The Empathic Fighter – Healing Through the Fight
That Saturday night she was in a zone she had never known before; everything was different – There was a new level of consciousness and body presence. Her limbs tingled with sensation, and the ground beneath her feet resounded upwards with every stride, but at the same time she was only vaguely aware of the pressing crowd in the darkness. Its clamour rolling around the skeletal vaulted structure of the building, roars and shouts mere background echoes as she stared at the back of her coach as he led her, weaving through the hordes.
With every table sold out, it was standing room only in Lansdowne’s Aberdeen Pavilion, and the buzz was palpable. Vaguely acknowledging a few giants leaning in from the right and left, her focus zeroed in on the ring; a beacon, a spot lit stage, and she knew it was hers. She belonged there.
It didn’t matter that she was new to it; the hard months of training - sparring, grueling weight lifting regimes, exhausting hill running, broken bones, and most of all, the years of discouragement and wounds inflicted by doubters, controllers and wannabes…She was there, and she had won already.
Intro to Shannon
She doesn’t really fit the empath stereotype; I mean, how many empaths get a buzz out of Muay Thai fighting, which is said to be one of the most vicious of the martial arts. Empaths are usually (not necessarily correctly) tagged as being givers, selfless, caring to a fault, often placing the needs of others far before their own – They’re not commonly perceived as people who, when they see a fight ring, immediately calculate where the medics are going to enter to carry away the unconscious form of their opponent.
So what do you call a highly sensitive, caring, empathic person, who has a killer instinct in the fight ring? And whose day job sees her working with victims of crime to rebuild their lives, while leisure time is spent sparring and drilling fight sequences, and lifting as much weight as she can find? It’s not a trick question, and there’s only one I have met; that would be Kemptville’s Shannon Hogan.
Shannon would tell you herself that she’s ‘a bit different’. Maybe it’s due to the unusual path she’s taken in healing from her past. She’s certainly lived some of the classic empath problems; she’s been a magnet to narcissists, physically, mentally and verbally abused…Yes, she’s been there got the ‘I’ve been a doormat’ t-shirt. Some of the damage has been so brutal that she won’t talk about it, but why would she? It’s all in the past now, and one thing she knows for sure is that she is never going back there, ever.
“I am a completely different person now, unrecognizable to how I was once upon a time. The training I have gone through – particularly the final eight weeks – has transformed me.”
Passionate about mental and physical health, she’s a positive person, and gives a lot of herself and her time to help others get better and to be better. In her other leisure time (when she’s not in training), she rides horses (particularly the ones who are nuts), and helps riders to be more confident and trusting in their equine companions. She also coaches new-comers to Muay Thai, at The Kemptville Training Centre.
Self-improvement, physical training, and learning to defend herself gave her such confidence, she wants to share it with anyone who’s out on their own self-discovery crusade.
Rocks In The Road
Shannon’s road to her first fight was a long one. She’s trained a long time, but early coaches discouraged her actually getting in the ring to compete.
You don’t have enough drive to get in the ring yet…You don’t have what it takes…You don’t have the commitment…
were some of the stories she heard, blocking her progress and self-belief. She was different then, and life experience has since taught her that she was simply taking on the beliefs and tales those people were telling themselves.
Often progress to success will be obstructed by others who are not ready to see you succeed, due to the stories they tell themselves…about why they can’t succeed. If you’re an empathic type of person, beyond simply hearing the words, you’re susceptible to taking on the negative feelings and believing they’re your own.
Finally, a year and a half ago, Shannon met her current coach, Khris Collins, and he’s been the best coach and mentor she’s ever had. One of the first serious questions he asked her in their training was, ‘Do you want to fight?’ And since then her training has represented a road of growth and healing.
“I’m not the easiest person to teach,” she says…"I'm stubborn and I have built my internal defences so high over the years…I don’t trust easily.”
The physical challenge of training to fight-fit was the lesser of the challenges she had to overcome. First she had to work through the mind blocks; the first being, sparring with men, which dredged up the horror of past abuse and being beaten up. Even trusting men was an issue, let alone sparring with them. But as many who have physically trained in group settings will tell you, barriers break down quickly, and she built trust and friendships with the men she teamed with, drawing huge support from them.
“Now we’re like siblings who enjoy beating the shit out of each other,” she laughs.
The final eight weeks took team and personal training to the extreme. It built a huge amount of muscle in a short time, and also programmed her body to stand, defend and fight automatically regardless of exhaustion or pain.
“It seems weird to say it, but this past eight weeks has been the most intense self-care I have ever given myself,” she says. “Something got fixed.”
Anyone who knew her can tell you that the leaps and bounds of self transformation were evident on the outside; the way she stood, the way she walked, and how she projected, all altered in the last few weeks before the fight.
