Playing by the Rules
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I’ve been told, many times, that I play by different rules than most people. Okay, I accept that. And, I accept the fact that my rules may need some explanation, maybe a brief history lesson.
Which brings me to MMA. And Feminism. And Boxing.
Women won the right to box, amateur, in Massachusetts, in 1992. Unfortunately, the seven year long battle in court ended, with a win for Gail Grandchamp, when she was 35. Too old to box amateur. She did go on to fight pro.
The Massachusetts case paved the way for the Federal court case that forced USA Boxing to change their bylaws.
That was in 1993. The same year in which I got married.
In 1997 the then husband walked out, cleared the bank account and took the car. I hired an amazing lawyer, walked into my first boxing class, and threw my first straight right.
The woman in front of me was holding a standard, black, focus pad. I threw one left jab, and one straight right as she’d demonstrated.
“You’ve done this before?” She asked, dropping the pad down to waist height.
“Um. No. First time.” I answered.
“Really? Wow. You’ve got an excellent straight right. Seriously.”
So, there I was in the bottomless pit of divorce hell when I found out I was good at something. I was really good at hitting things.
By 1998 I was divorced and living in Northampton, MA but training in Amherst, MA. And by training I mean boxing, kickboxing and mma. MMA barely existed then. The extraordinary man who trained me in everything from left jabs, to wrapping my hands, to blowing my nose in my shirt, to side control and knee on stomach and heel hooks— he was making up his own rules. He was mixing various martial arts forms and training women.
He also co-ran NAGA, the North American Grappling Association. They had rules. Here, I quote myself in an early article I wrote while covering a NAGA event.
Here’s what you can’t do if you are competing at a NAGA, North American Grappling Association, event: strike, attack the windpipe, attack the balls or eyeballs, pull hair, manipulate small joints, fish hook, bite, pinch or slam. So what can you do? Anything else. But what competitors need to keep in mind is that while the matches and the rules are not yet ten years old, they are the rules, Kipp’s rules to be exact, and they will be enforced.
That is how Henry Matamoros found himself losing the second professional match of the day at the recent NAGA Chicago Pro-Am in Cicero, Ill., on Nov. 6th, 2004. He was disqualified after slamming John Stutzman less than three minutes into the fight, effectively ending one of the most exciting contests of the day. A fight which in the first minute had the competitors on their feet and then the ground three times. It was a fast-moving match in which Stutzman’s supporters were yelling at him to get aggressive and which ended so abruptly that Matamoros’ students and teammates didn’t comprehend what had just happened. When it became clear that Matamoros was out of the match, his supporters went scrambling for a copy of the rules.
Should Matamoros have known that he couldn’t slam? Absolutely. NAGA President Kipp Kollar didn’t spend 20 minutes running a rules meeting, complete with visual demonstrations executed by Anthony Argyros and Chris Palmquist, for his own benefit. He knows the rules; he made them up and his referees will follow them. Ironically, that Saturday, the final rule covered was the no-slamming rule.
NAGA, from the beginning, had women’s divisions, which made them maverick. I probably threw three thousand straight rights in the first year that I trained with the NAGA, mma, accidental feminists at the gym in Amherst. And another ten thousand since then.
I’ve trained in New England, Wisconsin, Tucson and Pennsylvania.
In 2012, in London, the Olympics will finally catch up with the backyard gyms, martial arts studios, maverick trainers and the Golden Gloves. Women will be allowed to box.
Most of the women who fight will be young. They may have started training after the 1993 decision. Hell, they may have been born after the 1993 decision. They are going to be strong and smart and competitive and fierce.
And they are lucky. Rules are made to be broken, and if enough people break through, then the rules will change.
Knock ‘em dead.