A Boxer’s Review of Fitness Boxing (2019, Nintendo Switch)

Okay technically I’m not an actual boxer, but I have trained in martial arts for most of my life. I’ve been teaching self-defence, karate, and Chinese internal arts for years now, and though my technique is somewhat lacking to my friends who have studied pugilism professionally (e.g. they can tell when I’m about to jab, even though they can’t pinpoint what about my posture or body is telegraphing my intentions), it’s fair to say that I am an accomplished and efficient fighter.

Well thanks Lyn, now that you think so maybe I'll try teaching some time.

Well thanks Lyn, now that you think so maybe I’ll try teaching some time.

So during this strange time of physical distancing, I was looking for a new way of getting some exercise while my dojo is closed over the next few months. Enter Fitness Boxing.

When Wii Fit (and Wii Fit U) came out, I played them pretty obsessively. I did the fitness tests every day for years, spending hundreds of hours logging exercises and activities (not to mention the Wii Fit Meter I wore at all times). Between $300 for Ring Fit Adventure, and the free demo of Fitness Boxing, it was an easy choice. After playing for about two hours across two days, I took the leap and paid the comparatively reasonable $70 to download the full version (contrasted with the $140 price tag for the game cartridge off ebay), and I’m still figuring out how I feel about it.

In terms of technical advice, I was surprised to find the game was spot on. The trainers gave excellent instruction in terms of common mistakes and efficient ways to throw punches, and at first this was so well-timed that I thought the game was actually picking up every movement of my hands. However, the more I played, the more I realised they were just spouting advice almost randomly, regardless of what I was actually doing. While initially I appreciated the reminders to keep my guard up or to keep my elbows at 90 degrees, eventually I started getting annoyed by the instruction. Switching to the Japanese voices made this much more enjoyable (“Ichi, ni, ichi, ni, mae, ushiro, mae, ushiro!“), and I had a lot more patience for them after that.

Regarding tracking, there were a few times where the joycon didn’t register any movement at all, or worse turned itself off mid-punch, which lead to some frustrating combo breakers in an otherwise perfect level. Furthermore the game seems to only really log the fact that the joycons have made a quick movement, and doesn’t actually track things like direction or curvature. This means that as long as the timing is correct, it registers every technique as “Perfect!” no matter what kind of punch you throw, or what direction it’s in. Annoyingly, the game also instructed me to wind-up before hooks and uppercuts, and it would often register the wind-up as an early punch and then penalise me for getting the poor timing. I’ve learned to wind up a full beat in advance, or to make the wind up and punch all one short, snapping movement on the beat.

Speaking of snapping punches, one problem that I’m encountering is that, without a target to hit, I’ve gotten a little too enthusiastic and strained my elbows by locking them out repeatedly. I’m comfortable enough with boxing to keep a loose grip on the joycon while the rest of my body tenses, but in my excitement I occasionally hyperextend my arms and it can cause damage to the joints through repetition. I guess in a way it’s a testimony to how much enthusiasm the game draws out of me as I do my best to hit faster and harder.

One of the smaller problems I have with the idea of boxing for fitness is the rhythm element of the game. Not to brag, but I’m great at rhythm games – for context, I placed first at a Guitar Hero tournament, and won an iPod from a rigged game of Stacker at Timezone. So the idea of bouncing back and forth in time to the music sounded fun, but not sensible martial training. In martial arts, it’s important for a fighter to be able to establish and then break rhythm at will, and throwing every punch on the beat just feels plain wrong to me.

I think the biggest problem I had with the game was that it seemed to frequently choose unintelligible times for particular techniques. Quick boxing lesson: jabs and straights are “long-range” attacks, and hooks and uppercuts are “short-range” attacks. Sometimes the game would start a combination by using a short-range uppercut, which is a disastrously strategy for closing the gap to the melee range. Furthermore, the trainer would mix short and long-range techniques together in the same combination, but without the requisite leg movements to close/create distance. This meant that, because the game focuses on bouncing backwards and forwards on the spot, half of the strikes would be either too close or too far to land cleanly if they were actually being used against an opponent or bag. I would sometimes get around this by adding my own intentional lunges and turns, but that’s above and beyond the instructions the game provides.

