10/09/2009 01:03 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Fight Club


I'm looking into Konstantin Selivanov's eyes. It's the third day of a three day fight training camp in his studio on Sidney Street in Cambridge, just down the block from the Le Meridien Hotel. We're sparring for the first time. When we met at a July 4th party Konstantin seemed like such a gentle soul. We talked about his role as Ivan in Miss Congeniality, his screenwriting, and current passion for painting. But now I'm looking into the eyes of a man who learned to fight in Russia when martial arts were illegal. He's not a stranger to real life underground fight clubs. I move in for the left jab, right hook combination Konstantin has taught me. He blocks my punches and counters with a roundhouse kick. I see it coming too late.

Searing pain spreads across my solar plexis like I've been shot. In the world of ultimate fighting this is a love tap. But I'm bent over unable to breath. Konstantin has my head in his hands and mimes the knee that would break my skull if this was a full-speed fight. I try to say "uncle" through my mouth guard but no sound comes out.

At the start of the week I'd asked a well known biotech executive, who's a regular at the Konstantin's gym, what to bring on the first day since I had never been in a ring. "A nurse," he had replied with a knowing smirk. Now I know why.

Konstantin was born in Sochi, Russia. He came to the United States in 1991 with his wife Elena, a Ford model, to become head coach at the Olympic Martial Arts Club in New York and pursue his acting and screenwriting career. Elena and Konstantin have one daughter and Elena is pregnant with their second child. The demands of family caused Konstantin to give up his dream of becoming the Sylvester Stallone of ultimate fighting and open his Powerhouse Kickboxing studio.

"Hands up!" he tells me. I've learned to throw a jab, cross, and hook using my body rather than my arm; I've mastered front kick, side kick, and roundhouse; and I've learned how to try to block each of these blows as well as how to escape the clinch. But I'm still struggling to put it together in real time.

I throw my right cross and hear a satisfying SMACK as it lands. "Yes!" he responds. "See how you used your hips to line up your entire body weight directly behind the target?" It's the same body mechanics as Tiger hitting a golf ball or Papi swinging a bat. You have to follow through. Only in fighting the swing comes from arms, legs, knees, and elbows at any angle. And each fighter is in motion. That's why they call it an art.

An hour with Konstantin is an intense total body work-out and dance class all at the same time. After three decades of fighting, Konstantin has developed a "street friendly" style of training that attracts high profile executives and professional fighters as well as kids and women who want to learn self-defense.

Finally, Konstantin calls the match over. I have survived. He is once again the gentle soul I met at the party. His eyes are no longer the jet black saucers of an assassin looking for an opening. They sparkle with the laughter of a new friend as he slaps me on the back.