Boxing: A Counterintuitive Body & Mind
Definition of Boxing
"Boxing is the art of hitting an opponent from the furthest distance away, exposing the least amount of your body, while getting into position to punch with maximal leverage and not get hit." -Kenny Weldon
That is the definition of boxing, which personally I like a lot more than the more universally known definition that it is to "hit and not get hit".
Over the past few months in working with boxing classes, clients and in analyzing the sweet science, I have come to a greater understanding of the true "counterintuitiveness" that is boxing. Even the definition itself is super confusing at first read. I mean, sometimes I feel like the only true way to live to that definition is by tackling the people from behind.
Nevertheless, the definition of boxing has come to mean a lot to me over the years. It has been what has awed me of the sport from a young age, as two warriors hop into the ring as the gladiators of old and show an art form that, although practiced and envisioned, remains a spontaneously choreographed fight.
This is what the definition can be seen to be in reality.
History of Boxing
When a person considers the sport of boxing, they often see it as a brutal sport to show ones manliness, bravado, a sport of brutality and lack of respect or mercy towards your opponent. We know that boxing took it's first sporting rise amongst the Greeks in the form of pankration. The sport eventually took a dip in history and it made it's greatest comeback in the U.K. in the era of Enlightenment.
Now, if we consider what class of people must have started the sport again, or what class of people currently fight in the sport, we always think of Rocky type people, low class, the poor, the ones who have no other option but to fight, right? Well, in actuality, the sport took rise thanks to the nobility. During the era of enlightenment, those in the motherland took great appeal to the world and culture of the ancient Greeks, studying their politics, culture and arts. Pankration, or boxing caught the eye of many in the upper-class, and many of the upper-class opened boxing schools, and taught and trained themselves. Many within the rich and famous ended up joining the ranks of pugilism in order to overcome fears, to increase confidence, to gain control of the body and to gain a sense of respect.
Now, I don't know about you, but when I first read the history on where modern day boxing originated, my mind was blown, kind of like when I read the following picture.
Challenges Make Champions
There is a Chinese proverb I use often, "It is easy to sail a ship in calm waters, but it takes competence to navigate in treacherous seas."
I often tell people that I find boxing to be peaceful and calming, and the reactions I always get are priceless. Some would say counterintuitive, right? I mean, all you see are fists flying, mass hysteria in crowds, and 2 guys with swollen faces by the end of the match, so how can it be peaceful? Well, let me venture into an explanation of this. I find, that people often come to the gym, they start learning some technique, they gain a little confidence as they shadow box, hit heavy bags, speed bags and double end bags. They almost always start calling themselves boxers for bragging rights, but at the end of the day, you're punching either air, a bag that won't hit you back, a bag with a rhythm or a bag that only goes as hard and fast as you do. For the analogy's sake, we will call this boxing in "calm waters".
When I see a person is technically ready to start mixing it up with another person in the ring, the funniest things happen. People will get in the ring, and I see the nerves come out, the bell goes and EVERYTHING they learnt in the calm waters of boxing, goes out the window. People forget their footwork just to get out of the way of punches, they drop their hands and lean back, they quit facing their opponent, they throw T-Rex punches, where they don't commit and just kind of patty-cake or "cat fight" their punches.
Funny, right? I think as a member of the audience then yes, but it is terrifying in the beginning. The ring, an opponent, and the crowd are the factors that turn this type of boxing into the "stormy seas" because you no longer control all of the factors, the rhythms, or the pace.
"Calm seas never made a skilled sailor", is another saying I like to use. The stormy seas of the ring have always been what brings out the best in fighters, it's always been those stormy fights that are the most memorable, and as you look into the eyes of each boxer, you can see, they are in control. The peace, for me, comes in the vision of conquering the challenge, in feeling the world go slow motion for me as my senses are heightened in the ring, and a split second, seems like eternity, as the punches glide next to my face as I slip, bob and weave around the oncoming lines of offence. That, in short, is why boxing is peaceful.
Counterintuition in the Body
So, when a person begins to learn some technique, more often than not, people end up quitting because of the difficulty in learning the sweet science. Unfortunately over the years, people have been truly losing the science and forgetting the definition of boxing. There are definitely many incredible fighters in this day and age, but, the level of coaching has drastically decreased compared to boxings "golden years". So, I want to point out a few little things that I find people always think would be otherwise.
First thing is first. Where is the motor on a boat located? It's always located in the back, right? Otherwise the boat would be spinning in dead end circles and get nowhere. The following is a picture of how most coaches teach what a boxing stance is.