Worse still, sometimes the game would require me to use the reverse hand while moving backwards. This is utter madness, but after a little while I was able to justify this timing by making it a deliberately defensive movement (e.g. I’d throw the straight as I lunged my back foot away, or perform a slip while leaning back to do an uppercut). These are more complicated interpretations of the techniques that are wholly inappropriate for beginners, and which I was only able to do thanks to decades of practicing different ways of moving. The whole game becomes a lot easier if you just stay neutral or lean forwards the whole time, but then why would they start each lesson by establishing the back-and-forth rhythm?

But Xin, why don’t you just copy the trainers?” I hear you ask. Well fam, I would, except they don’t seem to follow their own pre-established rhythms. In moments when they should be moving backwards, they seem to be bouncing on the spot. At times when they should be advancing, they’re winding up for an uppercut. Sometimes their weight changes are obvious, but I could swear that at other times it’s imperceptible and they just just lean forwards the whole time to make the combinations work.

I’m hoping that as I work my way out of the beginner lessons and into the intermediate/advanced lessons the combinations become more sensible, but watch this space.

One thing I do like about the game is that, unlike most boxing, it switches stance halfway through each exercise. Balancing out the body and becoming equally proficient with both hands is a wonderful practice for health and utility.

It’s also worth commenting that there are only 20 songs, and I while you can “randomize” which ones are used during the Daily Workout, you can’t actually select them. With the demo only giving me access to three of them, I got sick of them pretty quickly. (Me, who has had Still Alive stuck in my head for something like 200 hours in a row and *still* couldn’t get enough of it.)

So after all this criticism, why do I like the game? Because it’s still stonking great fun. I don’t need someone to teach me how to box – if I wanted to exercise, I could do a boxing routine by myself. But the thing is, I find it really hard to motivate myself when I’m exercising alone, and having something to focus on and inspire me brings out the best in me. The brillance of Fitness Boxing is that it gamifies the experience, keeping me hooked and distracting me from fatigue and discomfort by focussing on the fun. Having a cute trainer certainly helps too, though there is something distinctly creepy about the way they pose and giggle when you pick different outfits for them. (Patriarchy and the gratifaction of the male gaze is gross.)

Furthermore, it scratches that “just one more” completionist itch in me. Jumping on for a Daily Workout to tick off every day, plus the unlockable lessons and outfits brings a wonderful sense of progression to the whole sweaty ordeal. I find for the first time in many years that I look forward to exercising at home, and that┬áis why I think it was worth the $70.

All up, an excellent way to get me moving martially, and keeping me engaged far longer than if I were training alone.

The Dregs

This week I had my first fully-booked day as a counsellor. My former-colleagues standard day was six, sometimes seven appointments, but I made the brave decision to set my own availability and max it out at five (in accordance with recommendations I once read for psychologists). I scheduled half hour breaks between appointments, and an additional hour for lunch to give me time to process, write notes, do research, and have adequate time to prepare for each appointment. And even amidst all the extra time I allowed myself, I found it utterly exhausting.

The first appointment of the day went really well. I mean, I was sleepy and not my sharpest, but I did great work being in a deep space with my clients, holding them as they confronted scary truths and recognised harm in their lives. If I started the day at 100% energy/compassion/patience, I probably went down to 70% over that hour.

During my half hour break to write notes/prepare for the next appointment, I probably started it at 80%. It was another deep and engaging session where I got right into the guts of some long-held beliefs and helped a person reflect on and relate differently to them. I probably went down to 20% at the end of the session.

I was pretty anti-social during my time for lunch. I couldn’t even really bring myself to talk to Beth as we sat at the table together, so desperate was I to recover some energy for myself and my next clients. Some food and Animal Crossing later, I went back in with about 60% energy for my next client.

