Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fighting in the Ring or a Cage is a Luxury

My last fight was in December and finally, after a big hit of life, I have been feeling the itch.

A lot of things have come to pass in the past four months. Between working to finish my documentary and helping to take my mother-in-law for bouts of chemo before she passed last week, it's been an emotional flow chart inside and out. Often, I find when I am fighting so much in the outside world, dealing with real life struggles, I don't feel the itch to fight in the ring.

Training to fight is a privilege, a luxury. The last four months, it has even felt selfish. How fortunate we are to have working body parts, no matter how sore or taped up they may be. The fact that we can make our bodies strong, breathe deep into our lungs and force ourselves to go another round is a huge blessing. To have the time to get ourselves in this kind of condition is high living.

Having lost my uncle and mother-in-law to cancer in the past few weeks has dwarfed most other frustrations and disappointments. I watched my lovely mother-in-law struggle for air in her last hours of life. She never complained the whole time she was sick. Her easy going serenity was contagious. My uncle kept a great sense of humor all the way to the end. My cousins were posting pictures of him in the hospital dressed head to toe in Jets pajamas. Both families who lost their loved ones were vulnerable enough to feel the loss and courageous enough to move forward even if they now have a 500lb weight in each one of their hearts.

How tough will you be when the fight comes to you? How will you deal with it?

Since I haven't been training hard in the last few months, when I feel like I am running out of gas, the recipient of extreme pressure from a sparring partner, and not performing to the degree I dream of, I tell myself it's okay and accept being where I'm at. I remind myself that I am lucky to be so healthy and have the kind of schedule where I can train and that as long as I dedicate time and effort to the training, there will be improvement. Results. I am also extremely fortunate to have seen this through a few times, each time getting better and owning my style in the ring more. For someone who can get easily frustrated by the small things, I am thankful for the bigger picture.

It looks like I may have a fight at the end of May and I'm looking at it as an opportunity to perform, to push myself, to expect frustrations, shortcomings, and errors but to also let them pass. The way I see it, it's a gift to receive the opportunity to fight. A true blessing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Women Boxing....Monstrous? Really?

Joyce Carol Oates wrote a great book on boxing called, "On Boxing." I say it was great, but I do have one big beef with Ms. Oates. While she wrote some really insightful, emotionally raw passages I connected with, she wrote this about women boxers:

"Of the female boxer: she cannot be taken seriously - she is a parody, she is a cartoon, she is monstrous."

After spending 10 years inside the sport, I have a vehement visceral reaction to this statement. Granted, the book was written in 1987; before the talent pool of women had deepened or before women were “allowed” in the Olympics.  Even so, this is a harsh judgement coming from a woman about another woman who has a fighter in her heart.

I'd hasten to say that one needs to fight the way another needs to write, act, eat. Maybe in the beginning it's not so good. Maybe it's just godawful.  Actually, for 99% of us, we suck. 

If I stopped doing things because I was terrible at them the first few times, I wouldn't do anything.  It's those few shining moments things come together that we strive for, and hopefully get more of each time we get in the ring, on the stage, or write a story.

On top of not having opportunities to gain experience, these women - the pioneers of female boxing, had a tough time getting male trainers to take them seriously. I've seen male coaches put female boxers on the bag to practice their 1 - 2s, while they spend their quality time with a male boxer, teaching him more intricate moves, strategy, and defense.

I have been fortunate to have an excellent coach, who will take the time to show me moves his father, a former pro boxer, taught him.  He'll stay on me for a month, or however long it takes, until my right hand is up, my footwork is better, or my conditioning is where it needs to be.   I don't feel like a "parody" or a "cartoon." I especially don't feel "monstrous."

Other coaches I've had recently have spent a lot of time with me on strategy, martial arts philosophies, and mental training. I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to be taken seriously as a person wanting to be a better boxer instead of a cute little novelty act. When I first put on boxing gloves, one of my first boxing coaches smiled and told me I looked like a teddy bear. 

My favorite female pro boxers move like gazelles. I am in awe at the way they can be elusive, technical and destructive at the same time. Anytime I see this, I well up with pride and admiration. For us, the drive has always been there, but now, the training is better. Girls are starting younger and opportunities are opening to get more experience in the amateurs. In 2012, the Olympics finally allowed women to compete. Before that, it was the ONLY sport that was exclusive to men.

Today, athleticism in young girls is encouraged. There are advertising campaigns - “Fight Like a Girl” - and networks and women's groups all supporting women in sports. I've talked to many dads who encourage their young daughters to box. They know the kind of confidence and character it builds. A busted nose is temporary; the will to get back in after you got your nose busted is a life lesson.

My own father outright told me, "Women shouldn't box." He, of course, cannot give a good reason for this. "If you've got energy, play tennis!" Even though he boxed in the Marine Corps, he will not watch any of my fights.

I was first team all-state on my high school tennis team and played for a division 1 college. Teaching tennis wound up supplementing my writing income for years, so there are no regrets, but I will always wonder what kind of a boxer I would have become if I started as a kid. I guess a lot of us do, since most of us started later in life. 

I started at 40, which is basically ridiculous.  But I have learned that when you have something inside you that needs to be expressed, you had better do it or it will come out sideways.  "Better late than never"applies in my case. Plus, it was a good substitute for the wild part of me. Fight training has been much easier on my system than the cocaine was.  It forces me to take better care of myself. Last year, I won the National Golden Gloves in the Master's division. I was 49.

If I keep at it, I will ask Depends to be a sponsor. I will put their logo on the back of my shorts and have the diapers built in.  Even then, I won't feel like a parody or a cartoon. I might feel monstrous, but in this case, I think that's a good thing. Cannot think of anything more punk rock than that.