- Growing Up Bronx
This is a paper that I wrote in college for Cultural Anthropology on fitness and self confidence. I believe I wrote this during my freshman year. I have not edited out any writing mistakes, nor have I changed the content at all. As I read it now, I cringe at the many missed commas and other errors. But hey, it is what it is.
What exactly is fitness? I spent quite a good deal of time searching the Internet for a true dictionary definition of fitness. I found so many different variations of this, they ranged from “bodybuilding fitness” to the fitness my classmate spoke about “Eastern fitness,” which range from traditional Chinese Gung fu to push hand Tai Chi Chuan and other methods of Martial Arts. My African brother spoke of different religions. I even found religious and spiritual definitions of fitness. What they all share in common is that fitness and self confidence often go hand in hand.
From this research I gather that fitness does not have any one definition that can apply to all different people straight across the board. Using myself as an example I will attempt to discuss, and explain the psyche behind our “American Fitness”. When I refer to fitness from this point on I will be speaking of abdominal fitness. Most Americans judge your level of fitness by the size of your gut or lack their of. A lack of fitness, generally causes a lack of confidence in this extremely visual society.
So let me talk about my favorite subject, me. So what is fitness to me? For me fitness is everything. I have used fitness to change my life completely. In order so that you may understand where I’m going with this a little history on my life is needed. Well I’m your standard Jerry Springer before and after freak show. Like most of his guests I too am looking for all the people I knew back in High School and middle School. See coming up I was not the coolest kid, I was a somewhat goofy, mop head wearing kid. I was skinny as a kid and fat as a teenager. In high school I used to get jumped consistently because I looked like a dork. I was a target of jokes and beat downs solely based on the way I looked. What about a girlfriend you ask? Back then women were nothing but a distant dream for me. I mean which woman would want to be with a dork right? But I was smart, I had good grades, I was mentally fit. Isn’t that enough for a good woman, wasn’t that enough for the people that used to kick my happy little self all over the backyard? Well apparently not. There had to be something else. Enter fitness.
In the later years of high school I discovered weight training and all the benefits associated with this. I learned how to change my complete physical appearance in time intervals that a normal person can only dream off. Also during the earlier years of my college career much like my classmate Mr. Lee in the rear of the room I discovered the power of martial arts. At this point is where my social life began to change. Now this may all come of as pretty shallow, but keep in mind it was not me who forced this, it was all of them.
This takes me into the psychological aspect of fitness. Let’s talk about how these physical elements change ones entire life and way of being for the better. How? I have one word for you, self-confidence. Your self-confidence is so important to how you are seeing, and how people treat you. It affects the vibe you send to others when you meet someone new. It affects the way you look when you enter a room. Self-confidence affects the way you appear to a group of bored young men looking for a new victim to use as their gang initiation target. The way you grin as you look at them confidently while silently thinking to yourself “unless they have weapons I suggest they stay seated and go about their business”.
Many people may interpret this attitude as cocky and egotistical rather than self-confident. However let me say to you that unless you’re in my head you would never know these thoughts are going on. This is more of an internal factor rather than external. Furthermore I say to you ask Mr. Lee in the rear of the room if he is afraid when he sees a group of guys that look like they want to start trouble? If Mr. Lee is trained in the arts and is able to execute that nice kick he demonstrated in class in a real combat situation then Mr. Lee will say, “No” I do not fear another man. Off course you should know that none of us are invincible. Self-confidence does not mean stupid and by no means do I ever seek to provoke or look for trouble. Yet I believe that you project that you are not a weak target, and it certainly feels pretty damn good to know that should trouble come knocking on your door you are adequately prepared to appropriately greet and be a great host to your unwelcome guests.
All this that I am saying to you is from experience folks. I cannot count the number of times I would be walking home from school and I’d notice in a corner a group of men, sometimes black, sometimes Puerto Rican, sometimes Dominican, no particular race or group whatsoever. Just a bunch of guys that would be standing there, and once I was close enough where I could not run anywhere they’d make the decision that my back was a stomping board and kick the crap out of me. I was never robbed, never really hurt, but I was always very humiliated.
