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.


  1. Sometime back in my teens, I remember thinking boxing is just the dumbest thing in the world. Hitting people is not a sport, I was sure of it, and why would anyone want to be socked in the nose? Now it's another story, and I'm fascinated with the chess game, as you put it, though I've only just begun to learn the first moves.

  2. "Non-believers." I *so* get that, and like Amy, I used to be one too. Now I spend a lot of time -- much like you -- trying to figure out how to explain it. You did an incredible job of that here. Thanks for a great, great post.

  3. Good day, Is Ms. Weller still with Gleason's? I am trying to contact her for a video project on science and the sweet science.

    Thank you.

    Be well, box well.

    Robert Kowal
    Dawson Media Group
    Office: 503.477.7462
    "Doing Good Work For Good People"

  4. You can reach her through her manager, Luigi Olcese. He is on Facebook. YOu could also call Gleason's and find out. Best of luck! Jill