I had twenty-five boys at the fight club tonight - twenty-five boys and one girl, and she certainly did stand out. It's amazing how starkly 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, etc. - barely distinguishable. But in the environment of the ring something different is going on. Here men are taking off their shirts, flexing their muscles, and getting physical with each other in a very primitive and very heterosexual way.
Here we play roughly with each other, in a way that inevitably excludes most women and children. There is something very basic but very 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 the collective subconscious - giving embodiment to that repressed 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 form of initiation rite for young men. We modern Australians are in desperate need of an initiation 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 that 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 do seriously believe that our community would be greatly served if every teenage boy, when he reached the age of say 16 or 17 was obliged to train for a fight.
That fight training would then 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 - stories of the great Australian men that have gone before them; the men who stormed the beaches at Gallipoli, the men who opened up the land for agriculture and industry, 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 the lads 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, and then perhaps taken to the tattoo parlor to have etched into their skin the date of their fight and perhaps some emblem of courage and integrity that had been chosen for them. It's all a dream of course, but it's 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. I claim that we've had a 100% success rate in terms of guys whom I've got involved in amateur contests getting 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, they're no longer in trouble with the law, they're not causing trouble at school, etc. 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 that the focus of my work here is with boys rather than with girls, but I do believe that the crisis we are experiencing 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, nor the significant effect that ring fighting can have in a girl's life.
We do indeed have the occasional fighting woman join us, but she is a special kind of woman - one who is able to go toe to toe with the men, who can take as well as give a solid punch in the nose, and who can thus demand 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 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. What about this girl who's joined us for the first time tonight.
Could she be another Wendy? Not likely. She's doesn't look the part at all. She's a slender Vietnamese girl, with a sassy hairstyle and a T-shirt that prominently displays the words 'Too busy to Fuck?'. I told her that if she wanted to train with us at all that she'd have to change into a different shirt. I offered her one of our club T-shirts - the ones with 'Christianity with Punch' displayed on the back. She was predictably reluctant to wear it, but she put it on eventually.
Once we had her in a different T-shirt she faded from view as the centre of everybody's attention. Even so, I suspect that the fine performance the boys put on tonight was in part inspired by a desire to impress our visitor. You can't escape the sexual dynamics in this game. A friend of mine in the army told me that, despite all the talk about equality of the sexes in the forces, the Australian army was still refusing to allow women into the front line, and with good reason. He said that the Israeli experience had been well documented (Israel being one of the only countries to put women in the front line) and that they were experiencing enormous problems.
He said that for one thing, the statistics showed that men would always go back for a woman who had been shot, even if she was dead, and even if it put the rest of the squad in serious danger. He also said that the effect on morale of the death of a woman in the front line was far more serious than the effect of the deaths of any number of men (and morale is considered to be a third of any army's fighting strength)! Gender differences just do not seem to be able to be ignored in a war zone. I'm a great supporter of women in the fighting arts, and indeed I've been in trouble with our state government on more than one occasion because of my role in promoting, training, and officiating in fight contests between females (which is still illegal in NSW). But I don't do this because I think that there's no difference between men and women in the ring.
In the office there might not be any relevant difference, and in the pulpit I can't see or hear any, but in the ring - in that most fundamental and most primitive arena of human encounter - women are women, and men better bloody not be.
Rev. David B. Smith (the 'Fighting Father') Parish priest, community worker,martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of three. Get a free preview of Dave's book,Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist when you subscribe to his newsletter at www.fatherdave.org