Monday, May 30, 2011

They Don't Call it the Sweet Science For Nothin'

Angle out. Lean slightly to the side with your right hand covering your nose, bend your knees low and jab up, Get off the ropes with an uppercut and a hook, step out, then step in with the right hand.

These are the thoughts that go through my head in sparring drills and these are the things I love about boxing. It is a martial art, a physical chess game, an athletic puzzle that can never be completely solved.

I don't love hitting people hard or hurting people in sparring. I still say I'm sorry if I think I landed a clean punch that was a little too hard, even if the person on the other side is the toughest guy/girl in the room. That was not my intent - to hurt, that is. I don't have the killer instinct and I am not game for a brawl. But, I do want to outsmart you. Outcraft you. Outbox you.

My favorite boxers are crafty, often elusive and artful. When I see the beautiful dance of the warrior, my heart grows ten times it's size like the Grinch at the end of the story.

Pet Peeve -

I tell someone that I box.

That person says, "I still don't understand women boxing. Sorry, it's not in my grasp. Why would you just want to 'go at it' with another girl?"

Calmly, I must explain that I don't "go at it."

I have an older aunt, who I never told that I boxed. She once said, "I don't get boxing. Why would you just want to stand there and punch each other?"

It's frustrating when people don't understand that the allure of boxing for me and many of us, is the craft, the game of it. Yes, I have seen the fights where untrained fighters just brawl at each other with no sense - male and females. Actually, I have seen trained fighters do that. Unfortunately, that was their training. Is that what the general public thinks boxing is? Yikes. I just turned red from embarrassment.

People are often surprised that aside from a bump on my nose that I have had since I was a child; with all the sparring that I do, my face is not effed up.


1. Defense- For me, it is my favorite part of the game, making people miss. No, you cannot win a fight strictly with good defense, but it sure feels good to not eat a clean punch.

2. Headgear- I wear headgear when I spar. I know it's cool for the really tough-guy fighters to not wear headgear, but I'm already old and losing my memory, I don't need help with this. Preserve your most powerful tool as a boxer, your brain.

3. Not So Hard - The best way to learn good boxing is to practice what you have learned with your coach on the mitts and the bags. When it is time to spar and you get punished severely for making a mistake, you probably won't try that move again so there's no point in going hard when you are learning something new.

Once I started moving around with pros and world champions, I realized that they were not as keen on trying to knock me out as some of the amateurs and the less experienced boxers. They didn't need to. Instead, they wanted to teach me when a hand was too low or I was leaning one way too much so they would tag me and look at me, like "Put your damn hand up, girl." I would nod, thankful that it wasn't a knockout punch.

After my first year of just brawling with no real technique, I went to Gleason's Gym and started over from the beginning. Jab. Turn your punches over. Keep your feet shoulder length apart. Hector Roca was a taskmaster who focused on these little details I never paid attention to. I was too concerned with surviving tough rounds with experienced fighters who were getting ready for fights.

Throw her in the pond and see if she can swim.

I was told that they were sent into the ring to knock me out to see if I would quit. I didn't quit. For a year. But, I didn't get much better.

Then, I met Hector, "Take your hand back to your face after the jab. No! No! That's not it. Yes, that's it!" He would yell at me in his thick Panamanian accent and reposition my hands. Often I couldn't tell the difference when I did it right or wrong, but I kept going hoping for the best. Each day, I'd work on the same things. Tedious? Yes. But, often a trait of a fighter is some kind of compulsion, so this serves us in training.

Since training at Gleason's, I have been very fortunate to work with extremely generous boxers like Maureen Shea, Suszannah Warner and Jodi-Ann Weller. Their aim was to help me improve, not make me look bad. I have taken this gift and paid it forward to the new boxers I work with. The best coaches tell you to "have fun" in the ring. It's just not fun to get beat up and not know how to get out of a situation. It's not fun to not have technique and feel like an ass.

It's a lot of fun to use the fancy footwork you just learned in a sparring session, make your opponent miss and land a good counter-punch. That's what I'm talking about and that only comes from practice and good coaching.

I'm not sure if I'll ever make non-believers understand why boxing is called "the sweet science" or why someone like me, who is laid back and a generally peaceful, amiable person would love it.

I'm a lover and a fighter. In my world, that is not an oxymoron.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

When Life Gives you PTSD, Turn It Into Lemonblog

I embody an oxymoron.

