Alex Homits, Baile Átha Cliath (pictured with Frank Buttimer, Corcaigh)
When I was younger, my dad tried to bring me to various sport clubs to peak my interest. Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Boxing. I tried them all and didn’t get anywhere serious. Maybe my attention span as a young boy wasn’t great, maybe it was boring for me and I didn’t want to involve myself. It took a long time for me to understand the role that sport can play in a very positive manner for one’s health. That might sound ridiculously obvious, but trust me, if you don’t grow up with sport in the background, you just don’t get into it or grasp the role it might have in your personal life.
Fiddling with different combat sports but never really settling on one was frustrating too because I did have an interest, I just didn’t pursue it consistently enough. Lighting things on fire, smoking fags, trying hash and skipping school dominated my boyhood and sport was nowhere near on the horizon. I dropped out of the scouts at that time too, despite loving it and just pursued what can be counted as the usual anti-social behaviour of a teenager.
A comrade of mine told me on numerous occasions across the last two years about a gym and about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, MMA and the lengthy experience he had with it. I contemplated it for ages in 2018, and by ages, I mean three months, which is a tremendously stupid amount of time to think about whether or not you should try a sport but that’s what happens when you overthink something you’re unsure of. You end up in a form of paralysis.
At the beginning of 2019, my new year resolution was that I would take up a combat sport. My comrade said “try Samson MMA in Cork”, I said “Fine, maybe I will. I signed up to a six week beginner course in Samson and began to attend. The first week everything was in pain and it was absolutely freezing outside. I wasn’t fit and I wasn’t able for it, but I got up the next day, and went again. Another week passed, and slowly but surely I wasn’t immediately breathless from the warm ups, I wasn’t feeling like I had just been compressed into a toaster and spat out after a workout and I was feeling good.
There’s a saying of an old Chinese proverb; “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”. With that in mind, I kept training and as I kept training, I realised how much of a positive impact it had on me. I became more patient, both with myself and others around me. I felt happy when I trained and my days felt smoother as a result of going to training. Of course, you have an off-day and feel like crap, but on the balance of it, you get a really good buzz from training.
There are countless studies that definitely prove that exercise helps your anxiety, depression, negative mood, self-esteem and cognitive function. I thought of that quip from Tyrion Lannister in Season 1 of Game of Thrones about sharpening minds and sharpening blades and in reality it’s no different. If you lead a life where you find yourself to be vegetative, not moving around much, not using your body, then your body remains weak and continues to be weak, but if you give your body a degree of sharpening — then it will look after you too.
For me personally it had many positive effects and has overall improved my life over-all. The financial cost of going to train has also been manageable, whether I’ve been employed or not. I’ve also found that if you go for a drink on the regular, that is something you cut out. It’s a very dialectical process: you want to be fresh in the morning, therefore you’re not going to drink the evening beforehand. You resolve negative contradictions in your life for a more positive outcome.
At the time I wrote this in January, I trained in Jose Santos BJJ and had been training since the restrictions were lifted on gyms. I couldn’t remember anything since lockdown started besides side control, guard and mount and the first few classes I died on the mats. But fuck me, it felt amazing and I’ve just about gotten rid of my Christmas-Covid belly!
Before I wrap this up, I understand that some people feel uncomfortable for whatever reason to enter into an environment like Mixed Martial Arts or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but I can say that in my experience and the experience of many others, once you step on the mat the first golden rule is respect and this respect covers everything. Nobody will ever make fun of you, nobody will ever make you feel bad about not being able to do something or feeling unfit. The coaches are patient and understanding — they too, started somewhere and it wasn’t with a black belt.
In a mental health crisis and with COVID about, I just want to add one more positive story to how exercise and looking after your body has a positive impact and even though it’s hard at the beginning, it does get easier as you get into it. Remember the proverb up above. You can feel a little guilty about not doing anything when you had other opportunities, but don’t let that cloud your desire to try something new and get a bit fitter right now, because you still can. Not only that, but physical fitness is not simply an individual matter – it helps you improve your habits, and through this, have more energy and resolve to help your comrades and the collective.