the red top rope and do two rounds of light sparring. Very light. But if he gets lazy or sloppy I’ll tap him on the forehead or belly. He needs to know.
Japanese uses one character for both breath and son.
Jason Emde is a teacher, writer, amateur boxer, Prince enthusiast, and graduate student in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. He’s also the author of My Hand’s Tired and My Heart Aches (Kalamalka Press, 2005) and the co-author of the parodic action novel The Crunch Gang Meet the Deadly Zombie Ninjas of Japan (Amazon e-book). His work has appeared in Ariel, The Malahat Review, Anastamos, Miracle Monocle, Prometheus Dreaming, and Short Writings from Bulawayo III. He lives in Japan.