Wolf Therapy: "Rewolfing the Heart"

“I am not what you think you see. I am the wolf.” – Hansol Jung, Wolf Play

“Many people talk about the wild heart, or ‘rewilding’ the heart, but I prefer to talk about rewolfing the heart. When was your wolf heart awake and alive?” – Teo Alfero, Wolf Connection

• • •

In our work so far, we’ve taken a look at adoption dissolution and the potentially damaging effects of such an extraordinary life event. In an earlier post, Ilana noted that one of the ways individuals survive through post-traumatic stress is by dissociation. In The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk also calls this depersonalization. A traumatic moment can cause someone to lose some of their physical sensations, and sometimes progressively, their sense of themselves. Healing begins with reconnecting the body’s sensations with a sense of safety.

As Wolf Play unfolds, Jeenu reveals that he is not a child, but a wolf: first to the audience, then to Ash and Robin. It’s clear from the start that his connection to the animal goes far beyond a childhood infatuation: he relates to the wolf because of its capacity to survive in extreme circumstances. But why a wolf? Why not another powerful, fighting animal, like a lion, a cheetah, or a bear? Wolves are resilient, cunning, and adaptive, all qualities important for Jeenu: “The wolf knows that he is alone, that all he has is his paws and his cunning to survive in the ever-changing environment.” There’s something about the spirit of the wolf that keeps Jeenu grounded, even in the tumultuous moments of being re-homed.

Photo by Yannick Menard 

We don’t know if Jeenu has ever seen a wolf in person, but people who have say that the experience can be awe-inspiring. In Acton, California, less than two hours outside of Los Angeles, an organization called Wolf Connection provides people with the opportunity to come face-to-face with a pack of wolf-dog hybrids. Their work, termed “Wolf Therapy,” is accessible for individuals, companies, and other groups who are seeking an experience that could connect them with nature, but at their core, they are a youth empowerment program for kids and teens who have faced trauma — not unlike Wolf Play‘s Jeenu. The group’s founder, Teo Alfero, published a book in 2019 (The Wolf Connection), in which he talks about the principles and methods that make up the therapeutic experiences offered at their ranch. He says:

“We have personal histories and experiences that influence the choices we have made and will make. But we humans often distort or repress our past experiences, which renders the truth of who we are and where we are in our lives elusive… Experiencing a living wolf may not be possible for most people, but I believe that connecting with the real-life stories of wolves and humans can help us reawaken our wolf heart and reconnect with our life purpose.”

Just like how dogs can be great service animals or emotional support animals, wolves have some of that same natural intuition to nurture and comfort another being in need. The folks at Wolf Connection have successfully demonstrated that being welcomed into the pack and falling into step with them on a hike, while also learning about the wolves’ stories (often the wolves have been neglected or mistreated by humans) can allow people to feel at ease with their own circumstances. The organization has helped people navigating cancer and terminal illnesses, addiction, and especially youth who are in treatment for mental illness and/or are living in an unstable environment.

Images: The Wolf Connection

Since beginning in 2009, Wolf Connection has grown in popularity, and its close proximity to Los Angeles has enticed local nature lovers and even movie stars. Comedian Whitney Cummings, who after the death of her father was looking for an experience that would guide her through her grief, found Wolf Connection and penned a beautiful piece in the New York Times about her experience:

“The night before, I went into a wormhole of wolf photos for inspiration, but nothing prepares you for seeing a real [wolf], much less touching one. So much of what we look at now is airbrushed, laced with a complimentary filter and color-corrected, but encountering a wolf in the flesh makes you realize how all those ersatz finishes, meant to improve the image, actually kind of ruins it. In the quest to make things flawless and beautiful, we remove the grit and spirit, the qualities that actually make them interesting.”

The marks of a wolf — their coarse, mesmerizing coat, their earthy, calming scent, and their piercing gaze — can open the heart, and protect the soul.

“Wolves are an extremely adaptable species. Wolf is one of the few that survived the last ice age. Pluck from the desert and throw into a sea a wolf will never drown a wolf will survive.

But it takes TIME.