I literally cringed the entire time I uploaded this picture. NEVER STAND LIKE THIS! You are asking for a beat down of the highest kind. In this picture one quickly notes this guys head is over his front knee, which puts all his weight on his weak, left side of the body. In terms of biomechanics, not only is his face closer to his opponents hands, but he cuts down his punching options and his footwork options, simply because his "motor" is in the front. Now, I am not saying we should fight like the old school fighters with the hands at hip level and way out, and nothing covering their face, BUT we should definitely keep our weight at 60/40 on the back leg, AKA the strong, dominant leg. Consider this. The way this chap is standing in the above image, he is sticking his head out of a window, where anything can come and hit him from the sides, top, or front. His reaction time is hindered because he is closer to his opponents knuckles, and it will naturally be harder for him to keep his chin down. When on the back leg, you stand behind the window, and have protection from attacks, you have a longer opportunity to react when something is thrown, and you can more easily move and roll punches with less effort.
The second point I wish to express, is concerning muscles. It is the thought that when you get in the ring, you have to be tense because a tense muscle is a strong muscle. This is definitely NOT true. Consider the whip.
I lived in Hungary for a few years and learned the art of cracking whips, and one of the first things I noticed was the resemblance it had for throwing punches. When commencing in the sweet science, like I said, people are often flexed all over, and their punches are all just thuds, no power, they're just "push punches" as I call them. A real punch should be relaxed, like the whip. I know everyone has had a towel whipping fight at some point in their life so let's talk towels. What does the damage in the whip? The tip. If I were to hit you with the middle of the towel, it would just be a thud and it wouldn't hurt one bit, correct? Correct. In noting the motion of the towel or whip, however, one can see that it is always "relaxed" until the very end, when the tail doubles back on itself and quickly snaps into full extension. This is the same as for boxing. Brings beauty to the sport I feel.
Friends and Coaches Are Your Opponents
Ever since I started getting into the ring, and you know, punching people square in the face, I realized how much of a connection and respect I gained for every person that I either gave a whipping to, or that gave me a royal beat down. It takes a lot of guts to test yourself physically and mentally, and when you know you are going to get hurt, as it takes for a coach to watch his favourite kid go through fiery depths of pain in order conquer. Over the years, I have found a number of things to be true. 1. Fighters and coaches have often been some of the nicest people I have met. 2. The people I have sparred or fought with, have often ended up being either close or best friends. 3. The father figures I have had in coaches, have been the men to beat me 'til I gave up.
In contrast to what people think, a true fighter, one of class, is more often than not, the kind of man that has already conquered himself. He has gained a mastery over his own weaknesses, and debilities that otherwise would have been his downfall. We don't get into the ring because we want to beat people up, that's an incredibly superficial reason to fight. No, we get in the ring to overcome whatever envelopes itself as a challenge before us. More often than not, this means being the underdog. It is at these times that you see who you really are. Like I said, the ring is a lie detector.
The reason I feel I often become close to others I have sparred or fought with, is because I come to a knowledge of who they are. In a way that "regular" friends never understand. I see how they cope with turmoil, under pressure, as an underdog, as the favoured, and their flaws. I see these things because I need to see it in order for me to win, often I also see these things in order to help a fellow gym member on his journey to success as well. So, I become a sponge to what type of man is in front of me. At the last bell, you will almost always see the 2 fighters touch gloves, and hug as they come to appreciate what the other brought to the fight. It's an immediate click.
When it comes to the coaches I have had, each of them have torn me to shreds. They have put me through workouts that have made me puke, and question myself and the sport. As a coach, I have also seen how it can be difficult to watch people struggle, not with the workout, but with themselves. It can be tough to make people work until they quit, but it must be done if they are to learn the habits of sticking to your guns in the tight spots. Remember, calm seas never made a skilled sailor.
Mike Tyson and his father-figure and coach, Cus D'Amato often talked about fire. Fire is a lot like boxing in many senses. When we think of fire in a domestic sense, we think of all the damage it does. It burns down houses, work, people, forrests, etc. But we often forget what it brings as well. For the longest time, fire was what kept people alive, helped in cooking, warmed the home, softened the metals for construction of beautiful arts. It was one of the first things found that drastically changed humanity. Boxing sits on the same boat, boxing was there in the beginning of humanity like fire and although boxing has the ability to "burn" things down, to hurt, to kill, to damage, I have found that it also has the ability to heal, to teach, to master. Never has a sport been so counterintuitive as the sweet science that has so immeasurably blessed my life.
Counterintuitive: contrary to intuition or to common-sense expectation (but often nevertheless true).