The onlookers peeking round the corner at Kemptville’s Anytime Fitness may not have seen it that way as they hurried to see if there was someone who needed help, as her coach drove her workout mercilessly, with Shannon yelling back at him.
“I heard one guy say, ‘What the hell?’ as he came round the corner,” says Shannon as she reminisces back to the torturous afternoon. ““I threw up a little in my mouth that day. My body was giving up.”
“‘Have I told you you’re a fucking asshole yet today?!’...could have been words out of my mouth,” she says, with a slightly impish grin. “But in my defence I had ridden 3 horses that morning and then gone hill running with my team up Laurier Hill in Brockville, before training in the gym.” (This woman is a machine. I love the way she says, ‘In my defence…’)
Still, she maintains that the training regime other mortals would see as the insanely intense, plus the team sparring where they would simply beat hell out of each other to make sure they could take the hiding, and finally the 10lbs of weight cutting in the final seven days, all formed part of the intense self-care which strengthened her externally, and more importantly, internally. That self-growth saw a lot of the internal defences she had built up over years, all in the name of self-preservation, begin to soften, reinforcing her relationships and trust.
“This is the best thing I ever did for myself. People don’t scare me anymore, and I have no self-doubt…none.”
The hairs stand up on my arms as she says this. She means it. Her face is so intense, and her eyes so serious. She’s communicating a genuine and dramatic transformational shift, one I (sitting in front of her) feel myself wanting too…Who wouldn’t?
The run-up week to the fight came with its surprises; opponents in her weight class were suddenly unavailable and the fight became an exhibition fight (if you’re not fighting in
your weight class, it doesn’t count on your fight record). But even more of a surprise on the night was at weigh-in, when her opponent, a seasoned fighter with some wins under her belt, weighed in at a whopping 275lbs (to Shannon’s 159.6lbs).
It didn’t matter. Nothing was going to turn her away at the brink of her first real fight. The only words she had in her head were those she had heard from her coach during her training; “Fighters fight”. There was no question in her mind.
“When the MTO guy asked me if I really wanted to take the fight, I told him, ‘Fuck, yes!’" She grins; “He just sighed and shook his
‘I am the fire’, her chosen track by Halestorm blasted her arrival as she swung her leg over the ropes which her coach held down in the blue corner. It’s a song that screams of breaking free of being held back, and letting rip into destiny, and one particularly dear to her life quest.
It felt like an eerie quiet before the storm.
‘Nice surface,’ she remembers saying to Khris as she bounced athletically from foot to foot, her heightened senses completely absorbed in the sensation of the floor and the confines of the ring, oblivious to the cacophony of the crowd beyond. The voice of her coach was calm and low as he prompted her through her warm up.
She felt at ease as she took a sip of water and he put in her mouth guard and did up her helmet. The last eight weeks and the surreal buzz of the crowd was all locking in to that very moment; the beginning of her first fight.
“It felt like where I was supposed to be. I was calm and in a zone I have never felt before.”
I look at the video of the fight and see Shannon’s opponent; she’s a big, powerful fighter, taller and bulkier than Shannon (as the huge weight difference would suggest). They’re moving round each other, Shannon blocking her face before throwing a cross-jab. Her opponent moved slower, but the weight thrown into her punches…“Was like being hit by a train…” Shannon confirms.
“Did she scare you?” I ask
“No,” she says simply, with a shrug. “I was calm. And she was simply all the people who had ever told me I’d never get to where I had that evening.” Then she raises her eyebrows and tilts her head, obviously recalling the evening in vivid detail; “She was slower than me, but she was so big and powerful that it felt like my punches were just absorbed.” She lays into the last word expressively, conveying her amazement at the time, and I imagine it like attacking a rubber wall.
In the middle of the second round, Shannon took an excruciating kick to the liver -
“That hurt. You don’t ever want one of those,” she confirms.
She felt like she had frozen to the spot as the raw boulder of pain rolled all the way through her up to her throat, and she bit down hard against her mouth guard, determined it wasn’t ending that way.
“It felt like a long 10 seconds I was standing there, but by the time I threw the next jab cross, the pain had gone, and I realized it had just been a split second.”
“You’re a machine!” I exclaim.
“Yes. That’s the training,” she nods matter-of-factly. “All I can hear is my coach shouting commands, like ‘kick with a kick’, ‘cross with a cross’, ‘knee with a kick’ and my body just works the sequence.”
She was tiring as the fight entered the third round, but as she heard Khris yell, ‘Killshot!’ there was no faltering, and she pendulumed repeated punches into her opponent; left, right, left, right.
There was another thing working for Shannon, in addition to the training; her extra senses were on fire that night, and she had a ‘feeling’, a ‘knowingness’ what her opponent was going to do, before she did it.