I never expect people to understand. It's not something I like to tell my coaches or sparring partners, but when it emerges, I get extremely embarrassed and frustrated. I'm afraid if I tell people, they will think I want them to feel sorry for me or I'll want them to go lighter and "carry" me in sparring. Sometimes, I do want them to go lighter because of the all encompassing feeling of overwhelm and fear that can overtake me. Properly trained responses escape my boxer being and I am not in my body anymore. This is not the Crazy Irish Girl. This is something else.

From what I understand, most people who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from being beaten as a young child, avoid physically violent confrontations. They don't continually throw themselves into it thinking that if they don't overcome the feeling, that they are less of a person, a loser, a pussy.

While I know a lot of boxers have endured some form of physical abuse when they were children, I don't know any who still have symptoms of PTSD in the ring. Somehow they worked through it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, basically, you can work through your ugly childhood past in talk therapy or whatever, forgive your abuser and move on. However, your body is still wired to react the way it did in the past when the violent moment becomes familiar- hyperventilating, going out of body, and basically not being in control of your reactions. This can be particularly frustrating when you are trying to become a boxer! I liken it to an Alzheimer's patient who is trying to play a memory game. You have a huge handicap and the odds are that your affliction will take over, nullifying your training and skill. It often feels like a losing battle. Of course, I don't want to tell my coach or training partners or frankly, anyone. I don't want to come off as an excuse maker, a complainer, or a total loser.

The shame that comes over me when I lose my form and feel that loss of control is all encompassing. I can see my coach out of the corner of my eye looking at me like I am from outer space, shaking his head and grimacing. I can see him thinking, "She can fire her punches at the bag and the mitts just fine, so why do her punches slow? Why does she get so tired so fast when she is in such good shape? She can do 12 rounds on the bag, why only 3 in sparring? Why isn't she doing the defense drill we just worked on? Where the hell did her mind go? She seems to be getting worse!"

I have a friend who has taken up roller derby. Like me, she is small, wiry and tough. Like me, she has post traumatic stress disorder and a dream to compete in a violent sport that puts her to the test with her affliction. Like me, she hates herself when she doesn't perform to the best of her ability and gets beaten by her PTSD. Because she is the smallest on the team, she is often the one targeted to be taken out first.

She recently confessed to me that while she is considered an "experienced skater," she once in a while will have a bad practice where she cannot do simple footwork drills. She would see the look in her coach's eyes, "What the hell happened to her?"

She even had a coach take her aside and ask if she was okay. A ref once joked that she had a drug or alcohol problem. She doesn't. She just gets overcome sometimes by her wiring; the primitive memory of her body being attacked. A xanax before practice would dull those feelings of overwhelm, but she doesn't want to depend on that. Finally, she told one of her coaches of the issues she was dealing with and feels a little better. Not so misunderstood.

Why put ourselves in these situations when it seems so self-defeating? For me, I think it is a way to work through it. I don't want to be the little girl cowering in the corner. I want to be the one fighting back and dominating as an adult. When that doesn't happen, I need to be patient and realize that I have a handicap that can make me feel like a runner with one leg. I don't want to give this any creedence or legitimacy, but when I don't, I beat myself up.

"Dare to suck" was a motto of a friend of mine which I seem to have adopted.

Yesterday, during sparring, I couldn't get it together. I actually, jumped to punch air that was about a foot above my opponent. My arms felt weak and wouldn't punch fast enough. When my sparring partners bullied me into a corner, I had to fight the impulse to freeze. Yes, they are a little bit heavier and stronger than me, but I should know how to move and fire back without such awkwardness. In these instances, I am not in charge. While I am excited to see them improve every day, I hate that my skills seem to decline.

I certainly don't want a pity party about being attacked as a child. So many people have had it so much worse. Of course, a lot of them turn to drugs, food, alcohol, and sex. Not boxing.

But I do hope for an understanding. The best way I know to deal with it is to breathe and focus on being in the present moment. As cheesy as it may seem, "The Power of Now" has helped me a lot with this. Be here now. When I do overcome the feelings in sparring, I feel like a world champion. It doesn't matter that it's just me getting out of a corner with a great shot in a small ring in a private gym in a minute corner of the world, it's me facing my demons and winning...even if it is just for that moment. I won that "now." Those moments feel few and far between lately so I am going to take a break for a few days and let those nerves that are firing on all synapses, settle. Tears, anger, and frustration are too close to the surface for me to get into the ring. They need to turtle back into their shell so I can relax and be the one in control again. I'm not sure if these feelings will ever go away, if I should quit because it's just retraumatizing myself, or if I should just go back to being a boxing class fanatic and not spar or fight anymore.