It takes TIME.”

A Trauma-Sensitive Approach

Today we were fortunate to get a rehearsal visit from David Emerson and Jenn Turner, joining us from The Center for Trauma and Embodiment at the Justice Resource Institute.

As one of our community partner organizations for the production of Wolf Play, the staff at JRI are helping the cast and team understand more about the sources and manifestations of trauma in the body.

This community partnership is also part of Company One Theatre fulfilling our mission-driven goals to AMPLIFY the following:

  • That every child deserves love and a fighting chance to heal from personal and cultural trauma
  • the many ways people become family, and the extreme lengths they may go to protect the pack
  • the tools needed to navigate the thin dividing line between vulnerability and violence
  • local efforts to support the lived experiences of transracial and transnational adoptees
  • accessible theatre that opens conversations for all, thanks to Pay-What-You-Want ticketing and the support of the Boston Public Library

David and Jenn are accomplished experts in their field, and we’re excited to share more info about their work with Trauma Sensitive Yoga, below.

David Emerson YACEP | He/Him/His
Director, The Center for Trauma and Embodiment at JRI

Dave is the founder of Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) for the Justice Resource Institute in Massachusetts, where he coined the term “trauma-sensitive yoga.” From 2009-2011 he was responsible for curriculum development, supervision and oversight of the yoga intervention component of the first of its kind, NIH-funded study to assess the utility of yoga for survivors of trauma. Mr. Emerson has developed, conducted, and supervised TCTSY groups for rape crisis centers, domestic violence programs, residential programs for youth, active duty military personnel, survivors of terrorism, and Veterans Administration centers and clinics and more. In 2018, Dave Emerson co-founded the Center for Trauma and Embodiment at JRI. In April, 2020, JRI will host the Annual Conference on Trauma and Embodiment.

Dave is the a Author of Trauma-Sensitive Yoga in Therapy  (Norton, 2015)

This practical guide presents the cutting-edge work of the Trauma Center’s yoga therapy program, teaching all therapists how to incorporate it into their practices.

When treating a client who has suffered from interpersonal trauma―whether chronic childhood abuse or domestic violence, for example―talk therapy isn’t always the most effective course. For these individuals, the trauma and its effects are so entrenched, so complex, that reducing their experience to a set of symptoms or suggesting a change in cognitive frame or behavioral pattern ignores a very basic but critical player: the body.

In cases of complex trauma, mental health professionals largely agree that the body itself contains and manifests much of the suffering―self hatred, shame, and fear. Take, for example, a woman who experienced years of childhood sexual abuse and, though very successful in her professional life, has periods of not being able to feel her limbs, sensing an overall disconnection from her very physical being. Reorienting clients to their bodies and building their “body sense” can be the very key to unlocking their pain and building a path toward healing.

Based on research studies conducted at the renowned Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, this book presents the successful intervention known as Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TSY), an evidence-based program for traumatized clients that helps them to reconnect to their bodies in a safe, deliberate way.

And co-author of Overcoming Trauma through Yoga (North Atlantic Books, 2011)

Survivors of trauma—whether abuse, accidents, or war—can end up profoundly wounded, betrayed by their bodies that failed to get them to safety and that are a source of pain. In order to fully heal from trauma, a connection must be made with oneself, including one’s body. The trauma-sensitive yoga described in this book moves beyond traditional talk therapies that focus on the mind, by bringing the body actively into the healing process. This allows trauma survivors to cultivate a more positive relationship to their body through gentle breath, mindfulness, and movement practices.

Overcoming Trauma through Yoga 
is a book for survivors, clinicians, and yoga instructors who are interested in mind/body healing.


Jenn Turner LMHC | She/Her/Hers
Director of Training, Center for Trauma and Embodiment at JRI

Jenn has had the honor of working with survivors of trauma for over a decade. Along with working in private practice as a trauma-informed therapist, Jenn has been leading Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga classes for women at the Trauma Center since 2008 where she also oversees the teaching team. She taught the yoga classes and developed the protocol for the NIH-funded research study that examined the effects of TCTSY on treatment-resistant PTSD (results can be accessed by clicking here). Jenn is a lead TCTSY trainer and supervises students in our certification program.

