When I showed up to the Wai Kru gym on Brighton Avenue in Allston to inquire about a Jiu Jitsu class with a friend, I was tired from four and a half hours of straight class, hungry from skipping meals, and frustrated with the MBTA.I expected the gym to be an underground scene depicting something resembling Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, and what I found seemed to be precisely that.
The cave-like gym is located in a neighborhood that is not a particularly wealthy or prestigious. It shares the block with a laundromat and a Burger King; the door was decorated with vertical Wai Kru signs and a gym schedule. The lobby consisted of a glass case of gleaming red boxing gloves, shiny black boxing shorts with Thai characters –I wonder what it translates to –as well as a single gray sweatshirt with black Wai Kru logos on the sleeves. The hallway and stairwell were adorned with about forty or fifty gold-plated trophies that were awarded for sports such as boxing and tae kwon do. The trophies and the glinting polyester sportswear seemed particularly luminous in contrast with the fraying carpet and the rusty locker exploding with sporting equipment that hid in the corner. We walked down a winding flight of stairs, with no one in sight, and opened the door ornamented with a tattered color poster advertising a mixed martial art fight between two mixed martial artists. I was greeted by the stench of sweat, blaring rock-rap music, and John.
John is the owner and mastermind behind Wai Kru. His brown eyes jolt around the gym as he speaks; as his rough hands cut through the air in a failing attempt to explain the rules of Mixed Martial Arts. My eyes wandered as well, past his dull, curly, brown hair and onto a twenty-four-foot caged octagon for Muay Thai matches, a host of camel-colored Timberland boots strewn across the floor, a couch showered in clothes, cell phones, gallons of Poland Spring, and beat-up bags, although the lockers were provided.
“MMA did great things for me, man! It made my mind shut the f*ck up!” I heard him say as he paced awkwardly, his no-name brand athletic pants swished boisterously. John explained: “the body exists because of MMA, we once had to defend ourselves…it’s encoded into our DNA, the body’s not like this because of bowling!” I chose not to listen to his rant about the body as a fighting tool and focused on a women fighting on the rubber mat. Her blond, almost white, hair was cropped close to her skull. She was in her late forties or early fifties, but still had icy blue eyes. Almost unnoticeable water droplets fell from the pipe-lined ceiling; I looked down at my black UGG boots probably out of embarrassment but my gaze was once again caught by the woman’s gripping blue eyes and exchanged smiles.