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He went to clean the blood from his face. I stood there happier and more alive

By Boris Skok
03 December 2012

I had a sense that the fear I had known was gone and would never come back. It was an amazing feeling.

'And finally the eighth rule: whoever is new to the club is obliged to fight'.  Picture: Ivan Sinyakov

Since Chuck Palahniuk's ‘Fight Club’ was written in 1996, the world has changed quite dramatically; It's not that people have stopped buying goods from Ikea and settled in the woods, but many will agree that this book definitely helped give criticism of the consumer society more popularity.

I can’t say for sure about the West, but in Russia ‘Fight Club’ achieved cult status, especially after the movie was released in 1999.

Fight clubs started growing all over the country like mushrooms after the rain.

The first clubs were formed by young intellectuals, senior university students, as well as the obligatory moderately-radical skinheads, but initially failed to attract the attention of glamorous managers and representatives of the upper-class. Fight Club organisers gathered support from their friends and arranged fights in private basements and abandoned buildings. This was of course followed by beer drinking.

From the beginning, the clubs did their best to keep low key, attracting new members via word-of-mouth.

By the time I learned that there was a real Fight Club in my city in 2011, the club had already existed for five years.

I can’t remember exactly how I came to know of it, though it was probably from one of my friends in my social network. Since the Novosibirsk Fight Club was known primarily by lower-middle class people, it greatly interested my upper-middle class editor who insisted I be sent to try it out.

Fight club Siberia

'I can’t say for sure about the West, but in Russia ‘Fight Club’ achieved cult status'.  Picture: Ivan Sinyakov

Participants gathered in the summer at an amusement park, located on the bank of the river near a small forest, and so fighting took place in the open air. We paired up, put on protection gear (this was optional - no one had to fight in boxing gloves - the fighters themselves define rules of the fight, and if you do not have equipment your opponent will fight with bare hands).  

I was lucky in that I did not get a partner, but instead had to fight with the organiser of the club - a 19-year old Pavel who had the advantage of being a foot taller than me and already had 50 fights to his name.

Just like in the movie, we formed a circle, and Pavel read the rules of the club: 'The first rule of Fight Club: do not talk about the club.

'The second rule: Parties establish rules of the fight between themselves, however, it is forbidden to hit the groin, the Adam's apple, the vertebral column, poke the eyes, or intentionally cause serious injury.

'The third rule: when the fighter shouts 'stop'- the fight is over.

'Fourth rule: only two fighters are involved in any one fight. Fifth rule: fights go one by one. Sixth rule: fighters are strictly unarmed.

'Seventh rule: the fight continues for as long as necessary.

'And finally the eighth rule: whoever is new to the club is obliged to fight'. Then the fighting commenced.

When it was my turn I ran out of energy very quickly and received punch after punch. When I landed on the floor I finally conceded defeat and said 'stop'.

Permanent members say they have never seen a man come to the club who was afraid to go into the circle. Apparently the instinct of self-preservation is not a strong motivation for these people.

Much worse is to show that you are a coward in the eyes of strangers, even though it is unlikely that you will ever meet those same people again.

People joining are more afraid of appearing incapable of making the initial step than getting a beating.

Fight club Siberia

'Much worse is to show that you are a coward in the eyes of strangers. Picture: Ivan Sinyakov

According to Pavel, most of the guys who come to the club do it to relieve stress or overcome their fear of fighting,  and due to rule number eight, the freshman cannot simply stand in the audience or be there as an encouragement for a friend.

Experienced club members don't take a pity on new-comers for a reason – even though freshmen are inexperienced in the ring, while permanent members are slightly more adept at fighting, they were drawn to the club to feel one thing and one thing only – pain. 

 Of course no one likes bruises, but people who have never fought are afraid of fighting simply because they do not realise that most people can actually take a few punches and come away relatively unscathed. 

The hero of the book, Tyler Durden, gave his students a task: to get into a fight and lose.

In this task lies one of the most important lessons - you need to feel pain, to feel alive.

Fight clubs do occasionally have women members. One of them, Sveta, was at one point a regular visitor, and fought men as well as women.

Fight club Siberia

'Most of the guys who come to the club do it to relieve stress or overcome their fear of fighting. Picture: Ivan Sinyakov

There are not that many regular participants, and I didn’t meet anyone who had been in the club for all six years. It seems that sooner or later everyone gets what they came for and drops out.

Attendance rates depend on many factors: the weather, holidays, exam schedules etc. There can be as many as 30 people, or as few as four. It is as a direct result of the fluctuating attendance that makes it impossible for the club to rent a permanent room of their own. However the organisers of the project are determined to avoid turning it into a commercial venture.