• • •

Information about Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Groups at JRI

Participants are required to be in therapy, either at the Trauma Center or elsewhere. Visit this link for more info.

The main objectives are for us to use yoga forms as opportunities to notice what we feel in our bodies and to practice making choices about what to do with our bodies.
• No experience necessary.
• We strive to make the classes accessible to everybody regardless of physical ability.

Trauma-sensitive yoga is a way for us to safely experiment with having a body. Through yoga we can experiment with:
• Breathing
• Moving
• Strengthening
• Stretching
• and, Resting

Our classes are set up so that students are in control over what they are doing with their body at all times and the teacher is there to provide safe, professional guidance and to help students focus on particular dynamics (what muscles they are using, what it feels like to have their feet on the ground, what it feels like to breathe, etc.)

Participants will not have to talk to other participants, making this class more comfortable for those individuals who find it difficult to be in groups.

Classes are open enrollment.

A Guide to the Legal Terms in Wolf Play

In rehearsal, we’ve been digging into the feelings and intentions behind the characters’ actions, and how they affect young Jeenu. We have come to realize that while Jeenu’s situation is deeply complicated, the adults around him are all acting out of their own version of “extreme love.” Although Ryan and Ash both have reservations about getting a child from an unregulated internet forum, Robin says to Ryan, “Why? Because we’re bypassing some kind of institutional governmental system?” She sees Jeenu’s photo on the post online, and feels compelled to rescue him from the internet and bring him into their home. Regardless of how he wound up on this platform, he is there and in need of a family.

From the other side, we’ve learned about some of the reasons why Peter and Katie decided to re-home Jeenu using the internet, rather than working through official government channels. Peter says that if they went to court, “he might slip into the cracks of the system, so it’s just simpler, this way, it seems? And uh, affordable, a lot more.” The latter point speaks to the crux of why families, like the ones reported on in the Reuters exposé, turn to unregulated re-homing: adoption and family law can be wildly expensive. When Peter changes his mind, however, and his interactions with Shephard-Michaels clan escalate, we do see him place his faith into the court system, which he was originally so ready to renounce.

Because this practice is murky legally, it’s important for us to understand how it works, and just how much the characters in Wolf Play understand what they’re taking part in. This post serves as a glossary for some of the legal terms used in the play’s account of Jeenu’s re-homing. While not all reported instances of this phenomenon occur exactly the same way, these components are crucial in our understanding of what happens to Jeenu.

[Illustration by Dante Terzigni for City Journal]

Adoption dissolution: the termination of a previously legalized adoption. This phenomenon is often lumped together with the term adoption disruption, which more accurately is when an adoption already-in-process ends before it is legally finalized. For our purposes, Jeenu is going through the dissolution of his adoption by Peter and Katie and is in the process of being “re-homed” elsewhere.

Power of Attorney contract (pg. 11) – delegates authority for the care of a child (such as the right to consent to medical treatment for
the child and to enroll the child in school) to the new
caregiver. It is not intended to transfer custody permanently, and is most often employed when a parent cannot care for their child for a period of time, such as due to illness or military deployment. Also called durable power of attorney (pg. 88).

Affidavit of waiver of interest in child (pg. 13) – a formal document used in certain states when a parent desires to relinquish all parental rights to their child. Not official unless signed by a judge or court official. In Wolf Play, the affidavit that Robin signs is notarized by a government official in the state of Arizona, although it does not meet the state’s laws for adoption and custody transfers. Usually, both parties involved with the notarization of this waiver would need to be present at the time of signing, so in this circumstance we don’t exactly know how official this document actually is.

Information fraud (pg. 85) – the act of misrepresenting oneself and one’s personal information on any legal documents. Peter accuses Robin of lying about her marital status with Ash, and tries to use this as a way to prove their wrongdoing and inability to take care of Jeenu.