“It’s the same when I ride horses, but this was enhanced. I knew how she would move next, and I knew she was going to open my nose before it happened, but I was too tired to react fast enough.”
The punch which spelled the beginning of the end had her nose dripping with blood. (There’s no blood allowed in exhibition fights). Initially they were able to stop the bleeding, but a second blow had it flowing afresh, and the fight was called 51 seconds into the third round.
“That fight was the most exhilarating, liberating, and fun thing I have ever done.”
Despite not being the victor, her sense of achievement was enormous. In her first fight before a mass of people, she had stood her ground into the final round against an experienced opponent who was the best part of twice her weight. And all those voices from the past, and the doubters, had been silenced forever.
She had proven herself…most importantly to herself.
Exiting the Stage
“It was funny as I came out of the ring,” she says. “The doctor asked me, ‘Are you okay?’ I just sniffed hard to clear my nose and said ‘Yup. All good!’”… (Haha! She’s just like the fictional tough, nonchalant heroes I write into my stories!)
"What?!" He asked incredulously.
“The other doctor laughed and shook my hand, and said, ‘Fuck that was a good fight!’”
She trusts in her coach completely; that he has her back to the end, a bond made stronger by experiencing his dedication at the event itself. And it was his words which bolstered her in the buildup; “I have zero concerns about you protecting yourself in the ring.”
“Sorry,” said Shannon to Khris, as he dabbed at the blood running from her nose with a towel as they stood in the change room. One of her characteristics is that she takes ownership of the responsibility she feels she has to everyone who has invested in her, and in spite of the massive weight disadvantage, she had really wanted to see the fight to its end, or better still, deck the giant.
“Why are you sorry? I am so proud of you right now!” he answered. (It had after all been almost three full rounds of real-life David Vs Goliath!)
Other key support came from her family and friends and people she trains with, who were there to cheer her. That strength gave her confidence as the rounds went on, that she was capable of more than simply surviving the fight; she was capable of winning.
“I know I was drawing strength from them as I was fighting. I could feel them out there.”
And they were the ones who celebrated with her; her ever-supportive brother, best friend, Ashley, who supplied Shannon’s requested apres-fight Cap’n Crunch and sour skittles, while Khris brought the beer.
The Aftermath – What Changed?
The week following seemed strange and surreal as her body rested, adrenalin subsided, and the training regime fell away from its previous intensity, to allow for recovery.
Everyone seemed a little withdrawn – all on their versions of come-down, but the training didn’t grind to a halt and Shannon was back in the gym, with a new determination and expectation for her next fight, coming up early in 2019.
Diet – RIP Carb Monster
She used to be a carb monster - they were her staple. It wasn’t unknown for her to demolish one of those entire packs of fresh tortellini in a single sitting when she was in need of fuel. Therefore ‘hangry’ was an understatement when the keto diet was enforced for cutting purposes…Infact, as someone who witnessed some of the effects, ‘hangerous’ might be a better term.
But eight weeks later, she doesn’t think she wants to go back…carbs now seem heavy; the reactor once dependent on fossil fuel has gone atomic, and she feels quicker of mind and body for it.
“That fight was the most exhilarating, liberating and fun thing I have ever done,” Shannon told me. “The intensity of the training leading up to it has taught me things about myself. I have no self-doubt anymore.”
She learnt to trust, and she felt a shift; her emotional defences have softened, and self-esteem has left her more willing to be malleable on the inside, allowing others in and having more faith, while at the same time no longer moulding herself according to the whims of those who seek to control.
She lives by the saying, ‘Be the person you needed when you were younger’, and she certainly is just that; both for herself, and the children and adults she trains and inspires.
So for this empath, fighting changed her life for the better. It was her way of going on an adventure; (to hijack words from the Bhagavad Gita) the journey of the self, through the self, to the self. However you do it, do it your way.
Oh, and (for anyone who’s not met her) did I mention? … If you expected a gruff, crooked-nosed, cauliflower-eared athlete with a face suited to radio, you’d be wrong – She’s an enthusiastic, often animated, highly attractive individual who smiles a lot in good company (that would be horses, and positive, down-to-earth people)… Don’t waste her time telling her this crap though; she doesn’t need it, and might punch your lights out… ;-)
Author’s note: Empaths are a common subject of my writing – They are always part of the cast in my fiction writing, and also inspire my articles and blogs. They are remarkable and sensitive, but often susceptible to being drawn into relationships with those who will use them, and take advantage of their nature. I am fascinated by those empaths who have struggled with this, but recognize it and have worked on themselves. Their stories of healing and self-growth are inspirational to others, to help heal and guard their gifts and energy better, now and in the future.
An empathic life lived free of ‘energy intruders’ is a remarkable life…