Last night I did a martial arts class where we were told to "helmet up" and put on our velcro fastening, perspex face plate, full head helmets that we'd just been given.
After the Beginners class on a Thursday night, we do a Combat class which is for people who've been in the club regularly for at least 3 months. A groin guard, shin pads, forearm guards, MMA gloves and now the helmet are a necessity unless you want to impersonate a tenderised sirloin steak the next morning (not to mention trying to retrieve your bollocks from somewhere near your intestines, with a chimney sweep's brush). Full on contact, using the techniques we've already learned.
The instructor wanted us to experience being hit in the face or head with force, but stressed not to go hammer and tongs on each other, but apply about 50% power.
To demonstrate he took the biggest bloke in the room (about 6' 3", a bodybuilder, an orange belt) and told him to take the punch to the head.
The blow was blatantly not at full force but the dude still moved back about a foot, groaning and shaking his head.
We then partnered off and practiced on each other.
"Hit me harder" my partner said, in a muffled Scottish accent through his fogged-up face plate.
I apply a bit more pressure.
I belt him hard and his head jerks. The instructor sees this and laughs. Then it's his go and my ears ring from the thump. We practice punches at 50% power to the front, side and temple of the head. Each time my neck vertebrae feel like they are being realigned and my ears ring.
Then we're told to go for it, still not at full power and see what happens. One person is spare, meaning they shadow box for 20 seconds and then randomly pick another person from an existing couple to fight with. Their cue...punching someone in the face.
When it's my turn I deliberately choose the big, huge guy as he's the one I'm most afraid of fighting. He appears knackered as we trade fairly moderate blows but it turns out he was waiting for me to throw my third volley as he bellows loudly and punches me so hard in the face that for a second I'm completely disorientated. As we switch again he punches another guy so hard that the bloke flies into a door, which then opens and he falls through it, dragging a chair behind him like something from a John Wayne Western bar room brawl.
Cue much laughing.
At the end we form a line and do some neck stretching to relieve the pain.
"Now you know what that feels like," the instructor says. "Imagine that without the helmets, without the gloves and at full power."
In movies, people get punched in the face and fly across the room. Indiana Jones take multiple blows from Pat Roach in the first two movies, yet has only a small thread of blood coming from his mouth. In the original Star Trek series, Captain Kirk would brawl his way through a bad guy or two, with only a ripped Star Fleet tunic and a little bit of blood on one cheek.
Last night taught me something that I already knew but had never experienced. That heads are fragile things, faces more so and getting thumped in a controlled environment even with protective equipment still fucking hurts.
I woke up this morning with a bruise next to my left eye.
Nothing brings you back to reality quicker than being part of it.