Domestic partner (pg. 88) – Peter describes Ash as Robin’s “domestic partner” which intentionally delegitimizes Ash and Robin’s marriage. Although what Robin states on page 87 is correct – “Under the federal laws, state laws forbidding joint adoption by same-sex couples is illegal,” the judge cites their “non-traditional family structure,” as a stress on Jeenu’s emotional wellbeing.

Petitioner (pg. 85) – the party who is bringing a case or argument to the court

Speculation (pg. 85) – an objection made in court when a witness is prompted to answer a question that they may not know the answer to, thus potentially creating false information.

Temporary custody of the state (pg. 88) – when parents lose custody of a child, or a child is without any familial guardian, the state in which the child lives must assume custody of the child until they are placed with an adoptive family. When in the care of a foster parent or home, treatment facility, or group home, the state usually retains custody of the child.

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children – a contract between all 50 states that aims to keep track of the cases of children in the foster care and adoption systems, even when the child is being moved across different states. This ensures a structure for deciding who is responsible for the care of a child who is moved out of state jurisdiction.

In our production, we imagine that the scene in court takes place in California, because we see Jeenu back at home with Robin and Ash in San Francisco the next day. In the court systems of California, adoptions (both with an agency and independent) must be legalized in the presence of a licensed social worker and two witnesses. Also in both circumstances, a home-study of the adoptive family must be performed by the county or state department of social services (and this usually costs around $4,500 in fees, excluding attorney or counseling fees). So although we still have some questions regarding exactly how the exchange of Jeenu’s custody and the notarization of the documents manages to go unnoticed by the legal system, we know that his re-homing does not comply with California’s adoption laws.

At the center of these adults’ decisions, whether initiated out of this “extreme love,” or something else, is a human life, a boy. First brought to a new home in America from South Korea, and then released to whoever on the internet happened to find and connect with his post, Jeenu is on the hunt for stability and peace. Designed to keep children safe and cared for, the legal system, while imperfect, prevents a child like him from being put though any trauma or harm, and in Wolf Play, we see what happens when challenging the system goes too far out of bounds for an easy solution to come about.

Navigating Trauma

[Minjung Kim: Mountain, 2012]

Below is a useful excerpt from a New Scientist article on the foundational book about trauma and its impact on our physical selves: The Body Keeps The Score. I should note here that I found this book by Bessel van der Kolk — a Boston area psychiatrist and researcher — to be revelatory and eye opening, so it was a major disappointment to discover that van der Kolk had been fired from his own institute in 2018 over charges of hostile work environment and bullying. His contributions to the field of trauma research and treatment have been significant, but that impact should be taken with knowledge that the field is split on its relationship to his legacy.

What has killed more Americans since 2001 than the Afghanistan and Iraq wars? And which serious health issue is twice as likely to affect US women as breast cancer? The answer, claims psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, lies in what we now understand about trauma and its effects. In his disturbing book, The Body Keeps the Score, he explains how trauma and its resulting stress harms us through physiological changes to body and brain, and that those harms can persist throughout life. Excess stress can predispose us to everything from diabetes to heart disease, maybe even cancer. […]

Van der Kolk draws on 30 years of experience to argue powerfully that trauma is one of the West’s most urgent public health issues. The list of its effects is long: on mental and physical health, employment, education, crime, relationships, domestic or family abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction. “We all want to live in a world that is safe, manageable… predictable, and victims remind us that this is not always the case,” says van der Kolk. When no one wants to hear about a person’s trauma, it finds a way to manifest in their body.

And it is not only extreme experiences that linger. Family disturbance or generalised neglect can wire children to be on high alert, their stressed bodies tuned to fight or flight. Or they may be so “numbed out” by keeping demons at bay they can’t engage with life’s pleasures or protect themselves from future trauma. Even parents who don’t attune with their children can do untold damage, van der Kolk argues.

Maria Popova, on her exquisite website Brain Pickings, also delves into The Body Keeps the Score:

Trauma, Van der Kolk notes, affects not only those who have suffered it but also those who surround them and, especially, those who love them. He writes: “One does not have be a combat soldier, or visit a refugee camp in Syria or the Congo to encounter trauma. Trauma happens to us, our friends, our families, and our neighbors. […] It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability.”