Pavel invests his own money into the club. There aren't many expenses, just business cards and flyers for posting, as well as bags of ice for the occasional injured.

There is never a need to invest in medications as no one ever gets that seriously injured.

However, all participants have to sign a disclaimer stating they have no complaints against the organizers and that any injuries received are a result of their own actions as willing participants. This, as you can imagine is a necessary legal formality. 

Fight club Siberia

'Fight clubs do occasionally have women members. One of them was at one point a regular visitor, and fought men as well as women'. Picture: Ivan Sinyakov

More than a year after my initial fight I decided to go back to the club. Participants gathered at the monument to Alexander Pokryshkin, the legendary pilot of World War II. It was cold on that particular day so only ten people gathered, including me and the photographer.

After waiting a short while to be sure people had been given enough time to attend, we went to the unfinished shopping centre, located behind the monument.

We squeezed through the gate, went inside the building and began zigzagging through the corridors in the dark, until we arrived at a space on the third floor.

Near the entry doorway the word 'PAIN' had been scrawled on the wall.

The room was rectangular in shape, with large semi-circular windows that gave a little light.

Six people signed up to fight.

I chose my enemy among the newcomers, someone of similar height and build. His name was Eugene. We were the first one to sign the papers, so were the first to fight.

I was pleased, because the more you wait, the worse it feels and I was already afraid.  

I didn't have a chance to fight since I visited the club the last time and even then I was not very successful. We agreed to fight in full contact, meaning we could use both kicks as well as punches, and the fight would be over when someone fell to the ground.

During my previous fight more than a year earlier I had backed away from my opponent, not because I was afraid, but because I was so reluctant to hit a person in the face. Even thinking about it seemed wild to me. This time I promised myself I would be different.

Fight club Siberia

'Fighters sign a disclaimer stating their have no complaints against the organisers and that any injures received are a result of their own actions'Picture: Ivan Sinyakov

As soon as Eugene threw me a punch to the face, I blocked his hand, stepped closer, and began to hit him with both hands on the head. I was surprised by my own actions; with every punch the situation seemed more surreal. I was in a trance like state.

At one point I was afraid of what I was doing, and took a step back, giving Eugene time to recover. He took advantage of this and attacked me, not paying attention to his bleeding lips. Like Eugene, I was not the best fighter, but we were both even in our determination to give it our best shot.  

Eugene hit me several times on the head - I didn’t counter him straight away, instead leaned closer to him so it would be harder for him to beat me.

Then I pushed him, knocking him off balance. Before he had time to recover I kicked him in the chest and he fell on his back. I waited a couple of seconds for him to stand up, then jumped on him. We both fell onto the dusty concrete floor.

After a little fuss, I was on top and hit Eugene a few times in the face so hard that my fist started bleeding.

Eugene threw me on the ground, grabbed my neck with his legs and began to choke me. I couldn’t do anything as he held me tight, although I could still breathe.

While I was locked in this choke-hold, he hit me on my back and sides. It hurt, and I wanted to say 'stop' to finish the fight, but I knew that as long as I could breathe and was not making moves, the opponent was using up his energy while I was able to regain some of my strength.

This went on for some minutes until I was able to lift him up slightly and deliver my knee into his right side. It had the desired effect.

Eugene groaned and released his grip, only to take a different, slightly weaker grip on me. I managed to roll over and put my knee on his stomach, concentrating all my weight on his body. In a few seconds he gave up.

We stood up, shook hands. He went off to clean the blood from his face, and I put on my jacket, took out a cigarette and lit it with trembling hands, happier and a little more alive than before I had come, because I had a sense that the fear I had known was gone and would never come back.

It was an amazing feeling.

Edited by Mao Oliver-Semenov

Comments (4)

J, sometimes it's enought when you take a fight with a man, who trained mixfight professionaly. Even if you know you'll loose.
And by the way, for some of us even a thought about hiting someone's face is something inconceivable. Incomparable to kick another team.
Boris, Novosibirsk
04/12/2012 22:58
how is that different from the sport? ok you don't need to hit someone in the face, but you do have to win over a person - or a team
J, Toronto
04/12/2012 21:02
Some of us, I think, feel uncomfortable because of fear to take a fight. This fear spreads to many moments of usual life and person can't be going strong.
Boris, Novosibirsk
04/12/2012 15:12
I find it quite hard to understand... to me there are other ways to overcome fears and feel yourself alive. But perhaps as Boris says there is something in winning the physical fight that later helps to win over your rivals in other battles.
Tom, Germany
04/12/2012 12:01

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