It kept going down until I finished with about 10% at the end of the day. And when it came to exercise, and cooking dinner, and spending time with Beth, I felt pretty close to tapped out. I was so cranky and impatient and ungenerous – it was so unfair that Beth got the dregs of my strength, and I had even less than that. And when some of my friends messaged me about their struggles, I really had to consciously stop myself from snapping at them. I had the thought “I’m giving you free counselling right now”, and it was an unpleasant and nasty thought to have, and I wish that I hadn’t been so worn down when they spoke with me. It turns out I am not the boundless well of compassion I like to think I am, and I need to prioritise my own self-care more often if I want to be my best self with loved ones.

Just thoughts.

Flex

I once learned from those I trusted that the only way through fear was through it.
That if I always did what I’d always done, I’d always get what I’d always got. And that if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Lately I’ve been holding a lot of fear, and I’ve frequently wrestled with feeling overwhelmed. When I’m holding a lot of stress and fear, there are many things that I avoid thinking about. I don’t reply to messages, I don’t book things in advance, I don’t think about responsibilities for the future, and above all, I certainly don’t think about work.

Today I had some articles to read. A training video to watch. Maybe some clients to call or text about their appointments. Faxes to send. Research to do. Too many things, too much fear. I did what I usually do – I ran. I did a dozen chores that seemed crucial to my ongoing safety. I played a bunch of games, that seemed both urgent and important. And when the stress became unbearable, I slumped exhausted into my study chair and began working.

Nobody every talks about how tiring it is not thinking about something scary. Fear is an exhausting thing to hold.

Talking to my counsellor for a phone session tonight, I am reminded that “leaning into fear” is a muscle, and mine has become quite weak. Or maybe the fear that I am confronting is particularly strong. But I don’t want to do this dance anymore – the running, the avoidance, the procrastination, and then the explosion of stress that pushes me to act. I’ve been doing it pretty much my whole life, and it sucks.

So here’s my resolution: I am going to do the scary things. And when I want to run and avoid them, I’ll tear them apart with my teeth like a rabid dog, because fuck that shit. I am more than strong enough to handle fear of this proportion, and I will not allow myself to forget it again.

To make it more concrete, I’ll put it like this. Tomorrow whenever there is a chore or game that appeals to me, before I do it, I will ask myself if I am doing it to avoid a feeling, or to experience a feeling. And if it’s the former, I will not allow myself to do it until I’ve done the thing I’m avoiding first.

It Suits Me To A Tea

Last night I was reading “Every Day a Good Day”, an excellent book on tea ceremony and life by Noriko Morishita. In it, she talks about chajin – literally “tea person”. And that (Japanese connotations aside) was exactly who I wanted to be when I was a kid. I’ve always loved the idea of being a tea drinker.

Mature and sagacious like Sixth Uncle.
Classy and sophisticated like Giles.
A warrior and connoisseur like Tanaka.

I used to always have a cup of green tea with me while I was reading (I usually find black tea quite unpleasant), and I recall the pleasure of sitting on a balcony, looking across the lake and over the mountains as I read the Chronicles of Narnia. For a time, every morning I would make a mug of sencha mango, practice taiji or meditation, and take notes on the Tao Te Ching. But truth be told, I don’t know if I ever really liked the tea – it was more the idea of it that resonated with me. To be the tea drinker.

For many years I stopped drinking it entirely – I just never had the urge to have a hot drink. But at my workplace, wanting decorations to fill the empty shelves, I decided to display some tea utensils. Eventually I thought “Maybe I should start offering this to clients,” and started providing sencha, houjicha and matcha. After a while, it became second nature to offer it at the start of every appointment.

The result of course is that I now drink over a litre of tea every day (depending on how many clients I have), and I find that I am enjoying it again for the first time in a decade. I’m not sure if it’s about the taste so much as the experience; there is something beautifully ritualistic about preparing a pot of steeping leaves while sitting down to write or talk. There is something mindful about brewing the tea, and a distinct mental “sharpness” that comes from imbibing the bitter beverage, a practice as old as time. I feel more connected to my ancestors, and to the wisdom they held as they learned to slow down and be present.

