By Cyan Night

    Dan Kelly is a four-time Olympian and a former UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighter. I knew Dan from a martial arts gym prior to moving to inner west Melbourne. He coached Judo there before he opened his own training centre in Footscray. In spite of his achievements, Dan is always friendly and approachable. When I moved to the neighbourhood, I visited his gym for a few casual classes. 

    One time I showed up and saw Dan sporting a black eye, which he earned during training for his upcoming UFC fight. In the training session that night, Dan came to spar with me – which was a lovely gesture – a professional fighter spending time with little old me. When I returned home that evening, it occurred to me that I had sparred with an UFC fighter and he went home with a black eye. 

    In the era of social media, misleading headlines acting as clickbait have become a way of life. When one delves deeper into the subject, the reality is often not quite one dimensional nor straightforward. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), for example, is frequently portrayed as a bloody and savage sport. Fighters are stereotyped as barbaric simpletons. As a self-confessed martial arts junkie, I have dabbled in a huge variety of martial arts since I was 5 years old. Throughout my life, I have been constantly made fun of for my obsession with a sport that is considered violent and unladylike. Rarely has anyone asked why I have endured countless bruises and aches and still returned for more.

    There is a story behind every fighter and their journey into the ring. Many of these stories are painful and heart wrenching. In the early days of prize fighting, most boxers are pushed into the arena to feed their family. In the era of Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee, their drive for the sport was hugely influenced by the social injustice they experienced on a daily basis. In recent times, Ronda Rousey, the first UFC female champion, suffered the loss of her father through suicide. Claressa Shields, one of the first female boxers to receive an Olympic gold medal, was sexually assaulted as a child. 

    When one suffers from trauma and maltreatment, there is a sense of helplessness, confusion and loss. Learning to fight, to endure pain and overcome weakness, gives the fighter a sense of control and inner peace. When the external world creates havoc in the fighter’s mind, body or spirit, they are able to retreat into an internal space that is safe and indestructible. 

    It has been a great honour that, in my decades of training, I have befriended world champions, Olympians and many outstanding fighters, plenty of them scattered across the west. It would be hugely unfair to infer that I gave a UFC fighter his black eye. Similarly, the perfunctory point of view that fighters are brutes may be biased and unjust. My fighting abilities have long been eroded with age and arthritis, but the pen remains as my most powerful weapon and I use it from time to time to advocate for those who are largely misunderstood. 

      “Anybody going into boxing already has brain damage.” George Foreman.
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