Weekly training teaches work ethic, discipline and focus
Beep-beep goes the round timer and the session begins. I meet my sparring partner halfway, we both exchange jabs, neither landing. The first 30 seconds is a process, testing how close you can get without getting hit. If your left jab is in reach then your right is in reach. Snap. A jab interrupts your thoughts and your head snaps back. Okay, that’s too close. It’s obvious by now that his reach exceeds mine. I now have to go under the jab to the body and work my way up.
Before I joined a boxing gym, I tried talking myself out of it. The voices in my head were telling me it’s too dangerous, it will hurt or it’s too tough. The anxiety I felt walking up to the glass door with the words “Calgary Boxing Club” made my knees shake. But something was pushing me forward, a force to prove myself. I entered anyway. The coaches put me through numerous grueling variations of push-ups, sit-ups, and other CrossFit exercises. It had pushed me to my limit and all I learned in the first day was how to throw a proper jab.
The morning after, I could barely get out of bed. It wasn’t just one muscle it was everywhere. I took a hot bath for the first time since I was a kid. Every muscle in my body was telling me not to go back. But I did anyway. When I came back the day after, the coach and another fighter had a bet on whether I would show up. I’m not sure who won the bet. It was tough on the body and the mind, but I just told myself to string together a few days. Then days would turn to weeks, weeks to months and finally it would be a habit.
Before joining I felt very malleable, like PLAY-DOH, but after a few weeks of sparring, training and rigorous routine I felt hardened, nothing could phase me. Once I was consumed by the gladiator-like culture of boxing I was hooked. No matter how my day was going, the smell of leather, sweat and blood would trigger me into work-mode. The gym was littered with old news articles of boxing greats like Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard. Some articles so old that the newspaper had turned a coffee-brown, and there were fight posters of classic fights such as Holyfield-Tyson, De La Hoya-Vargas, and Mayweather-Canelo.
Photo courtesy of Trevor Solway
There are many sounds to a gym as well, the incessant skip of a skipping rope, the slapping of leather on leather, and the exhale of shadow jabs. Then once the round timer beep-beeps the sounds come to a pause while pugilists rest till the next round.
During sparring sessions it’s not uncommon for coach Kevin McDermott to halt the action and give a tongue-lashing in his English accent to the fighter who routinely makes the same mistake of not bobbing their head, not keeping their hands up or not finishing a successive one-two with a hook. “One, two, three, four… how many straight rights do you have to eat before you learn to keep your left up?” He would stare blankly at the fighter as if the stare alone could osmosis the knowledge and experience into the young fighter. The fighter would just obediently nod before resuming.
There is no room for soft-coaches. All boxing coaches I have come in contact with have been master disciplinarians and are usually strict through nature, given the craft of the sport.
My opponent’s jab snaps over my shoulder as I duck under, landing a jab under his ribs, he grunts bringing his jab back into defense. Now he’ll think twice before jabbing.
Now to get the timing down, there’s subtle hints a boxer gives away. Eyes widen, shoulder muscle tightens or sometimes your instincts tell you when a jab is coming. His arm tightens and you duck expecting a jab except this time a right comes at the top of your forehead. He’s now adapted to my game plan, so it’s back to the drawing board.
Boxing is a very humbling sport. Some nights I leave thinking I’ve mastered an aspect of boxing, then the next I am completely out-classed.
One night I couldn’t stay away from a right-hand to save my life. I was being knocked all around the ring, battered, bruised and out of wind as the round came to a halt. I spit out my mouth guard gasping for breath, doubled-over and exited the ring. My coach had a huge grin on his face, and said: “we build from this.”