I hope my clients enjoy it as much as I do. It’s a beautiful experience to add to the conversation.

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Therapeutic Use of F-bombs

CW: Abuse.

I said to a client today “Your friend can fuck off.”

Most of the time when I counsel someone I have a superb filter that catches any judgements before they reach my mouth. I work really hard not to give advice, or to share my personal opinion, but to be with people where they’re at and love them in their entirety. To share with them about theories or techniques that I think might help them, or to say things that I think they need to hear.

And sometimes I think what they need to hear is “That’s fucked up. Your situation is not normal, and people should not be treating you like that.”

I know more than most how helpful it can be to keep a safe, professional distance. Most clients don’t want to worry about what their counsellor is thinking or experiencing while they’re struggling with their own issues. But sometimes it can be terribly important, and tremendously therapeutic, to have a genuine, human response.

In the case of my client this morning, she was in the process of escaping an abusive relationship of 13 years, and she had just told me about a friend who she was on the fence about. Her friend had been saying that it was her fault the relationship was breaking down, because she was too aggressive, and that no man (or job) would accept her until she fixed her aggression issues. And that was so unfair on so many levels I would not tolerate it.

Sometimes when a client says “These are the ways they hurt me”, what they need to hear is “That’s so fucked.” Because sometimes playing it cool and keeping my reactions carefully filtered does the person a disservice. Some situations warrant outrage, and sometimes those clients have no one in their life to be furious on their behalf. Through isolation or toxicity, they have had no one to say “What the fuck? Why are they treating you like that? That’s messed up!”

And hearing someone say that (often for the first time in their lives), there is a moment of confusion and they begin to consider… “Is this actually an abnormal situation? Am I actually in an unhealthy relationship?” And from that thought, many new thoughts are possible.

Therapeutic use of self is a tricky beast, and I don’t always get it right. But I took a shot this morning, and I think it was exactly what my client needed to realise that their “friend” was victim-blaming at a moment of intense vulnerability. Where she goes from here is up to her, but… I hope she knows she’s worth more than what her friend is offering.

The Only Move Left

When I graduated from uni, it took me over a year to start working in the field I’d studied in. I spent that time travelling, and working at a pet supply store, and playing video games. (Fam, I played so many hundreds of hours of Skyrim, it felt some days that my life as Xin the Khajiit was more important to me than my other life.) A little adrift, I started a morning ritual where I would perform taiji, drink sencha-mango green tea, and reflect on some spiritual or philosophical text (most notably the Tao Te Ching).

Looking back on that year, I had this narrative that I told myself and others. I said, “I took a year off to heal. To recover from the exertion of study. That I was spending it improving my rocky mental health, and finding myself. Preparing for the next step in my journey.” But I realised a few days ago that I don’t think that’s true.

You see, I’m struggling just as much now as I was then. And I was struggling just as much then as I was when I was 12. I’ve come to wonder if my default state is “struggling”.

I do so much every day, most of it “productive” by some measure, and yet there’s so much more that I wish I could do that I don’t seem to get around to. Sometimes it takes me days to reply to a text message, like this in this wonderfully accurate (if slightly facetious) article. I just don’t seem to have the energy for it.

If it’s not work stuff, I’m consumed by the struggle of personal healing and growth.
And if it’s not personal healing and growth, it’s tea ceremony.
And if it’s not tea ceremony, it’s my relationships.
And I struggle and I struggle and I struggle, and there’s always more to do.

And it’s awkward because when people ask “How are you?” and the answer is “I’m struggling”, there’s an expectation that things are really tough and lots of empathy and compassion is required for this short-term crisis! But when it’s my default mode… I’m hesitant to mention it, because I know their “crisis supply” of empathy is limited, and if they realise this sprint is actually a marathon they’re going to cut me off.

And worse, I don’t know if it would ever be enough. I could get all the empathy in the world, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop struggling.
I guess I’ve just grown comfortable in my discomfort. It’s the only move left.

 

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