I had 25 boys at the fight club one night - 25 boys and 1 girl, and she certainly did stand out.
It’s amazing how obvious the gender differences are in a ring environment. In the general flow of life in an industrialised society, men and women are mixed and merged together in their daily routines - doing the same sorts of work, taking on the same sorts of responsibilities - and are barely distinguishable from one another. But in the environment of the ring something different is going on. Here, men take off their shirts, flex their muscles, and get physical with each other in a very primitive way. Here, we play roughly with each other in a way that inevitably excludes most women and children.
There is something very basic and beautiful about the ring. The cries of the combatants echo back to a time when women and men knew who they were and what was expected of them as members of their gender. The fight club is a sort of physical probe into that collective subconscious - the embodiment of the memory of a culture where women fed and nurtured the community while men fought to defend it.
That is why fighting is such a natural initiation rite for young men. We modern Australians are in desperate need of such a rite for our young people. Our nation continues to be swept by waves of adolescent boys who never become men. They develop adult male bodies but they are bodies which have never been nourished with the ideals of a mature community - ideals that are needed if those bodies are to be put to good use.
I seriously believe our community would be greatly served if every teenage boy, perhaps when he reached the age of 16 or 17, was obliged to train for a fight.
In my vision, fight training would be conducted by the boy’s father and by the older males in the family, as well as by other selected men in the community. When the day of the fight came, the men would gather together with all the boys who had been in training and tell them stories of the great Australian men who have gone before them. Some such men are those who stormed the beaches at Gallipoli, those who opened up the land for agriculture and industry, and the great Aboriginal warriors who fought and died resisting the white invasion.
Then the boys would be dressed in their fight gear and led to the side of the ring where the adult men would push them out into the centre. There they would be forced to rely upon their own resources for three rounds, after which they would be welcomed back as men. They would then perhaps be taken to a tattoo parlour to have etched into their skin the date of their fight, and perhaps also some emblem of courage and integrity that had been chosen for them.
It’s all a dream of course, but a great one. We come close to it every time I lead a boy to the ring for the first time, with his dad at my side working his corner. We’ve had some wonderful moments like that - great fights fought by great boys who show all the signs of going on to become great men.
Among the guys whom we’ve involved in amateur boxing contests, we can claim a 100 per cent success rate in keeping them out of the trouble they’ve been in. By the time we get them to the side of the ring they’ve stopped using drugs, are no longer in trouble with the law and are not causing trouble at school. Of course the difficulty is in getting them that far. And that’s where we could do with more support from friends and family, and less interference from the politically correct.
I am conscious of the fact the focus of my work is with boys rather than with girls, but I believe the crisis in our community is with boys. It is mostly boys who are doing drugs. It is boys who are doing the break and enters and rolls. It is boys who are getting into trouble with the law and boys who are committing suicide. Of course none of this though should undermine the significance of initiation rites for girls or the significant effect that ring fighting can have in a girl’s life.
We do indeed have the occasional fighting woman join us, but it takes a special kind of woman. Such a woman must be able to go toe-to-toe with men, take as well as give a solid punch in the nose and command the respect of the men.
In my time as a fight trainer, I’ve had the privilege of training up one of my girls, Wendy, to win the Australian lightweight title in kickboxing. She was a special sort of girl though. You don’t get many girls like Wendy. For the most part, the girls just come and sit near the side of the ring and look on wide-eyed while their men beat their chests and flail away at each other.
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