In trauma survivors, Van der Kolk notes, the parts of the brain that have evolved to monitor for danger remain overactivated and even the slightest sign of danger, real or misperceived, can trigger an acute stress response accompanied by intense unpleasant emotions and overwhelming sensations. Such posttraumatic reactions make it difficult for survivors to connect with other people, since closeness often triggers the sense of danger. And yet the very thing we come to most dread after experiencing trauma — close contact with other people — is also the thing we most need in order to regain psychoemotional solidity and begin healing. Van der Kolk writes: “Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”

This, he points out, is why we’ve evolved a refined mechanism for detecting danger — we’re incredibly attuned to even the subtlest emotional shifts in those around us and, even if we don’t always heed these intuitive readings, we can read another person’s friendliness or hostility on the basis of such imperceptible cues as brow tension, lip curvature, and body angles. But one of the most pernicious effects of trauma is that it disrupts this ability to accurately read others, rendering the trauma survivor either less able to detect danger or more likely to misperceive danger where there is none. Paradoxically, what normalizes and repairs our ability to read danger and safety correctly is human connection. Van der Kolk writes: “Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love: These are complex and hard-earned capacities. You don’t need a history of trauma to feel self-conscious and even panicked at a party with strangers — but trauma can turn the whole world into a gathering of aliens.”

On the subject of dissociation, and other ways traumatized people navigate the world, Popova writes [note: emphasis below is mine]:

Drawing on his work with patients who have survived a variety of traumatic experiences — from plane crashes to rape to torture — Van der Kolk considers the great challenge of those of us living with trauma: “When our senses become muffled, we no longer feel fully alive. […] In response to the trauma itself, and in coping with the dread that persisted long afterward, these patients had learned to shut down the brain areas that transmit the visceral feelings and emotions that accompany and define terror. Yet in everyday life, those same brain areas are responsible for registering the entire range of emotions and sensations that form the foundation of our self-awareness, our sense of who we are. What we witnessed here was a tragic adaptation: In an effort to shut off terrifying sensations, they also deadened their capacity to feel fully alive.”

While this dissociation from the body is an adaptive response to trauma, the troublesome day-to-day anguish comes from the retriggering of this remembered response by stimuli that don’t remotely warrant it. Van der Kolk examines the interior machinery at play:

“The elementary self system in the brain stem and limbic system is massively activated when people are faced with the threat of annihilation, which results in an overwhelming sense of fear and terror accompanied by intense physiological arousal. To people who are reliving a trauma, nothing makes sense; they are trapped in a life-or-death situation, a state of paralyzing fear or blind rage. Mind and body are constantly aroused, as if they are in imminent danger. They startle in response to the slightest noises and are frustrated by small irritations. Their sleep is chronically disturbed, and food often loses its sensual pleasures. This in turn can trigger desperate attempts to shut those feelings down by freezing and dissociation.”

Image result for wolf

Which leads us of course to Wolf Play‘s Jeenu/Wolf, and to all the characters in this drama, who are navigating their own personal traumas (oppression, abandonment, kinship units that break apart, professional setbacks, etc), as they try to connect and fight for family.

Bessel van der Kolk writes in The Body Keeps the Score [note: emphasis below is mine]:

If you have a comfortable connection with your inner sensations — if you can trust them to give you accurate information — you will feel in charge of your body, your feelings, and your self.

However, traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.

The more people try to push away and ignore internal warning signs, the more likely they are to take over and leave them bewildered, confused, and ashamed. People who cannot comfortably notice what is going on inside become vulnerable to respond to any sensory shift either by shutting down or by going into a panic — they develop a fear of fear itself.

Maria Popova continues her summation of the book, this time tackling the role of trauma in childhood — an experience that can often result in complex post traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD.