But, there is another part of me that has been bitten by the bug and that wants to keep pushing myself to get over this feeling. Maybe I should tell my coach so he'll understand what it is that I am going through and not just think I suck. I'm not ready to give in or give up so I have to accept these PTSD hiccups. After all, I am lucky. I know people who won't leave their house and who flinch at the slightest bit of surprise movement.

My film, "Girl In The Ring" deals with this issue among others, but I have never come up with a real solution. Perhaps there is none.

I am curious if anyone else with PTSD has had these feelings or experiences. What did you do? How did you get through it? If you don't have PTSD, do you understand what it is or do you think it is just an excuse for sloppy boxing? Please feel free to share your thoughts and stories.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Was I just ducked?

An opponent who I had beaten in December challenged me to fight on May 29th. I know she got a few more bouts in and wanted to see if she could get the W. Okay, let's see. Bring it.

Wanting to be a badass, I was telling everyone that I was getting called out. When people asked me how, I said, "Uh, she emailed me asking if I wanted to be on a card with her." She's actually a very nice girl and a good Master's Boxer.

I am a card carrying Master's Boxer. No, it does not mean I am a master at the sport, it just means that I am old. In boxing, the cut off age for the amateurs is 34 and I am, ahem, a bit older than that. Okay, way older. I am also small. For my last bout against her, we said we'd try to come in at 112lbs. I wound up weighing in at 106 while she weighed in at 115. I had to go drink, eat something and come back again to weigh in. When I came back, I wore my trusty heavy knit Gleason's sweatshirt with a wallet full of change in the kangaroo pocket. I came in at 111. We had a fight. I later found out that my coach, Marcelo, admitted to being concerned by how muscular her arms looked, much thicker than mine. For some reason, this did not phase me.

Not one to remember my fights blow by blow; all I remember was moving around like I knew what I was doing and acting like a real boxer. Lots of side to side head movement and fake fancy footwork; punches in bunches. I had four years of training behind me, so I was much more convincing in the role than any other fight I've ever had. I also remember catching her with a lot of jabs to the face and the delicious sound of my left hook cracking into her headgear. She carried her right hand low and I took advantage of it whenever I could. Which was a lot. I also remember dropping my hands and showboating a little bit, which I hear is discouraged in the amateurs. But, I am a performer and the boxer in me likes to do this and trot backwards to the center of the ring in my pink satin shorts that say, "Exfoliatr" on them. Yes, I am the Exfoliatr, a fitting name for an older female boxer who is concerned with skincare. I will knock the skin right off you.

I won by unanimous decision and was grateful to have my husband, my coach, the editor for my film, my best friend and my training partners there. I never had a coach who I had trained with regularly in my corner and I could now see how this was advantageous. Marcelo was nurturing and kept telling me all the things I needed to keep being reminded of. Thankfully, he had trained some bad habits out of me so the reminders were working.

My previous fight was in the 2010 New York Golden Gloves against a 19 year old PanAm Games Gold Medalist. I was stopped at the end of the fourth round. Truthfully, she was just way too good and experienced and I got way too tired at the end to keep moving. It was comforting to know that she was a national champion, two time Golden Glove winner and, apparently the best in the world in my weight class. It was my third fight ever.

In the men's division this match-up would have never happened since there is a Novice class. (For people who have had less than 10 fights) Still, I hated the feeling of being overcome, of being overwhelmed by this girl, no matter how talented and experienced she was. I knew I was out of my league and I hated it.

After that fight, I copped to my real age and graduated to the Master's. Nobody knew I was actually 44 years old, pretending to be 34. I fought a girl I could have mothered. Possibly grandmothered. Yes, I started boxing at 40 and yes, I beat the tough 17 year old I had just fought in East LA so I wasn't completely delusional.

Cut to: the present. After not being in a "fighting head" for six months, I was looking forward to getting in the ring again. For the last two weeks, I have been training hard every day, sparring, getting my wind up, strengthening my mind and my body. Marcelo is pushing me with the conditioning again, making me do things I would never do if I didn't think I needed to be in shape to fight.

My husband and I were in Vancouver for the last few days so I found a boxing gym to make my training home. Shadowbox in the ring, hit the bag, abs, push-ups, jump rope, shower. One of the great things about boxing is you don't have to lose your rhythm. It can be the same wherever you go, anywhere in the world.

After my work out, I went to the coffee shop to check my email. The same email address that asked me to fight two weeks ago was now saying that she didn't want to fight. I asked her to fight on the June 3rd card at the Old Dog Boxing tournament, but she said the promoter was looking for another opponent for her.

