That Was Easy

How To Take A Punch To The Face

I let a pro MMA fighter punch me in the face to learn the art of surviving massive head trauma.
September 7, 2017, 7:55am
All photos by Bambang Noer Ramadhan.

In elementary school, I fought a classmate once behind school. I punched him a few times in the face and beat him up pretty bad. He told his parents and they ended up telling my mom and dad, even threatening to report me to the police. My parents were furious and grounded me for more than a week. Since then, I swore to myself never to lay my fists on anyone again, even as my peers called me a coward. Unfortunately, the older I got, the more impossible it became to avoid violence entirely.

I once saw a fight between two angkot (minibus) drivers. They accused each other of stealing passengers, and they brawled in the middle of the street. The driver of the minibus I was on received a nasty blow. He didn't deserve it, but there was nothing I could do to help him. I already declared myself as a pacifist. After moving to Jakarta a few months ago, I realized it's way worse over here. People fight on the side of the street over the most trivial shit. The Special Capital Region of Jakarta has the highest crime rate in Indonesia with over 44,000 instances of crimes reported in 2014, according to Katadata. So I decided it's a good time as any to re-learn how to defend myself in the worst case scenario.

At the office, thinking about how violence is never the answer.

But still, I didn't want to let go of my pacifist ethos. Thankfully, I found an expert of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) to try to teach me on how to take punches without getting injured.

Sulistyono is a 28-year-old MMA pro based in South Jakarta. Sulistyono won a gold medal at the Rembang MMA competition in July. Unlike me who couldn't—and wouldn't—hit someone since middle school, Sulistyono has been using his fists to learn various types of martial arts for years.

I asked him to teach me how to take a punch, he seemed a bit shocked, but agreed anyway. The day of, my adrenaline was pumping. It's been more than 10 years since I got into a fist fight. So I thought I'd better get prepared, back at my office, I did some physical exercise to get my body ready.

Preparation is key, so I practiced one-arm push-ups at the office.

When I showed up the next day, Sulistyono let out a little laugh. He didn't think I would show up. He immediately instructed me to stretch for 10 minutes. "You didn't eat anything before you come here, did you?" he asked.

"Hmm, not really," I replied with a lie. I ate a heavy lunch at a warteg (diner) with my co-workers. I mean, why would he ask me this now? Would his hit make me throw up all my lunch?

Way past the point of turning back.

After stretching, he handed me boxing gloves and a head protector. Sulistyono wasn't going to let me take a punch without protectors. "Even a pro martial artist can collapse when they get hit for real, let alone a newbie like you," he said.

Since I still have a lot to live for, I followed his advice. Before we started, Sulistyono told me one critical point about defending ourselves during a physical altercation: use your arms. He taught me to raise my arms in a double cover position to protect my head and stomach—two areas where attacks often land. Plus, out of all body organs, the head is most prone to damage from an open blow.

Your arms are your lifesavers. I wish I had more than two.

The first round kicked off and without any hesitation Sulistyono's punches flew in from all directions. He purposely aimed for my stomach and face a few times. The two-minute round felt like two hours of constant punches. Thankfully, Sulistyono only threw punches that I could manage. After the first round, I took a one-minute break to drink some water and control my breathing. As my arms were shaking from defending his punches, I wondered what the heck I signed up for.

Sulistyono said he took it easy on me—I didn't believe it for a second.

It's time for the second round.

BAM! Sulistyono's punch hit my left cheek right away. I was stunned for a moment. Slowly, the pain creeped in. After about one minute, I felt dizzy. I had forgotten what it feels like to be punched. If I wasn't wearing a protector, I would have collapsed on the spot. He then gave me a chance to hit back. People who were watching on the sidelines clamorously encouraged me to land some punches. My spirit was up. For the first time in a long time, these hands were about to hurt someone.

But not really. As soon as I aimed for his face, Sulistyono brought me down. He had my neck locked between his legs. I was gasping for air. The second round promptly ended. I started thinking about God.

Thankfully Sulistyono, an MMA pro, spared me my life.

On the third round, Sulistyono asked me to punch him. I hesitated, not wanting to fall for the same trick. I threw a punch anyway. This time, he swiftly moved sideways to avoid it. That kind of footwork would be really helpful when avoiding an attack. After he threw his right punch, which landed right on my face, I decided I couldn't take this anymore.

"I was hitting you with only moderate power only. It's not even close to where am I during a tournament," he said. Well, thank God for that.

He offered me to train me seriously so I can get better at avoiding punches to the head. But I hesitated. Without an ounce of shame, I asked if there's any other trick that could save me without having to master a martial arts. His answer surprised me.

The aftermath.

"If you meet some arrogant douchebag trying to start a street fight, don't fall for it. No good can come out of it. Just leave that person while we can still control our emotions," he said. "People who are familiar with martial arts tend to be more humble."

All this time, my pacifist attitude is actually what saved me from massive head trauma. You can forget about putting a lot of hard work surviving punches in the face—being a coward is apparently the best way to get through life.

"That Was Easy," is an ongoing series where we send VICE's writers get the pros to teach them new, difficult, or strange skills. Have an idea of something you want to see us try? Send us a tweet with the hashtag "#thatwaseasy."