Halfway through my sophomore year I joined a new community. Throughout my life I’ve been a member of a few groups, but I had never seen a collection of people like that at my Punch, Kick, Grapple, or PKG, Training Center.
The PKG martial arts gym in West LA is full of generally hardcore 20-something year olds, so, when tiny 16-year-old me walked in two years ago, I had (and still have!) no idea why they let me stay and did so with open arms. But they did, and now I go to the to fight Jiu Jitsu four to five times a week.
PKG is essentially my tough-as-nails family. Around the gym I am everyone’s little sister because I’m the youngest and smallest one around. You wouldn’t expect a group of people whose time together is spent beating each other up to be close. But around my gym this physical aggression is what keeps us all together. Fighting is the single thing we all have in common.
Before class we all sit around on the mat, stretch and talk about our lives and happenings around the gym. Then, as we fight, it is perfectly normal to see the losing fighter instruct the other on the best way to choke or “armbar” him. After class, we all offer each other advice and work to learn from our mistakes. We’re a playful group of people who all genuinely care about one another.
Every six months, we even get together to celebrate belt promotions. For this coming-of-age ceremony, coaches make speeches for each person who has been promoted up a belt color. Everyone spars with the “new belts” and, drenched in sweat and tired, they receive their promotions and everyone walks/runs/races to a nearby restaurant to celebrate. The best way to describe this in a way that Marlborough girls might understand is to compare it to a Bar Mitzvah for four or more adults (who have received belts) where at least one party guest ends up with a black eye. And within this odd community of aggression and support, I have found my place.