Then, it occurred to me... I think I was ducked! The Exfoliatr was ducked.

I put out unfulfilled requests on Facebook for a viable opponent. Even with close to 5000 "friends," there were crickets out there when it came to finding me someone. Georgia, the 21 year old I spar with said she would fight me, but she's too young to box with a "Master." Maybe we'll do an exhibition one day. My friend, Kaiyana, is my daily sparring partner who I have started managing as an MMA fighter and boxer. I cannot imagine us fighting, especially since I know she is bigger, faster, stronger and on her way to becoming a fighter by trade. I am an enthusiastic boxing hobbyist who likes to put on a show. I know my place.

Even though I am disappointed, I am mildly amused. Actually, I'm very amused. God bless my ex-opponent. She got me back into fighting shape and believing in myself again. Things have become more clear and focused. My goals outside of boxing have become more laser-like. I'm in shape and enjoying helping to train the other young boxers at the gym to pursue their dreams. Hopefully, there will be another 106lb Master in my future. Hopefully, it won't be for a few years. Hopefully, I won't get ducked.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Crazy Irish Girl

When I get hit sometimes, there is this girl inside of me that STILL wants to swing wildly and push forward in a blind rage. That is her first impulse. My sparring partner, Kaiyana, and I call her the "Crazy Irish Girl." She comes out when I am getting tired, having an off-day, or not concentrating on being present, which is ridiculously important when you are sparring. When she emerges with her face all ruddy red, swinging for the fences, I'll catch myself and utter apologetically, "Crazy Irish Girl." We laugh about it and I'm grateful Kaiyana doesn't take it personally. She understands that it's just one of my..... "things."

While I appreciate knowing I have a fighting spirit, I'm embarrassed by her. I want to be a good boxer; someone who is calculated, strategic, quick, responsive, aggressive, yet calm - not a drunken cartoonish Popeye who throws hook after wild hook after he eats his steroid/spinach.

After four years of training, I hate that she still takes over sometimes. It's extremely difficult not to get completely frustrated and beat myself up. Then again, why do I somehow expect myself to be Floyd Fucking Mayweather? More importantly, who is this Crazy Irish Girl and why does she possess me? I suppose she has become better behaved over the last few years, but when pushed to the brink, she still likes to break out and bust a move.

I think she visited me in my late twenties for a while when I became a stripper. She also dropped by for a bit when I was doing coke. I have seen flashes of her throughout my life at parties, New York City night clubs, and I suppose she'll never just die off, but how can I manage her?

Today, I must have done 8 or 9 rounds in sparring. In the beginning, since we were going light, I was able to keep her at bay.

As I continued on, I could feel her welling up, so I took a deep breath and told her to try to be smart about retaliation. But, when I started working with a guy who happens to be around 40lbs heavier than me and much taller, she started rolling up her sleeves and peeking her curly red hair and freckled nose out from behind my gloves. In the later rounds, I got too tired to restrain her. She pawed her hooves in the ground and charged straight into punches, chin in the air, pushed the guy to the ropes, and caused laughter to erupt around the ring.

The embarrassment is much more painful than the punches. Mind you, I am just a teensy bit proud of her fiestiness, but I always pay the price for Crazy Irish Girl. Sore jaw, neck pain, tarnished pride.

Luckily, she only came out in my first fight when I barely knew any kind of technique. In the next three fights, we worked as a team. We seem to have an understanding that when I am on "stage," she needs to keep things on the down low. While she may torture me in sparring, she is an ally in the fight.

One of the things I love about boxing is that we always have something to work on. I don't love that for me, one of those things is trying to squelch the Crazy Irish Girl.

Perhaps it isn't about squelching her, but slapping some make-up on her and turning her into a lady. I need to teach this girl some manners! When she shows up ready to brawl, I need to tell her to use the tools she has been developing on the bag and the mitts. She doesn't need to throw herself right back at the opponent when she gets tagged. She can consult with me, save that energy, wait and use her noggin, counter, slip, plan the next attack.

It's My Fair Lady all over again - I have to teach her how to hold her pinky up when she is drinking her tea, lighten her heavy Irish broag, teach her how to walk in heels, figure out which is the salad fork, not wear her make-up so gawdy, and cross her legs when she sits. Mostly, I need to have compassion for her, the way I have compassion for the young girls I teach boxing to.

Eliza McDoolittle isn't going anywhere. I need to refine her so I can take her to the races.