How we respond to trauma, Van der Kolk asserts, is to a large extent conditioned by our formative relationships with our caretakers, whose task is to help us establish a secure base. Essential to this is the notion of attunement between parent and child, mediated by the body — those subtlest of physical interactions in which the caretaker mirrors and meets the baby’s needs, making the infant feel attended to and understood. Attunement is the foundation of secure attachment, which is in turn the scaffolding of psychoemotional health later in life. Van der Kolk writes:

“A secure attachment combined with the cultivation of competency builds an internal locus of control, the key factor in healthy coping throughout life. Securely attached children learn what makes them feel good; they discover what makes them (and others) feel bad, and they acquire a sense of agency: that their actions can change how they feel and how others respond. Securely attached kids learn the difference between situations they can control and situations where they need help. They learn that they can play an active role when faced with difficult situations. In contrast, children with histories of abuse and neglect learn that their terror, pleading, and crying do not register with their caregiver. Nothing they can do or say stops the beating or brings attention and help. In effect they’re being conditioned to give up when they face challenges later in life.”

[…]

“All of us, but especially children, need … confidence that others will know, affirm, and cherish us. Without that we can’t develop a sense of agency that will enable us to assert: “This is what I believe in; this is what I stand for; this is what I will devote myself to.” As long as we feel safely held in the hearts and minds of the people who love us, we will climb mountains and cross deserts and stay up all night to finish projects. Children and adults will do anything for people they trust and whose opinion they value. But if we feel abandoned, worthless, or invisible, nothing seems to matter. Fear destroys curiosity and playfulness. In order to have a healthy society we must raise children who can safely play and learn. There can be no growth without curiosity and no adaptability without being able to explore, through trial and error, who you are and what matters to you.”

Image result for wolf at the door
[Illustration by Gastón Viñas — @framesinacage]

Shields v. Habazin

Tonight Claressa Shields fights Ivana Habazin, and the pre-bout trash talk has been SERIOUS. And not just the trash talk, but the family drama. Forbes reports:

The fight was [originally] scheduled for August 17 in Shields’ hometown of Flint, Michigan, but a knee injury forced a postponement. Subsequently, the fight was rescheduled for Oct. 5.

However, an altercation at the weigh-in between Habazin’s manager James Ali Bashir and Shields’ sister appeared to lead to an attack of the 68-year-old man moments after words were exchanged.

Bashir suffered serious injuries and the fight was called off. Shields’ brother, Artis Mack was arrested for the attack and charged for the crime. As you can imagine, there is bad blood on both sides, and Shields has vowed to KO Habazin by the sixth round.

Catch the action tonight:

  • Date: Fri, Jan 10
  • Time: 9 p.m. ET
  • TV: Showtime
  • Live Stream: Showtime App

    (It’s likely the fight will also be available via Showtime Sports’ website for free after tonight. We’ll update with info.)
Image result for Claressa Shields and Ivana Habazin

UPDATE

Shields for the win! Full fight below…

Fight Night

Tonight we had a variety of physical work on the table: fight choreography to map a suckerpunch, two fights between a grown man and a puppet, boxing choreography that condenses an entire bout into a dance of just a few (very complicated) minutes, and movement experts Jess Malone and Roxie Myhrum guiding us through it.

Preparing the boxing match scene is a particular kind of theatrical puzzle to solve. The final choreography will show Ash in the fight of her life, throwing punches, taking hits, and deploying footwork. The audience will only see Ash, but the entire bout — every punch and hook — needs to be fully mapped out with that her invisible opponent.

In the interest of tracking the dramaturgical arc of the fight, and Ash’s mental and physical journey, we’re taking a look at two real world bouts, with particular attention paid to Christina Hammer and David Haye as they track a path from bravado to defeat. (Click the Shields/Hammer video player below to enlarge — if the video player doesn’t appear for you, stream for free via Showtime here.)

The Arm Folds Inwards

There is a Korean saying that goes “Naturally, the arm folds inwards.”
It means, you will tend to fight for your family, back your pack, defend your bloodline, over mostly anything and anyone else.

— The Wolf, in WOLF PLAY


As proverbs go, it’s one that cuts across cultures. You may be more familiar with the version that goes “blood is thicker than water.” In any case, humans and other pack animals have survived for millennia by creating and enforcing strong familial ties, keeping close to those who belong, and keeping outsiders away.

