Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fight club a form of camaraderie?

'I don't understand wanting to have someone punch me:' U of M professor

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Prof. Kenneth MacKendrick can't really grasp why a guy would go out of his way to get punched in the face voluntarily and consensually.

But the University of Manitoba professor of religion and researcher into masculinity understands that there are extremes to which some men will go to declare their vision of masculinity.

U of M officials have busted a fight club in a squash court in the Frank Kennedy Centre. Officials believe that young men engaged in voluntary, bare-knuckled altercations arranged through a Facebook site.

There were 87 members of the Facebook site -- primarily U of M students and four part-time staff -- who temporarily had their gym membership suspended. Investigators determined that there were five ringleaders, one of them a part-time staff member, who had their gym membership suspended for a month.

U of M is continuing to investigate what actually happened in that squash court, and could impose academic discipline.

Emphasizing that no one yet knows exactly what went on in that squash court, MacKendrick said that men gain camaraderie by doing things with other men, which can range from going fishing, to joining a movement such as Promise Keepers or Iron John, to the extreme of a fight club.

"To be a man means to be, look at me, I'm in crisis. The bruises are being used as a fashion accessory," he said.

"They did this at the U of M, where, if they needed it, they would have medical attention.

"I understand the impetus, I understand the trials of manhood, of initiation rituals," said MacKendrick. Nevertheless, "I don't understand wanting to have someone punch me."

Over at the Professional Edge Fitness and Conditioning gym in southwest Winnipeg, owner Jordan Cieciwa certainly doesn't know why guys would choose to punch each other out with bare fists.

Cieciwa teaches martial arts as a fitness activity, and also trains Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighters.

"No, we don't" understand the attraction, he said.

"The guys that are professional, they try not to get injured and not get marked up," Cieciwa said.

"Those injuries take a long time to heal.

Black eyes, broken fingers, possible brain injuries -- they're not conducive to making a good impression in the workplace the next day, he said.

"We want people to know there are better ways to do this. If you're doing it for the rush, there's a better way to do it, without the black eye," said Cieciwa.

At his gym, there's always a referee supervising training sessions, people wear headgear, and their padded gloves are four times the size of the gloves worn in mixed martial arts competitions.

Meanwhile, MacKendrick has studied the novel Fight Club and the 1999 film of the same name starring Brad Pitt, in which young men meet at night for consensual bare-knuckle brawling.

Some of the participants might be too young to remember the book and film, MacKendrick suggested.

"It's becoming a dated reference, but the name Fight Club has caught in people's minds."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 20, 2010 B2

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