A mixed martial artist known as ‘the Hitman’ wants to teach me all about pummelling and anaconda chokes. What could possibly go wrong?
I walk past a very smiley man in reception, past a smelly changing room, into a matted space. It’s like walking into a Street Fighter II level. On one side, teenage boys practise sit-ups in tandem. They rise and fall, like grubs. On the other, tough guys pretzel each other in submission holds. Punchbags lie around bearing words such as “Venum” [sic] and ‘“Blitz”. I’ve come to 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu at Diesel Gym, London, to try wrestling, but I’m not happy about it. Wrestling is a thing brothers do, to littler brothers, to sisters, to the cat. As an only child, I never had any interest in the performing of piledrivers over sofa cushions. I like ferns.
I’m looking for John, I say, to a muscular, topless man. An awed look passes over his face. My trainer today, mixed martial artist John “the Hitman” Hathaway, is clearly revered. “Hey!” says a voice behind me. It’s the man from reception, who was smiling at nothing. Standing up, he looks different. He looks like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, playing a French baker in a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. He has soft eyes, and the widest smile. I later look up videos of Hathaway in action, mercilessly raining elbows on to his opponents’ heads. I’m very confused.