All the chaos of the play stems from conflict around who belongs in — who is protected by — family.

Jeenu’s Korean family of origin opened their arms wide and released Jeenu into the unknown.

He became part of Peter and Katie’s family, until they had a biological child. When Katie folded her arm inwards, there was only room for the baby. It didn’t include Jeenu, and they sent him to a new family.

When Robin’s brother Ryan folds his arm inwards, it holds Robin, their mother, and Ash. Jeenu’s presence threatens his relationship with each of the women — with Ash’s concentration as a boxer, with Robin’s deference to him, with his position of privilege as the “good son” who stands between his mother and his disappointing sister.

Robin’s folded arm holds Ash, Ryan, and a child-shaped hole — until Jeenu arrives and replaces Ryan in the inner circle. (“I choose my son. I choose my wife. Over you. Always.”) Later, as her mother re-establishes contact, her folded arm holds Jeenu and her mother as Ash stands by.

With Ryan alienated from his sister, mother, and boxing protege, and Peter alienated from his wife, baby, and adopted son, the two men find each other — their arms fold inwards on the Family of Men.

Ash‘s folded arm holds the ring and her pro debut until Jeenu arrives, and then her path eventually leads to finding Jeenu and Robin in the center. Jeenu tells her, “Wolves don’t let their family’s asses be whupped. I have to back my pack.”

When Peter first folded his arm inwards, he didn’t think there was room for Katie, the baby, and Jeenu, but comes to find that “maybe we changed the wrong thing.” And in the end, it was true: there wasn’t room for everyone, and he folds his arm only around Jeenu.

Jeenu and Wolf hold onto each other — they are each other’s only sure things.

The arm folds inwards, fiercely.

Who's Out There To Look Up To?

Ash is a female boxer about to turn pro, and with that shift comes an enormous change in what kinds of bouts she can fight, and the possible money on the line. Once pro, she’s no longer eligible for the Olympics, and the purse gets bigger. But women’s boxing is wildly under-resourced. Whereas a male pro boxer at the top of the game can sign a contract for more than 50 million dollars, the best women boxers only bring in a few hundred thousand dollars at the most.

Even though women’s boxing hasn’t been nurtured by promoters or audiences, there are amazing women boxing, and the most promising of the last ten years is Claressa Shields, a young Black woman from Flint Michigan.

Ash comes out of the rich amateur women’s circuit around San Francisco, and would surely have been looking for a role model in the pro field. The best, and maybe only person to look up to would be Shields. Like many amateur women boxers out there, it’s a fair assumption that Ash would voraciously follow Shields’ career highs and lows, which have been extensively documented in numerous articles, videos, tv shows, and in the 2015 documentary T-Rex (which is being adapted to a feature film by Barry Jenkins, of Moonlight fame). Perhaps a love of Claressa is shared by Ash, Robin, and Ryan together?

Watch T-Rex via paid streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Vimeo, Google Play, or YouTube, or find some great excerpts linked here.

• • •

This excellent 2016 article from The Undefeated, “The rise of women’s boxing,” not only discusses Shields specifically, but gives a thorough overview of the field’s challenges, including an interview with another top woman, Heather Hardy:

New York-born and bred, Hardy used to dream about becoming a Yankee. As a child she would even envision herself running out of the bullpen at Yankee Stadium. She watched every game. She knew every stat. But little girls didn’t play baseball.
“I remember feeling like I was sorry I liked it,” she said. “I was sorry I was a girl.”
Later in life, Hardy adopted a new dream: becoming a professional boxer. But as she transitioned out of the amateurs, she was confronted with a harsh reality: Women don’t make much money fighting.
“A bunch of the girls who are pro [told me], ‘Just know this isn’t a life for you; this is a hobby because you’ll never make any money off of it,’” Hardy said.
“And 20 years later, I have that same feeling. I’m sorry I’m a girl.”

