A Necessary but Rueful Letting Go-Part One

A Necessary but Rueful Letting Go-Part One
My right before one of my first sparring sessions

It started on a whim. My teenage son brought home a heavy bag one afternoon, strung it up on one of our cellar’s rafters and started to punch away. I’m a lifelong boxing fan, and grew up in one of its heydays with Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Hearns and others. I marveled how boxers moved with grace, courage and resilience in the ring. I’d always thought about trying it. After my son tired, I went downstairs and threw some punches of my own. Pretty quickly, I realized I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and that I wasn’t in good enough shape to sustain my efforts beyond a few flurries.

What does twenty-first century man do when he needs to learn something? Why the web of course! I found a site called Expert Boxing with great instruction much of it by well-thought out and demonstrated video. A visual learner, I tried to recreate the movements I watched. I started with stance, orthodox in my case, body turned left hand in front, chin tucked. Then I started to practice my left jab and right cross. After learning those basics, I started to add a hook and an uppercut. I soon understood the importance of footwork in boxing. You can’t get the most on your punches without your feet properly placed. You learn to rotate your body (torso, hips, feet etc.) to get the most on your punches. But, if you really want to box, you need a live gym and a coach.

 Serendipitously, not long after my son brought home the heavy bag, a guy opened a small gym a few miles from my house. We tossed our stuff in a bag and headed there. We didn’t know it right away but we’d found a great coach, Joe. He was affable, knowledgeable and knew how to challenge us. He taught us the basics of punching, footwork and strength and conditioning.

 After about five years into my relationship with Joe, I got the idea that I wanted to spar and train for a fight. I was 60 years old. When I told him we were sitting outside on a late summer afternoon after a hard workout. I said, “Hey Coach, I’ve been thinking about all the training I’ve been doing and I’d like to try a fight before I get too old.” He wiped the sweat from his face, shook his head a couple times peered at me intently and said, “are you sure that’s what you want?” “I think so,” I responded. He said, “Boxing is a grind. We’ll have to find a sparring gym and a fight coach and you’re gonna have to work a lot hard!”

 True to his word, Joe started pushing me right away. From his perspective, he was responsible for getting me ready to compete but also to protect myself. Our workouts included interval training, core strengthening, pad work, bag work, skipping rope and running. The training was to geared to enable me to produce maximum output for three two minute rounds. It doesn’t sound like much until you experience it, then you know.

 Taking some classes and hitting the bag is great but they won’t get you ready for a fight. For that you need to spar against live opponents. There’s no way around it. A further challenge for me was that I am a Master’s boxer, defined as aged thirty-five and older and only amateur fights. If you have a fought professionally, even once, then you can’t fight Masters. Joe and I visited a few gyms to see how they would handle a guy my age and we soon learned that many coaches are inexperienced with older fighters. One guy told me, “I think you should retire and leave it to the young bucks.” He worked me like I was twenty years old. We would train three minute rounds with thirty seconds rest for an a hour and twenty minutes. I was able to do it but even the "young bucks" would struggle to keep up. He was impatient and seemed to dislike training me, often snappy and impatient. Not the guy for me. We finally found a gym with an master's experienced Coach and a stable of guys that sparred regularly.

 Sparring is a great challenge. How do you keep your wits and fundamentals together under attack? Or as Mike Tyson famously said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face." How do you overcome a sense of failure after getting trucked by a guy better than you? How to deal with physical pain while the seconds tick by? How to keep your anger in check when you get clocked?  The answers to these questions come by putting in rounds, trusting your coach and maintaining a mindset that learning is difficult but with repetition you’ll get better. You become calmer and able to think under pressure, one key to being an effective fighter. There is no other way to prepare for a fight, So, I sparred hundreds of rounds: rounds where I got knocked around quite a bit. Rounds where I bested the other guy, rounds where it was a pitched battle, the other guy coming for me and me coming back just as hard at him.

In part two I'll describe fighting in a tournament, winning, losing and letting go!