I always wondered why does this happen to me? Why am I a target for these guys beat downs? Why was I the guy that people always seemed to mess with? I did not know this back then, but it was self-confidence. The way I appeared back then was weak. I sent off the energy that said I am weak. I won’t do anything if you do something to me. It’s ok if you kick my butt because I’m weak, I won’t even tell anyone about it or even seek help. Due to this I used to get my butt kicked.
The ladies man, is that a joke or what. Let’s analyze this. Do you think all the ladies did not see this young man getting beat down? Don’t you think that in the cafeteria they did not see him get smacked in the back of the head with an orange? Do you think a girl wants to be with a man that cannot take care of himself? If he can’t even handle himself how could he ever handle and protect her? I can count on one finger the number of girlfriends I had back in those days. Plus this girlfriend was in the later years of high school when I started to shape up.
Enter the fitness era. Let’s start with one of the most significant life changing experiences of my life. For those of you that do not know I serve in the United States Air Force. Now if you want to talk about breaking and building one’s confidence then there is no better example than good old basic military training. I remember the hell that was basic training. I remember the disgusting humiliating things that I was made do while I was in there, things ranging from picking up pubic hair in the head, to shining all of the other trainee’s shoes with my own underwear.
The latter of the two was in order that I learned how to wash underwear well enough to wear while wearing in United States Air Force uniform. It was a punishment because one of the drill instructors found a red mark on one of the other airmen’s underwear that was in my laundry list. I remember having to defend myself against 3 very big guys while in combat training. I remember having to shovel rocks from one end of training camp to another, only to be told that the order was in error, and that I was to shovel them back. Needless to say this was a very low point in my training.
On the other hand I remember the pride and self-confidence I felt as we marched down the parade grounds on graduation day. I remember standing at ease, looking on all our family members as they watched, I remember the tears on my face now that I knew I completed this training. I remember how great I felt when I knew I survived all this. I remember how happy I felt that I was finally going home after this hell. I remember how good I felt to see the pride in my mother’s eyes after my being away for ¼ of a year training to preserve the freedom we all enjoy each and everyday. This period was a period of ups and downs, but nevertheless it served as a great life building experience. I am glad that I embarked on that journey.
After returning to civilian life I returned to work, and college. I continued to train in the gym, and practiced the arts for a brief period of time. Life was going good and I was adapting to the real world after spending an extended period of time in a military lifestyle.
I remember a few short weeks after being home I was walking home from visiting a friend in the south Bronx. Apparently somebody felt as though I had money on me that belonged to him and his friend. I remember walking and getting a surprise drop kick from the rear, fortunately I was faster than my aerial wrestling wannabe opponent and before he knew it he was on the floor wondering what day of the week it was. Shortly thereafter a much bigger accomplice of his decided he wanted to come and grab me, again a decision that would leave another man wondering about the day of the week. I remember looking on the floor as these 2 guys lay there and thinking back to the days where I was the one looking up at somebody and wondering why was this happening to me. At that point I was very angry and I felt like kicking these guys senseless for what they had just attempted. Yet I thought to myself that it was already over. I thought to myself “Angel what separates you from these people if you go ahead and proceed to attack a man that is down”? At that point I decided that it was the logical thing to flee the scene of the activity. This was not done out of fear but more out of logic and common sense. I mean these guys could of had a gun, more friends, why press my luck right? Besides I stand to lose more than they do anyway so it’s not worth my time.
Similarly a few days ago I was headed home from school, I remember walking towards a turnstile and young man rushing towards me at a very fast rate. This young man soon found my arm snug around his neck while his arm was in a very uncomfortable position. I did not proceed with the reaction because the young man did not resist nor attempt to fight it. His friends quickly rushed to see what was going on so I decided to tighten my grip on the young man’s neck until he signaled to his friends to back off. He said to release him and I asked for the reason he rushed me, he said he had a token in the turnstile I was heading to and he did not want to lose it, at this point I thought I’m going to get my butt kicked if I don’t come up with something good and fast. I told him if he wanted to get arrested tonight for illegally using government property to make money? As we all know you are not allowed to do that nonsense in the train. I guess the young man believed my bluff and said that he was going to take off right then and there. Fortunately for me he did, I don’t there was a way in hell I could of taken the other guys.
Growing Up Bronx