Hard with our fists but kind in our hearts (text on a sign hanging in the gym)
Last year I came across a flyer of a kickboxing/mixed martial arts event in my hometown. I was always intrigued by the whole fighting culture. Why would someone willingly fight and what is the reason they got into fighting? To be honest I was prejudiced about it, thinking that they must be bloodthirty and would have a certain animal instinct to want to fight.
I contacted the main organizer to ask if I could visit the event and take some pictures for him to use on his website. When I came into contact with the fighters during their preparations for a fight I was overwhelmed with the energy flowing in dressing room. I still can't get the smell of tiger balm out of my nose. When the fights started I was very close to the fighters and could feel the ground tremble when they entered the ring. It's like they go out there like modern gladiators, without fear, walking towards their symbolical death. After hanging around for a few hours I witnessed all sorts of emotions like the joy of winning and the pain of losing.
Knowing that a few documentary photos (which are not really my thing) are not enough I went to the gym where they train. I proposed to take photos of them posing like the warriors they are. After shooting a few months in the gym itself I came to know the individual fighters quite well and learned why they fight. It is not something that can be explained in this text, but what I can say is that it has to do with being alive, culture, respect, honour, overcoming fears and the hunger to satisfy a primal urge...to be free in the moment. It has nothing to do with bloodthirst or agression. During the fights I saw that the fighters and their opponents were very respectful to eachother, it was almost like the sense of being together in a hostile situation they both have to survive.
The men and boys in the photos are one of the most calm and self-controlled people I have ever met. They are very confident about themselves and treat eachother and normal people with more respect than most others. Through photography I got a very good look into the world of fighting and decided (after the trainer and fighters told me I should) to join the gym and train with them. Or at least try to keep with them and failing most of the time. But it's good fun.