Kickboxing: packing emotional punches


Journalist Otje van der Lelij has always wanted to take up kickboxing. Now she finally takes the plunge and, in the process, discovers that ‘fighting’ involves a lot more than just punching and kicking.

It’s time for an assertiveness exercise. First, I will attack and try to knock Nicole Anthonissen, lifestyle and kickboxing coach, over an imaginary line, and then I have to defend myself when the roles are reversed. “If you start to feel uncomfortable, just yell ‘stop’,” Anthonissen says. I start jabbing, left and then right, and she pushes me back farther and farther. Even when we’re standing nose to nose, I keep fighting as hard as I can. Giving up is not an option. I have to keep going. “You’re a real go-getter,” Anthonissen says when I really can’t go on anymore. And that’s when I break. “This is exactly what it’s like at home,” I tell her, in tears. “It feels like I’m always fighting. I have a busy job, a family, a full schedule. It’s so hard to juggle it all. I force myself to push through it, keep working away, even though sometimes it all gets to be too much.”

The exercise is an effective metaphor that awakens something in me. What am I actually doing? Why don’t I set better limits? Why don’t I delegate more tasks? These are questions that suddenly become crystal clear to me. If I had been on a therapist’s couch, I would have talked about my busy life. Instead, my body is now showing me what I’m doing. “Your body doesn’t lie,” Anthonissen says. “The physical effects you are now experiencing come from certain emotions being ignored. Willpower and perseverance are great qualities, but you mustn’t let them take a personal toll.”

The notion of persisting and not giving up is at the heart of traditional kickboxing. “In that sense,” Anthonissen says, “my classes are completely different. I think it’s important for people to guard their boundaries; you are welcome to stop, drink some water or respond to what you’re feeling. You won’t get stronger by always pushing yourself, but by listening to your instincts.” The better you listen, the closer you get to who you really are. Or as the African-American philosopher and theologian Howard Thurman (1899-1981) once wrote, ‘There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls’.

  • The complete story ‘Packing emotional punches’ can be found in Issue 23.

Text Otje van der Lelij Photography Margriet Hoekstra