• • •

Earlier this year, Kelefah Sanneh profiled Shields for The New Yorker in a wide ranging piece that looks at her fighting style as well as her place in the culture:

Shields is constantly being compared to [MMA fighter Ronda] Rousey, and sometimes she seems frustrated that she has not drawn a similar fan base. “I’ve achieved double of what she have and I’m younger and the hate is off the charts,” Shields recently wrote, on Twitter. (After all, Rousey’s only Olympic medal was merely a bronze, in judo.) One difference, though, is the way that Shields wins. In her eight professional fights, she has looked neither unstoppable, the way Rousey once did, nor untouchable, the way Floyd Mayweather, Jr., usually did. Last summer, a boxer named Hanna Gabriels knocked Shields onto her backside in the first round; Shields recovered and won a wide decision, but the sight of Shields on the mat made it easier to wonder whether she is as good as she is supposed to be. She carries herself like a knockout artist (she has promised to “destroy” Hammer), and she sometimes fights like one, too, stalking her opponent face-first, with her hands down, swinging wide, as if she were a moment away from landing a decisive punch. But Shields has only two knockouts in her eight fights. In general, she brawls and then relies on the judges to name her the winner; this strategy can be ugly, and, given the occasionally unaccountable behavior of boxing judges, it may one day prove disastrous.

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In October 2019, Showtime Sports released the latest installment of the digital franchise THE RISE which profiles boxing’s stars as they grind their way to the top — this time featuring Claressa Shields. The three parts are embedded below.

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Finally, here’s video of Shields vs. Hanna Gabriels in 2018. (For a more recent fight, check out the full video of her bout with Christina Hammer in April 2019):

Rehearsal with Boxer/Dancer Kim Holman

Boston-based boxer and modern dancer Kim Holman (Artistic Director of Luminarium Dance Company) joined rehearsal earlier this week to provide some boxing training and consultation for cast and team alike.

[A note for our cast: find notes from rehearsal and videos of boxing combos on the Boxing Resources page, found in the password protected C1 Biz dropdown menu.]

Some big takeaways from our conversations…

  • Boxing is 100% a mental sport. Any fear or intimidation, you’re going to lose. You’re constantly training in something and part of that is to have a strong sense of self. You also have to be strategic in the ring – there are times when you’re sitting back and assessing, and others when aggression has to come fast.
  • All boxers have a unique relationship with their trainer. As a trainer, you’re responsible for someone’s life, trying to get someone else to take risks and put themselves in harms way. It’s a slippery seesaw of being the person to make the call if the fight needs to be stopped, and then also being very caring. Also, having a coach is a different type of relationship than you have with professors, or other kinds of mentors. You need to have 100% trust in them, and you bond fast.
  • Boxing rules how you live your life, any physical risks that go wrong can make you lose a lot of ground fast, so you have to be cautious. Getting hit in the ring can cause a lot of injury. Before every fight, boxers get a medical check-up, but some will put up a good front so they can get cleared and make it into the fight. When punches start getting thrown, adrenaline takes over, and you almost don’t feel the injuries. But some are hard to throw: with bruised or broken ribs, every breath you take, there’s pain.
  • The sport is very “you against yourself” — you can measure your own progress. You have to be aware of and in control of your body. You gain a lot of skills when you first start training, and maybe plateau a few times, but you watch yourself progress.

Some boxing vocabulary:

  • Smokers/Burners: exhibition fights that are used to boost confidence and focus and grind 
  • Shadowboxing: an exercise intended to get a boxer the habit of throwing punches without using your brain
  • Combinations: series of different types of punches and moves that a boxer has in their arsenal to use in the ring. Some examples:
    • 1 – 2 – 3 – 6 = jab, jab, hook, uppercut
  • Slips: A way to dodge your opponent’s punch: the tiney-est, baby-est motion

Beautiful Brawlers

We’re loving this mini-documentary about the Beautiful Brawlers all-female-boxing event in 2017, right outside of San Francisco. Beautiful Brawlers — started by World Heavyweight Champion Martha Salazar and her manager Blanca Gutierrez — provides training and promotes amateur bouts for girls and women.

The video provides a window into the mindset of boxers, snippets of conversation and connection between boxers and their trainers, and a portrayal of young boxers finding their way — perhaps not unlike Ash in her early days.